Why so Syrious? A Brief History of Syria #syriaexplained

In 1946, Syria declared independence. It was briefly a parliamentary republic, but the notion never really caught on, and in the first ten years as a country, they had four different constitutions, and a ridiculous amount of changes in government.

In 1956, Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union, wherein they basically agreed to dabble with communism in exchange for tanks and ammo etc. Russia continues to be close with Syria now, relying on its warm water ports.

Then, in 1958, Syria and Egypt briefly decided to become the same country, the United Arab Republic. But then in 1961 Syria was like: ‘hey, we’re succeeding and we’re going back to being independent’. This led to a big mess and a couple of coups, culminating in the Ba’ath party taking control in 1963. (The Ba’ath party have a secular political philosophy that advocates for a socialist pan-Arab state, the idea being basically that the Arab countries would unify and they’d have this amazing utopic society. It didn’t work.)

So then in 1974, defence minister Hafez Al-Asad took over government and became president in a bloodless coup—which is, of course, the best kind of coup. Al-Asad oversaw what was pretty much the first stable period in Syrian history; he passed a constitution and established a state-run economy, which would have been great, if he hadn’t killed a lot of dissidents, disastrously invaded Israel in 1973, and then in 1976 entered the Lebanese civil war, first on one side…then on the other, beginning a Syrian occupation of Lebanon that would last for almost thirty years.

So, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon was not popular, in particular because the Syrian government had a penchant for assassinating Lebanese politicians.

Another thing to note about Al-Assad is that he was an Alawite. Alawites basically follow a branch of Shia Islam, but don’t follow all the typical forms of Islam worship, such as they don’t think it’s necessary to pray five times a day. Al-Assad was big on bringing the Alawite branch of Islam into the mainstream, but the problem was that to a lot of Sunni and Shia muslims  saw Alawites as apostates, so it didn’t particularly help the already tense inter-religious relations in the country.

(There’s a lot of issues in current day Syria because there is so much religious segregation. Despite the fact that the majority of the population are Sunni Muslim, there’s a great deal of segregation, resulting in the superior treatment of Alawites; scholarships go to Alawi children, the government gives its contracts to Alawi businesses, there are separate lanes of traffic specifically for Alawites to drive down. Understandably, this is somewhat aggravating to those of other religions in the country.)

Hafez’s son, Bashar Al-Assad came into power after his father’s death in 2000. At first, there was a decent amount of support for him because it looked as though he was going to be a different kind of leader to his father, ending the repression of his people. Oh, how wrong they were.

After enduring decades of authoritarian governments, the people of several middle-eastern countries raised their voices in protest and ousted their leaders, in what has been called the Arab Spring in 2010.

Now, in Egypt and Tunisia, the uprisings were pretty quick and decisive. In Libya, the protests led to a short civil war, ending with Gaddafi’s death. Syria, on the other hand, is a completely different story.

The Sunni Muslims, repressed for 40 years by a race they considered Islam-rejecting apostates, rioted against the powerful minority. However, the Al-Assad administration punished anyone who spoke out against the regime both swiftly and severely. So people kept protesting, then they were killed, so they protested more violently, then their families were killed and tortured.

Then a big section of the army defected and became the Free Syrian Army.

By now it’s getting chaotic in the Syrian branch of the Arab Spring. Whilst it started as a pro-democracy protest, and there are still many people fighting for a democratic future for the country, there are now a plethora of groups who want a plethora of different things, and whilst some of the groups like each other, others hate each other, so there’s even more tension building up. It’s gotten to the point that Assad has killed so many non-Alawites and military leaders that it’s kind of unclear who on earth would take over if he left.

Then: Chemical Weapons.

President Obama had previously said that if Syria uses chemical weapons, he’s going to do…something. And it looks like Assad’s forces did use chemical weapons; Sarin gas was definitely used and it was definitely used on enemies of Assad’s regime (there are claims that it was done to make the regime look bad, but doesn’t that sound a little like the white people in 1960s america who genuinely believed that african-american radicals bombed an african-american church to make the KKK look bad?)

Anyway, the UN can’t do much about the chemical weapons because of Russia’s veto power on the Security Council, because Russia is ALWAYS going to veto any resolution demanding to do stuff that Syria doesn’t want to do, seeing as it’s their best friend in the Middle East.

But, as much as Russia needs Syria, Syria needs Russia, so Russia can to some extent convince Syria to do whatever they want. So they convince Syria to give up all their chemical weapons. (And whilst Russia was, in doing this, able to wear the diplomatic hat and act like the white knight, let’s please remember that this wouldn’t be a necessary action in the first place if Russia hadn’t blocked every single resolution that proposed to do anything about Syria.)

At this point, Syria is still in the middle of a civil war, and it seems to have reached somewhat of a stalemate. Whilst the aforementioned Free Syrian Army have the support of many western nations including Britain and the US, they refuse to send in weapons in case they get into the wrong hands, but continue to send food and emergency aid, however all other ‘non-lethal’ supplies (eg. medicine) have been stopped for fear they will fall into the wrong hands.

This is an incredibly brief insight into and incredibly complex situation. Please note there may be several issues left out as I tried to keep the article as short as possible.

UN Declares Referendum Vote Illegal

The recent referendum held in Crimea–backed by Russia–to formally withdraw from Ukraine (which then allowed Crimea to join Russia) has been declared by the UN General Assembly today as illegal, as it is in violation of international law.

