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Syria awaits transition but at what cost?

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President Assad with President Putin in 2017 (image via President of Russia website).

A resolution in Syria remains uncertain as sectarian interests wrestle for supremacy.

FOR THE LAST seven years, Syria has faced a furious civil war that has destroyed large parts of the country. Nearly 500,000 have been killed and just under six million people have been displaced. According to the United Nations, these people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

War is cruel because it shatters dreams, destroy cities, separate families and kills innocent people. But who has benefited from the war? It hasn't been the Syrian Government or the Syrian people. But regional and global powers have benefited a lot from the Syrian Civil War.

Untill 2010, Turkish foreign policy was based on a "zero-problem with neighbours" notion. But when the Syrian Revolution began, it was Turkey which supported and sheltered the Syrian regime defectors by giving them protection. Before the aborted revolt, Syria was one of the most peaceful, pluralistic and secular countries in the Arab world.

However, Arabs didn’t want Assad in power anymore because of his close ties with Iran and its Lebanese armed militia Hezbollah. It's claimed that Iran is reviving the once "Great Persia" by exporting its revolution around the Arab world. Today, you cannot even call Syria as the "cradle of civilization" – as it was once known for being home to various ancient civilizations – because the whole Syria was transformed by the civil war.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that Assad was once a very popular personality among the Arabs. But his popularity vanished when the Lebanese President Rafic Harari was assassinated in 2005 and Arabs blamed Assad for the assassination.

Since then, the Gulf countries have been pursuing an anti-Assad Policy and the beginning of 2011 revolution was the best opportunity for the Arabs to unseat Assad from the Syrian throne. But they brutally failed. Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were the major supporters of Syrian rebels assisting them with money and weaponry. With the involvement of Sunni Arab states, Iran has also strengthened its position in Syria by backing the Assad government with logistics and military support on the battlefield.

Today, Iran is a major stakeholder alongside Russia and Turkey in the Syrian conflict and have established military bases inside the Syrian territory. Perhaps, this was a major defeat for the Gulf monarchies — which wasted their time and money in the Syrian quagmire. Furthermore, war also benefited the global powers, especially America, which intervened in the conflict with the excuse of countering ISIS expansion in a coalition of 60 western nations.

But the credit was again taken by the Syrian Government which crushed ISIS with the help of Russian intelligence and air support. This grand excuse of the ISIS threat has provided a perfect opportunity for America to establish military bases in the north of Syria, mostly inhabited by the Syrian Kurds.

Initially, the bases were welcomed by Turkey but with the growing logistic support from the U.S. to the Syrian Kurdish Militias has infuriated President Erdogan, who blamed American’s for destabilizing Turkey by supporting Syrian Kurdish military wing, YPG, which has long ties with the Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

Erdogan condemned the U.S. presence in Syria and called for their removal by landing its military in the Northern Kurdish city of Manbij to crush the expansion of YPG alongside Turkish-Syria border. In this way, the alliances have shifted in the Syrian Civil War. Turkey joined hands with Russia and Iran as a major stakeholder in the future settlement of Syria.

Today, a new Syria is emerging from the ruins and ashes of war-torn Syria because President Assad remained successful in regaining large parts of Syria, which had been lost in 2013. Now, Assad is changing the whole demography of Syria — Homs, which was the capital of revolution and once a home to Syrian Sunni Muslims, has now been divided among the Christians, Shia’s and Alwaites.

Perhaps, this was their fate because they disrespected their legitimate pluralistic government. Likewise, the other areas are also facing demographic changes such as Damascus, Hama and Aleppo — Damascus once an architectural hub of Sunni Islam, is now experiencing the shift in demography.

In contrast, President Assad now controls the Syrian spine, Aleppo in the north and Damascus in the south. Although there are a lot of challenges ahead, President Assad now controls the fate and destiny of Syria — projecting himself as its saviour.

A joint conference was recently held in Turkey between Russia, Iran and Turkey to discuss the future transition in Syria. But one thing seems quite clear: that President Assad is not going to leave the Syrian throne anytime soon — so the transition will occur at the cost of dividing Syria among the warring factions.

Shahzada Rahim is a postgraduate student with a keen interest in writing on history, geopolitics, current affairs, and international political economy. He is a freelancer and an independent writer. 

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