Over 250,000 people are trapped in Aleppo, Syria without access to food, water or medical care from the outside world. Aleppo was once an economic center in Syria, but is now the center of the Syrian civil war. An aid convoy was bombed trying to reach civilians on Monday, Sept 19. United States officials accused Russia of the bombing the area to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Russia has denied the accusations.
Glen Duerr, professor of international studies at Cedarville, said that al-Assad and the government have adopted a “kneel or starve” policy against civilians.
“You starve the population of Aleppo or you force them to kneel to Bashar al-Assad the leader,” he said, “And so, it’s in effect become a siege on the city and young children have borne the brunt of this.”
Frank Jenista, another professor of international studies at Cedarville, said Assad is implementing a harsh policy against civilians to protect his own ethnic group- the Alawites, which are a minority in Syria. Jenista said the Alawites are convinced they are going to be massacred if they lose the Syrian civil war. He said that because the Alawites are convinced they are going to be massacred, they are willing to do anything, even if that includes starving cities of people who disagree with them, bombing hospitals or cutting off water and electricity.
“ This is back to medieval times where you just surround the castle and starve everybody until they surrender,” he said.
In addition to the number of civilians trapped in Aleppo, there are millions more Syrians who have been killed, internally displaced or who have become refugees due to the Syrian civil war.
The Assad government is not the only side committing human rights abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, civilians have been killed rebels’ attacks on government-held territories in cities such as Aleppo, Damascus, Idlib, and Latakia.
How did we get here?
The war began in 2011 when a group of pro-democracy rebels in Syria protested the Assad government and the Syrian government responded by force. The rebels were inspired by the Arab Spring movement in which there were pro-democracy protests in other countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.
While the rebels want democracy. ISIS is fighting the Assad government, too, but they want an Islamic State. The government wants to crush the rebellion. The Kurdish fighters want their own sovereign state as well, but are fighting against ISIS. Each of the main sides has many foreign backers. Russia is supporting Assad, whereas the United States-led coalition of countries is supporting the rebels. Both Russia and the United States are against ISIS, but have opposing views on whether Assad should stay or go. According to CNN, Russia is supporting Assad because they want to protect theit military interests in Syria (including a Mediterranean naval base at Tartus,) to maintain a key ally in Assad, and to fight Islamist groups in Syria similar to the ones in Chechnya, Russia.
Dealing with Russia
Both Russia and the United States are against ISIS, but have opposing views on whether Assad should stay or go.
Jenista said that although Russia is against ISIS like the United States is, Russia’s main focus is Syria is helping Assad.
“The bottom line is that US and Russian priorities and goals are fundamentally different,” he said.
Duerr said if the United States and Russia were to have greater coordination against ISIS, he would question what post-ISIS Syria would look like. He said that Russia wants Assad to stay and the United States wants Assad to go and there is no way to completely have both outcomes.
He said one way for the United States and Russia to come to a compromise would be if they divided Syria so that Assad controlled part of it and the rest of it was a new, independent state. Duerr said he wasn’t sure if all the factors are in place for that to happen, but he said it is important for the United States to try to deal with Russia in order to try to resolve the crisis.
“I find that, in part, abhorrent because Bashar al-Assad could still be in power and I agree with President Obama that he has to go, but maybe there’s a way of dividing Syria or having some form of new leader coming to the fore in place of Assad as a compromise, even if he’s within Assad’s inner circle,” he said.
How should it be handled?
Duerr said he predicts future generations will question how the current generation has handled the Syrian civil war.
“What’s happening to civilians in some of these major urban centers is horrific and I think our history books will be filled with questions on this,” he said, “Maybe our children’s generation will ask us questions of why we didn’t do more or why we allowed it to fester knowing that there are clear violations of international treaties, knowing that the responsibility to protect has been in the international community for over 10 years now.”
Duerr said Obama has been leery of sending US forces to Syria because his presidential campaign had been built around taking US troops out of the Middle East. He said Obama was slow to send troops to the Middle East despite the advice of generals who told him to get involved sooner. Obama decided to support rebel groups, but not with troops on the ground.
“In early goings of the protest in Syria, not in the capital, but in the biggest city, or what was the biggest city, there were significant pro-democracy rallies and clear groups with which I think most people would’ve felt comfortable working with them,” Duerr said.”That was the opportunity, but Obama staked his presidency on not getting involved but I think he’s come to the realization that’s an impossible task.”
Jenista said it would have been a lot easier for the United States to take remove Assad at the beginning of the war.
“When this first started, there were no outside groups involved, there was no Islamic State, there was no Al-Qaeda,” he said. “It was just people uprising in Syria, fed up with the dictatorship of Assad and thinking ‘Wow, other countries are doing this? This is the time of the Arab Spring, this is the time to revolt against dictators’ and all they wanted was the opportunity to have a democratic government, to choose their own leaders instead of being under this dictatorship. But, although President Obama said Assad has to go, there was no significant US help for the rebels. And because of that, the war went on and on and other parties started getting involved.”
Jenista said, although this is going to be difficult with foreign supporters helping the Assad government, there’s eventually going to have to be a political settlement.
“Nobody is going to win on the battlefield, unless we pull out, then they might,” he said. “But as long as we continue supporting rebel groups, at some point people are going to get sick and tired of all the killing and the uproar in their lives and say ