A ‘Syrius’ Question
Syria seems to have no luck at all. In fact, a quick check of its history will tell you that except rare decades of peace under the Rashidun caliphate, and the Romans, the area has been constantly at war. Little is it know that Syria was the first place where farming was developed and consequently the first settled societies in the world came about in Syria. This is where the first laws pertaining to property as well as inter human relations is a settled township came about. Syria host the world’s oldest inhabited capital in Damascus, which is more than 9000 years old!
But after that glory period, Syria came to be in the tragic position of always being sandwiched between the great powers of history. Consequently, it changed hand man times and despite its impressive feats in township and agriculture, it is bereft from any natural barriers save passable deserts and slight mountains. Invasions and annexations were normal. However, so was the pervasiveness of life and the bounty of agriculture. Syria, despite being hotly contested for most of its history, has been a haven for many diverse people for millennia.
Proxy war is a relatively new term, though quite an ancient concept. It refers to a war between two parties carried out by other parties. Syria is just seeing a very advanced version of that concept, while its burgeoning and diverse people go through a balkanization and find support amongst many nations who wish to engage in the proxy war. Syria, modern Syria, can trace its origins to the Pan Arabic nationalism movement that resulted in the formation of the Baath party. This concept served to unite the non-monarchical Arab states by propounding an Arab nationalism that was based not as much on religion as on common ancestry and geography. The underlying axiom of Baathist though was Islam, though and the Baathist struggle can be seen one of trying to modernize Islam to bring it into the 21st century. It found a lot of support across the 23 member and 500 million people strong Arab World. Unfortunately the Baathist apparatus was not really one that was inclined to allow a multiple party state or for truly democratic elections. A strong leader, buoyed by contacts and alliances within the armed forces and policing apparatus of a state was about as much stability and dynamic movement that could be expected from such a system.
This is how Hafeez Al Assad took power within the Baathist state of Syria. He came from a notable Alawaite minority, with the Alawaites being akin to Shias while most of Syria is Sunni. To maintain his hold in a region where tribal and clan loyalty usually trumps one to the state, Al Assad ensured that the security apparatus of his country be handle by his Alawaite community while trade and finance was left to the Sunni merchants. He left a relatively stable country for his son and successor Basheer to run. Then came the Arab Spring of 2011.
The Arab Spring was a pro-democracy movement within the Arab world that resulted in passive political reform, including the overthrow of the governments of Egypt and Libya. Initially peaceful, the protest turned violent only due to the harsh security countermeasures applied by Basheer to overawe and intimidate the people. Seeing how the security apparatus belonged to a sect not followed by most of those being killed or detained it was easy to paint it as a picture of the believer vs the unbeliever; this is standard practice in the Arab lands where both parties will accuse the other of being the unbeliever. This time around, this was exploited by the states surrounding Syria for one reason or the other. Saudi Arabia promised the rebels support since they too are Sunnis and the Alawaites are Shia. This naturally prompted Iran (The only Shia power in the world) to pledge massive assistance to Basheer and to ensure that his government remains the only legitimate government in Syria. Russia and Syria have enjoyed deep relation ever since the cold war. Past the Soviet Union days, Russia wishes to see its role as a superpower realised and so it too decided to help Basheer and his government in Syria. The USA has a stake in supporting any pro democratic rebellions and evolutions and so it was no surprise that it elected to support the rebels and the well organised, semi-independent Peshmerga. The Peshmerga are the army of the Kurds, a people that inhabit the North and North Eastern part of Syria. Called the largest landless people, The Kurds have enjoined massive autonomy in their areas which they reinforce through well-armed and trained militias. Seeing the breakup of power in the heavily centralised Syrian State, they too started carving out territory that they deem their own, opposed to both the government and rebel takeover.