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Essay: The Syrian Civil War: How a Teen Graffiti Triggered a Decade-Long Conflict

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Words: 1,164 (approx)
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On February 16th of 2011 a 14-year-old boy by the name of Naief Abazid and a group of his friends spray painted the phrase, “It’s your turn, Doctor Bashar al-Assad” on the wall of their school in the southern Syrian town of Daraa. At the time, Abazid and the fourteen other boys had no idea how this one act would trigger a nationwide uprising which would develop into a now almost decade long, prolonged and bitter civil war between the Syrian people and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The meaning behind the words he wrote was referencing the fall of Egypt and Tunisia’s governments due to the Arab Spring uprisings and was implying that Assad’s dictatorship would be next.

What was meant to just be a cheeky, rebellious, teenage remark from the school aged boys was definitely not treated as such by Assad’s internal police force known as the Mukhabarat. The next day after the graffiti was written, the Mukhabarat showed up at their school looking for Abazid. They used the slightest amount of evidence they could to connect Abazid to the vandalism and took him with them for questioning, while also rounding up many other school aged boys around Daraa. Once in custody, Abazid was tortured until he would confess and inform them of who the other boys were who had been involved.

The torture consisted of hanging him by his wrists while being whipped or electrocuted, forcing him to sleep naked on freezing cold, wet mattresses, and even the strategy infamously used by the Mukhabarat where those being interrogated would be shoved into the inside of a tire where the interrogators would then roll the tire repeatedly into a concrete wall. (₁) He eventually informed them of who the other boys were. The Mukhabarat went back to Daraa and rounded up 23 other boys, including the 14 others who had been involved in the initial vandalism with Abazid, and took them all into custody to also be tortured. One of the boys, a 13-year-old, even died as a result of the cruel and inhumane punishment.

After about 10 days the boys were then taken to the Mukhabarat headquarters, a place that is known by all Syrian’s for it’s horrific torture stories. Although they were, at the time indefinitely stuck here, their disappearances outside the walls of the prison began to spark rebellion. Pro-democracy protests began in Daraa and Damascus where the prisoners were being held and continued on even after the boys had eventually been released. The protests quickly became larger and more popular which resulted in the Mukhabarat detaining some demonstrators and even opening fire on them in Damascus, which ultimately led to the deaths of thousands, according to the UN. This revolution and Assad’s abuse of human rights quickly gained the attention of other countries, including the United States. In May of 2011, the United States imposed sanctions against Assad’s regime for their human rights violations, for which he did not abide by and continued to order attacks against protesters, now all throughout Syria.

The United States government began pulling out US ambassadors and diplomats in response to Assad’s refusal to adhere by their sanctions. Not too long after, Assad threatened the use of chemical and biological weapons if any outside forces intervened. People all across the world were enraged by how Assad decided to use the people of his country for leverage and threaten their lives to deter other countries from getting involved.

On August 21st in 2013, Bashar al-Assad allegedly used sarin gas on a suburb of Damascus called Ghouta which was controlled by the rebel group, also known as the Free Syrian Army. An estimate of 1,429 people were killed, according to a White House briefing by the Press Secretary on August 30th, 2013. Eleven days after the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta, President Obama announced that he was going to ask Congress to vote on whether or not the US should get involved militarily.  In his speech he states, “This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”

Due to the way Assad’s regime dealt with the the school children’s vandalism and the chemical weapons they used against the protestors, the relationship between the United States and Syria would be changed forever. Not only is their relationship forever changed by Assad’s offenses against human rights but the quarrel in such a highly sensitive area, such as the Levant, has turned Syria into a stage for a much larger geopolitical struggle between the US, Russia, Iran as well as many other social, political and religious groups with vested interests. Syria has became a medium for the US, Iran, Russia and the many different interest groups to demonstrate their power and beliefs to the whole world, which in turn, has severely delayed and exacerbated the conflict, straining the relationships between these four countries and interest groups indefinitely as well.

Just to the east of Syria is the predominantly Shia Muslim country of Iran. Iran is commonly noted as Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally. The antithesis of what Iran wants is a Sunni-led Syria, for a number of reasons. Because of this Iran has developed a strategical and vested interest in Assad’s regime because he is of the Alawite minority which is a sect of Shia Islam, meaning they are both Shia Muslims. Riyad Hijab, the former Prime Minister of Syria, even stated that, “Syria is occupied by the Iranian regime. The person who runs the country is not Bashar al-Assad but Qasem Soleimani. (Iran’s senior military officer)” For this reason, Iran has supported Assad’s regime against the Free Syrian Army throughout the civil war, which has only prolonged the violence in Syria against the rebels which in return means a continuing poor relationship with the US. Iran also considers Syria to be one of the crucial pillars of  the Axis of Resistance, which is a anti Israeli and anti Western group made up of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, a militant group from Lebanon.

On the western side of the world though, there is a very influential American organization called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, commonly known as AIPAC, which activity lobbied for military against President Bashar al-Assad. AIPAC is considered one of the most power and influential lobbyist groups in Washington D.C. so their agenda certainly effects the United State’s foreign policy. The AIPAC openly supported the use of American military strikes against Syria and stated, “This is a critical moment when America must. We send a message of resolve to Iran and Hezbollah – both of whom have provided direct and extensive military support to Assad. The Syrian regime and its Iranian ally have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not respect civilized norms," they stated according to Al Jazeera. (7)

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