V. Demographic roots of the problem
Syrian demographic structure is a mixture of different ethnic roots with several religious beliefs. Arabs form the 90% of the population; Kurds form a 9%, Turcomans, Assyrians, Armenians and Circassians 1%.400
Among the Muslims, 90% of the total population, 74% of the population is Sunni Muslim, while the 16% is Alawites -which includes the al-Assad family-, Ismailis, Shi’a and the Druze. The other 10% practices Christianity.401
The mix characteristics of the Syrian demographics is one of the main roots of the ongoing Civil War; both the government and the opposition accuse each other of using sectarianism in obtaining further support and recruiting militia.402 In addition, it is certain that the opposition is supported by many multi-national armed groups, which express themselves as radical Islamists and jihadists.403
The world community and Vatican are also concerned about the future of the Christian minority in the country who had to change their locations due to the ongoing conflict.
VI. United Nations involvement so far
Right after the civil war started, on March 18, 2011, Ban Ki-moon –UN Secretary-General- called the use of force of the Syrian regime against the protesters as “unacceptable”.404
Some member-states supported the idea of an intervention, while some others did not. This dichotomy could be seen among the members of the Security Council as well, especially among the permanent members. The permanent members USA, UK and France attempted to produce a resolution for the authorisation of such an intervention; however Russia and China vetoed several resolution proposals.405 So far, the Security Council has succeeded to produce three resolutions: 2042, 2043, and 2118. Resolution 2058 renewed the mandate of the Supervision Mission upon the recommendation of the Secretary-General.
With the UNSC Resolutions 2042 and 2043 of the year 2012, the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria was established to carry out observations on the implementation of the six-point peace plan of Kofi Annan.406 In late September, the Council agreed on a resolution regarding Syrian chemical weaponry problem.407 Taking as a basis the Resolutions 2042 and 2043, and the General Debate of the Sixty-Eighth Session of the United Nations General Assembly; the Security Council adopted a resolution that gives the Syrian government time until June 30, 2014 to destroy all of its chemical weapons. The resolution also included a transition plan.408
"For many months, I have said that the confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria required a firm, united and decisive response. Tonight, the international community has delivered. A red light for one form of weapons does not mean a green light for others. This is not a license to kill with conventional weapons. All the violence must stop. All the guns must fall silent.” – Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General409
The United Nations supports the convention of the Geneva II Middle East peace conference to be held in Geneva in late 2013, which aims to stop the ongoing conflict, organise a transition period and post-conflict reconstruction. The dates of the conference have not been announced and it has been postponed for several times, which causes a decrease in hopes for a possible success from the conference.410 The conference is referred to by Bashar al-Assad as having no success factors.411
VII. Chemical Weapon Problem
The first reported use of chemical weapons came at 02:45 local time on 21 August in Ein Tarma, east of the centre of Damascus, and again at 02:47 in Zamalka, an adjoining district.412 Under a deal struck by the United States and Russia, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) (which is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)) sent experts to Syria after a sarin gas attack killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus in August.413
The CWC aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties thus states Parties, in turn, must take the steps necessary to enforce that prohibition in respect of persons (natural or legal) within their jurisdiction.414
A unique feature of the CWC is its incorporation of the 'challenge inspection', which means that under this procedure, States Parties have committed themselves to the principle of 'any time, anywhere' inspections with no right of refusal.415
The experts, supported by the United Nations, aim to oversee destruction of chemical weapons production and mixing equipment in Syria by November 1, and deal with all chemical weapons materials by the end of June 2014.416
"The Syrian Arab Republic submitted to the OPCW its formal initial declaration covering its chemical weapons programme" which "includes a general plan of destruction for consideration by the OPCW Executive Council", an expert said in a statement thus it followed as "Syria's submission is in line with the deadline".417 On 7 October United States and Russia stated that they are "very pleased" with the progress in Syria's chemical weapons disarmament.418 Although world's worst chemical weapons attack in 25 years may not be repeated in Syria both Assad's forces and rebels continue to kill with conventional weapons daily.419
VIII. Syria and Turkey
The relationship between Syria and Republic of Turkey (Turkey) is significant to the dynamics of the region, especially when the current civil war in Syria is concerned. Turkey and Syria were on good terms prior to the civil war in Syria: visa requirements for the citizens of both states for travelling in between were removed420 and a bilateral free-trade treaty came into force in 2007 enhancing the economic relations.421
In the immediate aftermath of the initial skirmishes between the Syrian government and the rebel forces, massive numbers of refugees started fleeing towards the 822 km long Turkish-Syrian border.422 According to the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate, the number of refugees exceeded 600.000 as of October 2013.423 In addition to the on-going refugee problem the relations between the two Middle-Eastern states which were pre-civil war on the mend have gotten tense following skirmishes in the border area.424 The tension raises the question whether Turkey, a NATO-ally, in the case where the conflict accelerates, would take the matter to the North Atlantic Council in order to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.425
