On 18 March 2011, Syrians across the country drew inspiration from the Arab spring and took to the streets demanding peace, human rights and democratic reform. Not only did these calls go unheeded; the government, which had ruled through terror since 1970, also responded with extreme force. Today, a little over ten years since the uprising began, Syria remains one of the most precarious states in the world, and in urgent need of further international action.
President Bashar al-Assad and his ruling regime showed no mercy in the response to the demonstrations, using enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial execution, and extreme military force, including aerial bombardment, heavy artillery and chemical weapons. The government was quick to portray the uprising as a fundamentalist Sunni movement that threatened minorities, and what began as a peaceful uprising swiftly degenerated into a full-blown military conflict with a prominent sectarian aspect.
President Assad had long presented himself as a secular leader who protected minorities and promoted modernity and inclusion, casting any opposition as backward and sectarian, but it is worth noting that the Assad regime regularly fostered and used extremist groups to destabilise neighbouring countries such as Iraq and Lebanon. The regime also released hundreds of extremist prisoners at the beginning of the uprising in order to undermine it, many of whom joined Al Qaeda, Islamic State (IS) and other extremist militia.
Continue reading “The Syrian Uprising: A decade on”
By Lord Alton of Liverpool
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has seen a significant decline in religious diversity in recent years. While ancient Christian communities have often suffered, practically no religious group has been safe from this ongoing tragedy, with Ahmadis, Baha’is, Jews, Yazidis and Zoroastrians all affected, as well as both Shia and Sunni Muslims. For a host of reasons, in several countries in the region, minority communities who have deep roots going back several generations are being forced to leave their ancestral lands.
Iraq and Syria: Unending violence
Since 2003, the numbers of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq have both dropped significantly. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have emigrated because of terrorism and sectarian violence. They will never return.
In 2014, the Islamic State (IS) captured Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. Thousands of non-Sunni men, women and children were either killed or enslaved. One study, by the Public Library of Science, estimates that 3,100 Yazidis were killed in a matter of days following the 2014 attack. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians subsequently emigrated to neighbouring countries over the following years, with their number now estimated at 250,000, down from 2.5 million before the 2003 invasion.
Continue reading “An unfolding tragedy: The decline of religious diversity in the Middle East”
The Arab Spring reignited a debate within the Middle East and in academic circles about the universality of human rights and their compatibility, or incompatibility, with culture and religion. Although the Arab Spring was marked by the rise of Political Islam movements, it also opened the door to discussions on topics that had long been taboo, such as sectarianism, racism and gender equality in the Arab world.
Constitutions, laws, education systems and even art and sport are viewed through the lens of religion, and every effort is made to ensure that these elements of society comply with religious norms and symbolism.
Sectarianism remains a powerful political, social and cultural force, and the source of most conflicts in the Middle East. Many of the current conflicts in the region have deep historical roots – most notably the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and the Sunni-Shi’a division.
Continue reading “Religious Identity and Conflict in the Middle East”
In northwest Syria, religious minorities have suffered multiple attacks on their properties, places of worship and unknown numbers have been killed. The rights of small Christian and Druze communities that remain are likely to be further restricted by the rapidly changing political and military landscape in the area.
Talks in Astana, Kazakhstan
The Kazakh capital, Astana, has been the site of several rounds of talks organised by Russia, Iran and Turkey aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis. However, shifting power play between the different armed groups that constitute the rebel movement continues to throw up hurdles in the path towards peace.
Continue reading “Shifting Alliances in Northwest Syria Make a Political Solution More Remote”
Many newspapers across the world today have chosen as their main image a photograph of a five year-old Syrian boy who has just survived an airstrike. Like that of another little Syrian boy called Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year, the image has gone viral.
It appears that once again the image of a Syrian child has pricked the world’s collective conscience, igniting renewed efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians.
Image credit: Khalid Albaih https://www.facebook.com/albaih
Aleppo as a microcosm for the Syrian Conflict
The Syrian conflict has a prominent sectarian aspect for which the battle for Aleppo is almost a microcosm, with the government and Shi’a militia on one side, and the largely-Islamist armed opposition groups on the other.
Within this complex picture, civilians from all sides are increasingly vulnerable as none of the warring parties have shown commitment to or respect for international humanitarian law, especially in terms of non-combatants, freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and other human rights.
Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria used to have 4 million inhabitants. Today nearly half are displaced, either internally or externally.
The city has been a battlefield since 2012, and as the overall situation in Syria has deteriorated relentlessly, attention on the suffering of its inhabitants has ebbed and flowed dependent on fresh atrocities.
Continue reading “Aleppo Bleeds as the Picture of Another Syrian Child Pricks the World’s Conscience”