Syria

The long history of this ancient land, which goes back about 12,000 years, has been chaotic.  During its more modern history Syria has been invaded and ruled by at least 12 different peoples or countries –  the last being France – until it finally reached a measure of independence in 1946.

Throughout the 1950’s and into the early 1960’s, Syrian politics were especially bloody and chaotic.  Then in 1963, a coup put the Ba’ath Party into power and it remained in control until 2011. Hafez al-Assad took over both the party and the country in a 1970 coup, and the presidency passed to his son Bashar al-Assad following Hafez al-Assad’s death in 2000.  The younger Assad was seen as a potential reformer and modernizer, but according to many reports his regime has proved corrupt and ruthless.  Beginning in the spring of 2011, a Syrian Uprising sought to overthrow Assad as part of the so-called Arab Spring movement.

Initially the Arab Spring movement was peaceful but as months passed and outside movements became a part of it, it became increasingly violent and chaotic without any one leader.  This violence has turned into what many call a civil war.  It is safe to say that almost all civil and revolutionary wars have a tendency to become internationalized.  Foreign private groups and states in the neighborhood take advantage of the local difficulties of weaker and more vulnerable states and support religious or political rivals, including secessionist groups. Such support is aimed at achieving certain concrete religious as well as political objectives.

One of the main underpinnings of this movement – from the very beginning was religion.  Syria has a complex array of religions represented among its citizens.  Approximately 74% of Syrians are Sunni Muslims.  Another 12% (including the al-Assad family) are Alawis or Alawites, an off-shoot of the Twelver school within Shi’ism.  Approximately 10% are Christians, mostly of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, but also including Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Assyrian Church of the East members.  As with Bahrain the rulers since 1963 have belonged to the minority Shia religion causing feelings of discrimination among the ruled who belong to the majority religion of Sunni Muslims.

As of early May, 2013 it was confirmed by Israeli, French, English and USA intelligence that the chemical gas, ricin, had been used against people in Syria.  Initially the allegations were that this gas was used by the Assad regime (Alawite/Shia) against the rebels (mostly Sunni) during the civil war there.  However, on May 5, 2013 a United Nations investigator indicated that Syrian rebels, not the Assad regime, had used chemical weapons in the two-year civil war, the inverse of previous assessments by American and Western authorities.  Carla Del Ponte, head of the independent UN commission investigating reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, told a Swiss-Italian television station that UN investigators gleaned testimony from victims of Syria’s civil war and medical staff which indicated that rebel forces used sarin gas — a deadly nerve agent.

If used, ricin is a poison which, when in the form of a gas is inhaled, works by getting inside the cells of a person’s body preventing the cells from making the proteins they need.  Without the proteins, cells die.  Eventually this is harmful to the whole body, and death may occur.

In spite of the involvement in late 2013 by the international community via the UN, the so-called civil war continues.  Reports in October, 2013 stated that at least 100,000 people had lost their lives in the previous 2 years alone.