The Syrian civil war is, to all intents and purposes, over.
While there remains an area in the north of the country which continues to be
occupied and administered by Turkey and another larger chunk of the northeast
of the country administered by a de facto autonomous Kurdish authority, none of
these major remaining parties is actively waging war with another. And the main
forces opposing Bashar al-Assad — ISIS and the non-ISIS Sunni opposition — have
already been comprehensively defeated.
But the war is far from over for the civilians in areas
previously hostile to the regime in Damascus. The atrocities and war crimes
committed by the regime in the war include indiscriminate shelling of civilian
urban areas, casual deployment of illegal weapons such as chemicals and cluster
munitions, deliberate bombing of hospitals, targeted killing of UN aid workers,
and starvation sieges against entire cities. Now new evidence is emerging of
large-scale sexual abuse against civilians in areas recaptured by the Damascus
regime, including numerous cases of child rape.
What is more, many of these actions do not and cannot have immediate tactical aims on the battlefield. Much of this was not “heat of battle” or “necessary evil” territory. Rather, it was part of a wider, calculated strategy for the long-term assertion of absolute dominion over the civilian population by the Assad regime. It is a strategy to crush into submission by sheer brute force the entire population of the country, and certainly those parts of the country that have had any kind of anti-regime sympathies. The people of Syria will now understand that they should have no expectation of human rights, no pretense to human dignity, and no ambition for political expression. They are to bow down to Assad. And to hope that by the grace of the state, they may be allowed to live.
It has also emerged recently that when Syrian refugees do
return to the country, they have a tendency to be disappeared — presumably on
the assumption that people who fled the country as the regime was dropping
bombs on their block of flats would likely be harboring negative sentiments
toward Damascus. But really, that is what awaits anyone who is suspected of
being hostile to the regime.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone. One of the least
appreciated facts about the Syrian regime is that it is a Baathist entity,
much like Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and indeed, much like an Arab
version of Europe’s communist regimes in the former Warsaw Pact. And just like
those states, the entire state apparatus is built on a system of repression,
intimidation, arbitrary detention, lengthy trips to the local “re-education”
center and the occasional case of missing persons. Those are some of the main
reasons why the civil war began back in 2011. There is every indication that
the Syrian state fully intends to return to that norm even after the civil war
has officially finished.
So what are the Syrian people to do? Remarkably, many
continue to resist. The organized groups and militias which fought the regime
in the past have all, more or less, been decimated, yes. But on the local
level, individuals and communities continue to hold their heads up high in
defiance, even as they do so in the full expectation that they are inviting
Every indication seems to suggest that death is the inevitable outcome for their courage and dignified stance. Assad now has full impunity. Russia and Iran will shield him from any Western censure. There is no appetite for humanitarian intervention anywhere in the West. Even the little censure that had been coming from the West has, in recent times, faded away. Slowly, a dark cloud is descending over Syria. The cries of those who will continue to die there will increasingly be muffled and lost, as the world is leaving them to their fate.