During the very beginnings of the crackdown in Syria in 2011426 Turkish minister for foreign affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, visited Damascus, demanding the halting of the violence against the protesters.427 President al Assad said he would not "not relent in pursuing terrorist groups" in order to ensure the safety of Syrian citizens.428 In October same year, Turkey suspended all treaties and its financial dealings with Syria, issuing sanctions until a peaceful and legitimate government is founded.429 These actions followed similar ones from the Arab League and other members of the United Nations in response to the many violations of human rights.430 During the earlier periods of the conflict, Turkey’s role was moderating and conciliating, yet following the unresponsive attitude of the Syrian government, this role changed.431
On the 22nd of June, 2012 Syrian military officials stated they shot down a Turkish warplane as they were flying over Syrian territorial waters, violating Syrian airspace.432 Syrian authorities said the plane was flying at a very low altitude, at a high speed. 433
An announcement followed from the Turkish authorities after an emergency meeting in the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan;434 it briefly said the incident will be examined and that the Turkey will take the necessary steps.435
As the Turkish and Syrian navies searched for the 2 missing crew members on the plane,436 Turkish authorities stated that the plane was shot down in international air space after it accidentally entered Syrian airspace for a brief amount of time,437 in addition to this, the plane was unarmed,438 was marked as Turkish439 and it was executing a training mission. Syrian authorities remained to their statement as to, shooting down the plane was an act in accordance with the laws that govern such situations440 and the plane crashed 1km from the Syrian coastline441 well within its territorial waters and it was unidentified.442 Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in response stated: "A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack".443
In the meantime Turkey invoked Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty and called upon the Alliance for a military consultation.444 On the 26th of June NATO issued a statement condemning Syria’s actions: “We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms. It is another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life.”445 In July 2012, the bodies of the two pilots were recovered from the seabed.446 President al Assad expressed that he ‘wished the shoot down did not happen.’447 On 3rd of October 2012 a shell from Syria landed in Akcakale a town in Turkey near the Syrian border killing 5 civilians, two women and three children.448 Turkey in response opened artillery fire on targets determined by radar.449 In addition the Turkish Parliament went into emergency session450 and passed a bill authorizing cross-border military action in Syria.451 NATO stated that the shelling “is strongly condemned by, all Allies.” 452 The United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon requested the countries to show restraint and aim for political resolutions.453 Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stated Turkey does not want war and the response fire was a warning yet adding that Turkey would not ‘shy away from war if provoked’.454
Following the incident, Turkey intercepted a plane heading to Damascus from Moscow and carrying 30 passengers.455 This was due to the fact that the aircraft was suspected to carry military materials.456 Turkey stated that some material was confiscated before the plane was allowed to leave as Syria accused Turkey of air piracy.457 Both states banned each other’s aircrafts from their respective airspaces.458
In November 2012, Turkey officially recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.459 In December 2012, NATO announced its decision to deploy Patriot batteries in Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras and Adana, cities close to the Syrian border460 and the deployment was finished in February 2013.461
In 11th of May, 2013, two cars bombs exploded in Reyhanli, Hatay a Turkish town near the Syrian border.462 The attack made history as one of the most deadly attacks in the last decade,463 killing 46 people and leaving 100 wounded.464 Following the attack, minister of foreign affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu said the matter and deaths: "The attack has nothing to do with the Syrian refugees in Turkey; it's got everything to do with the Syrian regime".465 466
Syria rejected the accusations, the information minister Omran al-Zohbi stated that "Syria did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that".467
IX. International responses
i. Arab League
The Arab League is concerned about the civil war from its beginning. In August 2011, the Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby took note of the escalating violence and military operations especially in Hama and Deir al-Zor and called upon the government to “stop all acts of violence”, while acknowledging the “chance for the reforms announced by the President Bashar al-Assad to be accomplished”.468 By the end of August 2011, the Arab League agreed on condemnation of the crackdown, calling for an end to the violence and “asked the Secretary-General of the Arab League to carry out an urgent mission to Damascus and transmit the Arab initiative to resolve the crisis to the Syrian leadership".469 It further agreed on urging respect for the Syrian people's right to see political, social and economic reforms.470 These agreements are part of the Arab League Action Plan. The Syrian government rejected the statement of the Arab League with a “strong formal protest memorandum”, claiming that the League has violated its Charter.471
After a meeting with Bashar al-Assad in early September, the Secretary-General stated that the Syrian government agreed to "stop all violence from any side in order to protect the Syrian citizens".472 However, the Syrian government has not honoured this agreement, considering the ongoing acts of violence of the government.473
After warnings and calls, Syria’s membership was suspended.474 The League further warned the Syrian government with economic and political sanctions and taking the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
On December 19, 2011, the al-Assad government agreed to permit foreign observers from the Arab League to monitor the progress in Syria in removing troops from protest areas, free political prisoners, and negotiating with dissidents. The mission was in accordance with the Arab League peace plan aimed to resolve the Syrian crisis. The monitors were appointed and supported by the Arab League.475 The monitoring mission was criticised because of its head, Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, who was criticized to have tolerated the incidents of genocide, which is investigated by the International Criminal Court.
Currently, Syria’s membership is suspended and the Syrian National Coalition has been granted the official representation of Syria within the League476
ii. European Union
The European Union has condemned the government actions since the very beginning of the conflict. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, issued a statement on March 22, 2011, right after the conflict had started, and condemned the violent repression, called for political dialogue and called upon Syria for respect to its international commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms.477
The involvement of Iran in the Syrian crisis has close links to the continuity of Iranian influence in the Levant. The Syrian crisis has directly threatened this influence; hence Iran conducts an extensive effort to keep Bashar al-Assad in presidency.
The supporting efforts include trainings, military supplies and assisting pro-government shabiha militias. The evolvement of the supporting efforts into an expeditionary training mission is a notable fact reflecting Iran’s desire and capability to project military force outside of its borders.478
Along with the extensive support to the Syrian government, Iranian policy aims to ensure, in case the al-Assad regime collapses, that it can continue to “pursue its vital interests ..., using parts of Syria as a base as long as the Syrian opposition fails to establish full control over all of Syrian territory”, bearing in mind the possibility for the al-Assad regime to be ousted and opposition forces will come to power.479 480
iv. People’s Republic of China and Russian Federation
Stances of China and Russia are an important aspect of the international involvement. So far, they have vetoed resolutions in the Security Council on the Syrian issue, therefore these two countries can be considered as the reasons of the inability of the Security Council to act firmly towards the Syrian crisis.
China has close links to Syria thanks to economic reasons; China is the third largest importer of Syria.481 While some base the Chinese disapproval to an intervention authorised by the UN Security Council on these economic reasons, others have another basis: China does not want to reprise what happened in Libya and Côte d'Ivoire after the UNSC-authorised interventions.482 "A political solution is always the only realistic means to resolve the Syria issue," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.
As for the Russian Federation, along with sharing the aforementioned concerns regarding the cases of Libya and Côte d'Ivoire, economy, military and politics can be counted among the motives of the disapproval to such an intervention:
(1) Economy and military: Russia is the main arms supplier of Syria; the in-between arms contracts of Russia and Syria is worth at least $4 billion as of 2011.483 The Tartus Naval Base has a key role for Russia, serving as the only base that ensures Russian presence in the Mediterranean.
(2) Politics: Russia aims to shape the Middle East region and expel the US power from the region.484
Russia cooperates with the United States of America to maintain peace in Syria. To this end, the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons has been approved by both sides, following the chemical attacks in Ghouta.485
v. United Kingdom
The policy of the United Kingdom is similar to that of the USA, as a close partner and a co-member of NATO.
In late August 2011, UK issued a joint statement with France and Germany, to call upon al-Assad to settle for the consequences of the total rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to leave power, for the greater interest of Syria and the unity of his people.486
UK provided the opposition forces with intelligence share487 and non-lethal military aid as "the right thing to do" and that will "help save lives".488
On August 29, 2013, a motion failed in the House of Commons of the UK to determine if the UK will take part in an action with the US against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.489
vi. United States of America
The United States of America has a very clear stance on the Syrian crisis. Right after the beginning of the civil war, USA imposed sanctions on Bashar al-Assad and six other seniors following the crackdown of the protesters.490
USA has repeatedly condemned the al-Assad rule for its alleged tyrannical actions. USA has even backed the idea that the current regime has lost its legitimacy and therefore shall step down.491
USA is among the few governments which recognise the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Moreover, USA once attempted to make the UN Security Council authorise an intervention to Syria. Now, it is more into solving the conflict with means of democracy. Cooperating with Russia, USA approved the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons, which led to the Security Council Resolution 2118.492