by Michelle Palmer
I was going to post about something very different today, something much more in my wheelhouse. But it just didn’t sit well with me to ignore what’s happening in Syria. (Because that’s what happened for far too long.) If you’re looking for a Master’s level introduction to the Syrian conflict with all the hows and whys, you won’t find it here. I want to offer a very basic overview of the situation, provide you with resources to find out more, and then, most importantly, highlight some groups who are helping in the middle of the mess.
As many of us do, I understand better with visuals. This particular video helped me understand the basics: “Syria’s War: Who is Fighting and Why.”
(Another helpful video is “Syria in Five Minutes,” which is now slightly outdated, but is helpful in understanding the beginning of the conflict. // Related: “Understanding the Refugee Crisis in Europe, Syria, and around the World.”)
 Protests break out during what became known as Arab Spring. These were peaceful protests for democracy. The government, under President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, lethally attacks the protestors. Many from the military defect to join the protesters and form the “Free Syrian Army.” Thus begins the Syrian Civil War.
But then, it gets complicated.
Extremist Islamists join the rebels fighting the government, including Al Qaeda.
 Iran begins to back Assad, sending aid to government forces. Other gulf states support the rebels to counter Iran’s influence. (Sunnis are generally supporting the rebels, and Shias are generally supporting Assad.)
 ISIS expands into Syria, creating its own “caliphate,” and fights against the rebels and the Kurds, who have taken up arms in the north. Assad’s forces use chemical weapons and kill 1,400 people in Damascus. Obama threatens military action, but through Russia, a diplomatic agreement is reached. Syrian government forces agree to get rid of all chemical weaponry. US sends non-lethal aid to opposition forces.
 US and allies launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. “76,000 people died in the Syria conflict in 2014, according to the UN. The deadliest year yet.” (That’s too big a number for me to imagine, but that averages out to about 208 lives lost, each day, for an entire year.)
Since then, airstrikes and fighting have continued. Over half of the prewar population is displaced (11-12 million people), and with involvement from wealthy nations who can provide near endless supplies and firepower, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
[Lots of links to much better explanations of the situation are at the bottom of this post.]
So, what does this have to do with justice?
In the middle of all the fighting, there are civilians who have no access to food, clean water, and basic necessities. And like Mr. Rogers’ mom used to say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Syria Civil Defence (The White Helmets)
How do they work?
“We work in accordance with International Humanitarian Law. As defined in Protocol I (Article 61) of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, we pledge to provide the services listed at paragraph 5 for the following purposes:
- a) To protect the civilian population against the dangers arising from hostilities or other disasters.
- b) To speed recovery from the immediate effects of such events.
- c) To provide the conditions necessary for survival of the civilian population. “
Watch the Oscar-winning documentary about The White Helmets on Netflix.
[I donated while writing this post. How about you donate while reading it? And let us know if you do!]
How do they work?
“Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare.”
Long standing, and well-established. Find them on Facebook.
How do they work?
“We develop Innovative Education programs for Syrian refugee youth, distribute Smart Aid to Syrian families, and fund Sustainable Development projects initiated by Syrians for Syrians.”
A very cool U.S. based organization, started by Syrian-Americans. Find them on Facebook.
How do they work?
“Support Syrian families who’ve been displaced by ongoing conflict. Meet immediate needs for food, water and shelter while focusing especially on the longer-term emotional and developmental needs of traumatized children and adolescents.”
Find them on Facebook.
At risk of sounding like a broken record, find an organization that resonates with you and get involved! Donate, engage via social media, like and share their posts, support them as they serve on the ground.
I know, I know, I know — it feels painfully insignificant in the face of such horrific tragedy, but if we all do what we can, we can actually make a difference. Promise.
For more information….
- More great organizations can be found here.
- 25 Before & After Pics Reveal What War Has Done to Syria
- The War in Syria, Explained, Vox
- Syria After Four Years: Timeline of Conflict, Vice News
- What is Russia Doing in Syria?, Boston Globe
- 8 Stories to Read if You Want to Understand the Syrian Conflict, Washington Post
- Syria: The Story of the Conflict, BBC News
- Syria’s Civil War Explained from the Beginning, Al-Jazeera
- Quick Facts: What You Need to Know About the Syria Conflict, MercyCorps
- Syria Profile – Timeline, BBC News
- Timeline: U.S. approach to the Syrian civil war, Politico