The resolution, supported by Ukraine, passed with 100 votes in favour, 58 abstentions, and only 11 in opposition. It is said to be similar to the resolution vetoed by Russia in the Security Council earlier this month.  Whilst this event acts to show the global opposition to Crimea and Russia’s actions, it is unlikely to have a great deal of impact on the already cyclic state of events; unlike the Security Council, resolutions passed by the General Assembly do not have to be taken as law (on the other hand, they can also not be vetoed, which is why this one was able to pass in GA).

“By voting in favor of this resolution you vote in favor of the UN Charter while voting against or abstaining equals undermining it,” said Andriy Deshchytsia, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister.

This news comes as Yulia Tymoshenko announces her plans to run for president of Ukraine.

The 53-year-old served twice as prime minister, but was narrowly beaten in 2010 when Yanukovich took office. Yanukovich then launched a campaign against Tymoshenko and her allies, resulting in a seven-year prison term for abuse of office based on a gas deal she brokered with Russia. Two years into her sentence, she’s been released from jail due to Yanukovich’s flee from the country.

Malaysian Airline Families Protest in Beijing

Frustrated relatives of the 153 missing Chinese nationals on the Malaysian Airline’s flight MH370 marched through Beijing today, bound for the Malaysian embassy; the relatives were angered when the government declared the passengers lost despite a lack of physical evidence.

The protestors first tried to board buses to the embassy, but when they were stopped by police continued to carry their protest through the streets of Beijing by foot whilst  wearing t-shirts that read ‘pray for MH370’ and banners reading ‘we want the truth from Malaysia’.

Nearly 100 relatives of the missing MH370 passengers took part in the protest, chanting “Liars!” and “Return our relatives!” for almost 3 hours outside the embassy, where the group presented a letter of protest.

The flight went missing over 2 weeks ago, and is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean.

Well that escalated quickly…Chicago Train Derails and Mounts Escalator

At 2.50am Monday 24th March, a Blue Line train derailed, mounting the platform and climbing the escalator at Chigago O’Hare International Airport, one of the busiest stations in America.32 people were injured in the incident, though miraculously no one was killed.

One passenger said they ‘heard a boom’ as the train collided with the platform, and that when they got off the train is was part way up the escalator.

What caused the train to derail is, as of yet, uncertain. Reports today from the NTSB claim that the train was travelling at the correct speed as it entered the platform, however there are rumours that the driver,who had been working a long shift after extensive overtime over the last week, may have fallen asleep at the controls.

A temporary bus service has been put in place whilst the platform is under repair.

The Load Down: Russia vs. Ukraine #crimeariver

Undoubtedly everyone reading this will understand that there is currently a great deal of tension between Russia and Ukraine over who ‘owns’ Crimea. In this article I will attempt to explain the essentials of the story so far.

So way back in the Soviet Union days, Crimea was assigned to be a part of Ukraine by Russian leaders. That wasn’t a big deal at the time, but when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Crimea ended up being part of the newly independent Ukraine. The problem is that to this day, the majority of citizens view themselves as Russian rather than Ukrainian–slight problem.

This issue lay dormant for a couple of decades with the odd bit of bickering between Moscow and Kiev, but it all came to a head in February 2014. Since November 2013, Ukrainians had been protesting for closer integration with Europe (google Euromaidan protests), but the drama didn’t really kick off until February, when police and protesters clashed as 20,000 protesters marched on Ukrainian Parliament. Basically, they wanted to restore the Constitution of Ukraine to how it was before Viktor Yanukovych became president, but he wasn’t so keen on the idea.

Eventually the protesters took over parliament, ousting Yanukovych, who fled to Russia. This was when s**t got real; upsetting Russia is never, ever, a good idea.

So, Yanukovych, having been impeached, runs off to Russia, meanwhile back in Ukraine, there are a few Russian nationalist politicians calling for Russia to protect the Russian-speaking Crimea. At the same time, Russia, China and India are all refusing to recognise the new Ukrainian government, calling it a political coup, which theoretically it is because to process by which Yanukovych was impeached was, by the Ukrainian Constitution, well…unconstitutional.

From February 26th, Russian forces began to gradually take over Crimea, and due to the fact that Russia is Russia, there was very little that anyone could do about it. The problem was that due to the previous close ties between Ukraine and Russia, Russia had rights to station troops there, and could claim that any troops they sent into Ukraine were there simply for ‘training purposes’. Claims flew that Yanukovych had asked Russia to send in troops to ‘protect the citizens of Crimea’. Thankfully, the takeover was relatively smooth with minimal violence.

So we get to March 17th, when the Crimean Supreme Court declare Crimea’s independence from the Ukraine. A vote held the day before showed that 96% of Crimean citizens supported joining Russia, and so on March 18th, President Putin of Russia reclaimed Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation, just a day after Crimea requested that they do so.

Surprise, surprise, despite Western powers doing their best to prevent Russia from absorbing Crimea, Putin managed it anyway. The West still refuse to acknowledge Crimea as part of Russia, and have frozen assets of many ‘high fliers’ in Russian politics, but these are having very little effect. The sanctions are likely to be extended, however experts are of a split oppinion, some claiming that broader sanctions could cause a Russian recession, and others claiming that they will have no impact whatsoever, which begs the question, will Russia face any true fallout for its actions?