BY CHRISTOPHER ESSNER
One million. Over one million Syrian refugees. One million people displaced by war, unable to enjoy the luxury of their own homes; unable to go a day without fear of death. One million people who may not have a home to return to. One million refugees have left the country the United Nations says, and another two million displaced. Over 70,000 people have been lost to this world. March 15th marks two years of fighting, with little end in sight.
The Syrian Civil War began during the much publicized Arab Spring that swept through the Middle East and North Africa––a time when countries were standing up in both peaceful and violent demonstrations against dictators who ruled over their lands for decades.
The two main parties fighting in this gruesome conflict include the Ba’ath Party, loyal to the al-Assad regime, and opposition forces––such as the Free Syrian Army, Syrian National Council, and various Islamist militant groups. It’s these radical Islamic groups that have members of the west weary in their support.
Thus far U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition has included money, food, and medical support. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the United States will provide opposition forces with $60 million in assistance during his recent trip to Rome.
“For more than a year, the United States and our partners have called on Assad to heed the voice of the Syrian people and to halt his war machine,” Kerry said. “Instead, what we have seen is his brutality increase.”
Syrian opposition forces have been disappointed about the lack of weaponry support from the U.S. and its allies in the west. Fouad Ajami, the former Middle East advisor for George W. Bush, believes military aid would be more impactful in this conflict.
“There is no substitute for military aid that neutralizes the Assad regime’s deadly firepower,” wrote Ajami, in an article for CBC News.
The United States and European nations may shift their aid policy should the situation continue to deteriorate. NBC News reported that the UK already announced they will send armored four-wheel vehicles to help transport opposition forces. The United States may also be considering similar action according to GlobalPost.com. Thus far direct military aid has remained off the table, however.
“We’ve really got to give the diplomacy a little bit of breathing room here as the talks play out in Rome,” State Department deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
Diplomacy talks continue as world leaders meet to find a way to put an end to this escalating conflict. The longer they wait, however, the more the Syrian people suffer.
Just this past February the Syrian government used ballistic missiles on rebel held areas killing 141 people, 71 of which were children. This just two month after Assad forced Scud missiles at opposition controlled areas. The Human Rights Watch working in the area said no rebels were present in the attacks.
“I have visited many attack sites in Syria, but have never seen such destruction,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher for the Human Rights Watch, who inspected the areas attacked. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the Syrian government finds ways to escalate its killing tactics.”
Of those affected by this war, the youth of Syria may have it the worst. Thousands and thousands of children are forced to fend for their lives every day. The Save the Children organization reports more than 2 million Syrian children are facing trauma, disease, and malnutrition.
The education system in Syria is reeling from destruction by the mortars and bullets from both sides, and for many children education is nonexistent.
“The education system in Syria is reeling from the impact of violence,” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Syria Representative.
The United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports over 2,400 schools have been damaged or destroyed. Another 1,500 are being used as shelters for displaced civilians.
Attendance for many schools has dropped significantly. In some areas attendance is as low as six percent. Many children have not been to school since the conflict began. Those who do attend school may see their classes swell to over 100 students.
“Syria once prided itself on the quality of its schools. Now it’s seeing the gains it made over the years rapidly reversed,” said Abdel-Jelil.
A generation of Syrians may be lost. A region so desperate for stability and economic growth needs as many young educated Arab leaders as it can produce. With more than 75 percent of schools closed, this will be harder to accomplish.
Accomplish this they must, however, for when this conflict ends, the Syrian people face a long road ahead. The infrastructure in Syria and many of the world’s oldest cities have been utterly destroyed. Cleanup will likely take years and billions of dollars of foreign aid.
The transition will not likely be easy either when this conflict does come to an end. Other newly democratic nations have seen problems of their own. Egypt has seen protest rise in recent months as Egyptians fear President Morsi is trying to make himself a dictator of an Islamist regime reported the BBC. Tunisia the spark of the Arab Spring has seen its fair share of difficulty as well according to AhramOnline.
Syria faces a more difficult road as fighting continues for the foreseeable future, than its Arab counterparts do. This begs the question––How long can this fighting continue? And is it time for the US to step into a greater role?