March 15, 2011 was the first time that thousands of people came out onto the streets of Deraa to protest the regime of Bashar al-Assad. That marked the beginning of a popular movement and the subsequent bloody events which spread to the entire country and turned into an uprising against the tyrant of Damascus. On the first anniversary of the uprising, Deraa was the target of intensive Syrian tank and artillery fire. The same went for Idlib and nearby villages in the north.
The event log of last year will certainly make one of the darkest pages in Syrian history books:
- There have been upwards of 8,000 fatalities. Of the 230,000 who fled their homes, 14,000 have come to Turkey.
- As in certain other countries, the uprising started as a protest movement against the regime. But Assad read it as “terrorist action spurred on by external forces,” opting to crush it with the maximum force of his army. This led to the shedding of much blood, and the transformation of peaceful protests to an armed uprising.
- After this, it became impossible to cool tempers and find a solution through compromise. Had Assad read the popoular movement correctly at the outset and rather had listened to the peoples’ hopes for change as recommended by Turkey and other friends, instead of resorting to brute force, he could have avoided the escalation of the crisis and possibility of a civil war.
- As Assad displayed his decisive attitude first against the protestors and then against the armed resistance, he trusted in his army, his security services, the Ba’ath party and the interest groups close to him. Apart from a few defections, his trust was not misplaced. These are the internal dynamics that keep the regime on its feet.
- Iran and Russia have been another source of confidence for Assad. To this group we can add China, who also has veto power in the Security Council. Material and moral support from by these countries has helped Assad resist potential external threats.
- A large segment of the international community, including the Arab League, have openly confronted Assad. However, he was not swayed by this isolation.
- Syria is feeling the effect of the economic sanctions more and more with every passing day. The Syrian economy is on the brink of collapse. However, these kinds of dictatorships feel no compunction in continuing with their defiance in spite of the hardships it may bring upon their people.
- Another factor that has encouraged Assad has been the West’s reluctance to get involved military, as it did in Libya. For the moment, Assad does not fear such a scenario.
- The international community is trying to solve the crisis through diplomacy, and Kofi Annan’s mission is a part of this effort. However, Assad stands firm in this arena, and has been for time.
- Over the past year both an organized opposition force, the Syrian National Council, and an armed force, the Free Syrian Army, have emerged, but both remain. The Council suffers from lack of unity, and the FSA has inadequate military power.
These are the main features of this tragic year for Syria.
While Assad and his supporters seem to have gained ground and those who rose against him seem to be losing it, the true cost is being paid by the people.