Is it still possible to differentiate between the state, citizens, criminals, rebels etc. in Syria?

Dmytro Tupchiienko, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge (UK)

In order to understand the Syrian conflict, it is worth noting, that Syrian civil war is by all means not a recent invention or recent event. This will give us a more thorough understanding of its roots, continuation and climax, if any.

An ongoing conflict in Syria started shortly after World War I, as an offshoot of the ‘Great Game’, upon the post-war division of the Ottoman Empire into respective zones of influence by the Sykes-Picot Agreement – that the British would control most of Ottoman Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and the southern part of the Ottoman Syria ( Jordan and modern Israel incl.Palestine), while the French would control the rest of Ottoman Syria [modern Syria and  Lebanon] ((Fromkin, David (1989). A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: Owl. pp. 286, 288)). It witnessed several rebellions, most notably the Druze ((Betts, Robert Brenton (2010). The Druze. Yale University Press. Also See Miller, Joyce Laverty (October 1977). “The Syrian Revolt of 1925”. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 8 (4): 545–563. doi:10.1017/S0020743800026118))and continued all the way through French mandate until just after the World War II, when the French Forces left in 1946 ((“Background Note: Syria”. United States Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, May 2007)), before the World War II and culminated in 1960’s after the pan-Arabist Ba’ath party rose to power (together with Assad family) through several coup d’etat ((Hopwood, Derek (1988). Syria 1945–1986: Politics and Society. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-04-445046-7)).

Apart of historical background, however, the conflict has several other layers, most notably the sectarian divide ((“Syria – International Religious Freedom Report 2006”. U.S. Department of State. 2006. Retrieved 2009-06-28))[eg between Moslems themselves (Sunnites, Shiites (incl. e.g. Houthis from Yemen), Isma’ilis and Alawites) and Christians themselves (Druzes, Catholics and Maronites); refugee issue ((“World Refugee Survey 2008”. U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. 19 June 2008))[there are hundreds of thousands of militant refugees in camps in Syria, themselves divided e.g. between the supporters of PLO and those of Hamas].

On the other hand, the Syrian opposition is definitely not an unified movement. Supreme Military Council (SMC) itself consists of such diverse factions as Muslim Brotherhood, Assyrian Democratic Organization, and various Kurdish factions ((CNN Wire Staff (23 August 2011). “Syrian activists form a ‘national council'”. CNN. Retrieved 24 August 2011)), with factional clashes between e.g. Farouq Battalions and Jabhat al-Nusra). Its main militant arm, the Free Syrian Army, is a thing in itself, consisting from such diverse agents as defectors from the Syrian army ((Landis, Joshua (29 July 2011). “Free Syrian Army Founded by Seven Officers to Fight the Syrian Army”. Syria Comment. Retrieved 7 August 2011))as well as foreign combatants ((“Foreign militants fighting in Syria battlefields”. Agence France-Presse. 7 March 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2012))which include mercenaries from various wars ((“Protiv Asada se bore i hrvatski plaćenici” (in Croatian). Tportal.hr. 16 August 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012)).

It is far from being a united movement against an evil suppressor – although Assad’s ruling style is far from being democratic ((“2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Syria”. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 8 April 2011)). However, it escalated during the so-called Arab Spring ((‘It Will Not Stop’: Syrian Uprising Continues Despite Crackdown”. Der Spiegel. 28 March 2011. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011)).

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria states in its recent report ((Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A.HRC.22.59_en.pdf))that both parties to the conflict are equally responsible for civilian casualties, mass displacement and destruction of property, including destruction of UNESCO historical treasure of Aleppo by Syrian rebels. It further states that both parties committed war crimes and gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the crimes against humanity of hostage-taking, murder, torture, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts including arbitrary arrest and detention, unlawful attack, attacking protected objects, and pillaging and destruction of property ((Syrian rebels accused of war crimes. The Telegraph, Saturday 27 July 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9467657/Syrian-rebels-accused-of-war-crimes.html)).

Syrian rebels endanger the civilian population by positioning military objectives inside civilian areas which in turn has the effect of spreading error and demand for retaliation. Both parties violated the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict using children under the age of 18 in direct hostilities ((Free Syrian Army accused of recruiting children. Al Jazeera, 12 Jun 2012 , http://blogs.aljazeera.com/topic/syria/free-syrian-army-accused-recruiting-children-read-more)).

At the same time, US prepares $130m military aid package for Syrian rebels, and EU lifts its arms embargo to Syria [albeit with some reservations] ((The Guardian, Saturday 20 April 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/20/us-syria-130m-military-aid-package)), which, as UN Commision states, will only cause a further increase in war crimes ((UN: More arms for Syria mean more war crimes. Jerusalem Post, 21 June 2013, http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/UN-expert-More-arms-for-Syria-mean-more-war-crimes-317338))and make the US taking sides in a civil war ((Boehner Backs Military Aid to Syrian Rebels. The Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2013, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/07/23/boehner-backs-aid-to-syrian-rebels/)).

Therefore, my conclusion is that it is impossible to differentiate between the state, citizens, criminals, rebels etc. in Syria, as this conflict become a fully-fledged civil war – a Hobbesian Bellum omnium contra omnes – which can not be ended by military means, as either party committed war crimes and is now equally guilty. As the US Secretary of State Kerry said, ‘there is no military solution to Syria. There is only a political solution, and that will require leadership in order to bring people to the table ((Syrian rebels press US to send weapons fast, Kerry sees no military solution to crisis. Russia Today, July 26, 2013, http://rt.com/news/syria-rebels-us-weapons-617/)).’

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