5,000 dead after Syria’s nine-month uprising
As violence in Syria continues to increase, the UN warns that Assad’s government has gone too far. Over 5,000 civilians are now dead. How are Syrians standing up against repression?
For nine months now, protests in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have been met with arrests, violence and torture. Now, unrest is fast becoming civil war. Yesterday, in the latest piece of grim news from the country, it was revealed that as many as 5,000 civilians have been killed since the protests began, including at least 300 children.
The Syrian government has spared no effort to crush all signs of resistance. The families of opponents have been targeted. Marches have been fired on with live ammunition. Even as Assad maintains the illusion of democracy, calling citizens to turn out for local elections, his soldiers are killing people in the streets.
In the capital of Damascus, security forces clamp down on any visible uprising. Other, more rebellious settlements are under siege, ringed by tanks and armoured vehicles. Revolutionaries camp out in the hills, and in remote country villages, launching occasional attacks on government convoys that pass by. They are armed only with ancient Kalashnikov rifles, scavenged bullets and a courage born from hatred of the regime.
Who are Assad’s main opponents? The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a mixed bag of rebels, including desert-dwelling Bedouin, veteran insurgents from the Iraq War and a growing number of military defectors. They see violence as the only way to combat the government’s overwhelming force.
More peaceful types gravitate towards the Syrian National Council, based in Turkey. This group of exiles still dreams of a peaceful transfer of power away from the regime, and has called on the Free Syrian Army to keep violence in check.
In the capital of Damascus, meanwhile, young citizens use more creative methods of protest. They place cassette-players blaring anti-Assad songs in rubbish bins, aim laser lights at the presidential palace, and dye the city’s fountains red, to symbolise the blood of their 5,000 murdered countrymen and women.
Kill or be killed?
If Syrians face arrest, torture and execution when they resist Assad’s rule, how should they go about opposing him? The FSA and other armed rebel groups think the dictator will never negotiate; that violence is the only language Assad and his butchers understand. Without armed resistance, they argue, the revolution would be crushed entirely.
Others worry that violence is both wrong and counterproductive. Wrong, because killing brings Syria’s revolutionaries down to Assad’s level. Unwise because it makes the revolutionaries less noble in the eyes of the world, and decreases the chances of international help.
- How should opposition groups in Syria resist President Assad?
- Is violence always wrong, whatever the circumstances?
- Young people in Damascus have invented some clever ways to oppose Assad without getting arrested or killed. Think of some more suggestions. You want to have the biggest political impact while running the minimum possible risk.
- Do some further research on the Arab Spring uprisings. Why has Syria’s been so much more unsuccessful than the others?
Some People Say...
“Better to die a martyr than to live a murderer.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Dictators in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have been toppled. How is Assad holding onto power?
- Syria is complicated because it is very ethnically and religiously diverse. Assad comes from a minority group called the Alawites. Most of the opposition is among Sunni Muslims.
- So what?
- Minority groups in Syria, like the Christians or Druze, tend to reluctantly support Assad because they fear the country will end up dominated by Islamists.
- Is that a realistic fear?
- Syria, like Egypt, has a Muslim Brotherhood which is dedicated to putting Islam at the heart of politics. However, Syria’s Islamists insist they will respect the rights of minorities and the democratic process.
- Live ammunition
- Real bullets as opposed to rubber bullets (non-lethal bullets often used for crowd control) or blanks (which just make a loud noise). Live ammunition, ironically, is the sort that makes people dead.
- The word roughly translated from Arabic means ‘those who live in the desert.’ Bedouin tribes often live as nomads, moving their settlements from place to place in search of good land on which to graze their herds.
- Someone who has abandoned their position or switched from one faction to another. Many ordinary soldiers are secretly on the side of the protesters, but those who disobey orders are routinely shot and killed by their commanding officers.