What started as a series of protests turned into a genocide that the world is happy to ignore.
We have now entered the ninth year of the Syrian war. To put this into some kind of perspective, this only one year shy of both World War I and World War II combined.
What started out as a series of protests not even as strident as the demands of the protests in Tunis, Egypt and Libya for the total fall of the regime (a majority of Syrian revolutionaries were willing to let Assad stay in power and implement democratic reforms), quickly became a massacre.
The massacres rapidly became a civil war, which, in turn, due to the strategies and tactics of Assad, swiftly morphed into a genocide.
And it’s this dimension of what’s happening in Syria that makes the longevity of events there spectacularly monstrous. It’s this dimension that has turned this alleged ‘conflict’ into the greatest humanitarian tragedy since World War II, with 12 million Syrians cleansed from their homes in what is the deliberate undertaking of ethnic cleansing by Assad, Iran and Russia.
Around 600,000 people have been killed. Extermination camps have made a chilling return to the world in Syria, with tens of thousands of people starved and tortured to death in Assad’s dungeons – as, of course, so cruelly, has the use of chemical weapons against civilians, another strategy of genocide.
Millions more Syrians have been maimed and psychologically broken by the brutal everyday realities of seemingly endless war. This is the aspect of genocide that often gets neglected – the fact that what these people, especially the young, have witnessed in 9 years cannot be unseen and, whatever the outcome of the ‘civil war’, will damage them forever in numerous different ways.
Some children in Syria have literally never known peace or even the basic normalcy of a static life; instead, they were born in hospitals or educated in schools that have a high likelihood of being deliberately destroyed at any moment by one of the ubiquitous regime or Russian air strikes that haunt their lives.
An entire generation of Syrians are growing up and being born not just as captives, as is the case with a normal tyranny, but as victims being stalked by the forces of genocide. If they’re lucky enough to survive the ferocity of Assad-Iran-Russia’s war, they’re almost certainly thrown into the precarious life of the refugee, where other horrors, including the racist barbarism of Europe, await.
Turning a blind eye
But this is not a humanitarian appeal. Given we’re now into the ninth year of this monstrous criminal tragedy, appeals to even the most basic humanitarianism have not simply fallen on deaf ears, but they’ve increasingly fallen on hostile ears.
Rather, this is a simple recognition of the fact that what is happening in Syria, though it might seem far away to those in London, Washington, Paris or Berlin, it simply cannot be kept at distance.
George Orwell once reflected of the indifference towards the Spanish Civil War that the fascist atrocities were something that, to your average Englishman, belonged in little newspaper columns that could be easily ignored. Of course, it wasn’t long before those same atrocities were consequential to the daily lives of almost everyone in the world.
The evils in Syria, allowed to fester away viciously, and whether one likes it or not, are contagious.
One might look at the most literal aspects of this notion, namely the so-called European ‘refugee crisis’, prompted by the vast ethnic cleansing of Syrians from their homeland. While this ought to have produced in humanity, in the lands of plenty that have advertised themselves as the bastions of liberal democratic civilisation, a form of practical solidarity with the victims of genocidal tyrants, it produced the opposite.
The consequences of tyrannical evils of Syria brought out the worst in Europe, with the continent, already hostile to refugees and asylum seekers, transformed into a fortress.
Squalid and barbaric concentration camps masquerading as ‘holding centres’, such as Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos, are the most acute representation of EU policy towards refugees, along with the thousands of drowned migrants in the Mediterranean, the result of the deliberate policy of the EU – termed as ‘genocide by neglect’ – to cut rescue operations to desperate refugees attempting to reach the continent.
This, in turn, is caused in no small part by the rise of fascist electoral and even governing forces across Europe, most of which, in terms of popularity and influence, can draw an ascending line from the European ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 up until now.
In the UK, during the Brexit campaign, the Leave campaign put the completely fatuous idea of the UK being swamped with Syrian refugees front and centre of its propaganda, with billboards depicting huge lines of Syrian refugees, almost conjuring images of a zombie apocalypse.
In the US, Donald Trump came to power demonising Muslim immigration and promising to ban it – one of the promises that he ultimately kept.
I’m not saying that every single aspect of these events can be sourced back to the tragedy of Syria, but the genocide being carried out in that country put the blood in the water, so to speak. And it wasn’t long before the sharks arrived.
If the world is seen to turn a blind eye to something as destructive as the genocide in Syria, why wouldn’t other political forces, with murderous and genocidal intent, not be emboldened?
But the truly tragic aspect of Syria is that none of this was inevitable and, even up to this day, with the millions of people trapped in Idlib still undergoing the daily realities of genocide, the world could put an end to this monstrosity.
Turkey’s recent military intervention demonstrated in no uncertain terms that Assad-Iran-Russia are paper tigers who crumpled in the face of Turkey’s superior air force and its arming and assisting of Syrian rebel ground forces. The Obama doctrine, which is that a no-fly zone (NFZ) isn’t possible or preferable and that the Syrian rebels aren’t worth supporting (what I call the ‘let them die’ approach), was shattered in the space of a few days by Turkey.
But Turkey is one country. A country that has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world to act to prevent genocide from eclipsing the last liberated province of Idlib. It cannot stand alone against Assad-Iran-Russia.
Turkey’s action posed the question of whether NATO and Europe wanted to, even from a position of self-interest regarding stemming the inevitability of refugees fleeing to Europe, end this catastrophe.
NATO and Europe declined.
I’m not going to make any predictions about what will happen next in Syria, but I can say with certainty that as long as this genocide continues, the more it will poison the socio-political fabric the world – the more it will allow inhumanity to prosper.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to firstname.lastname@example.org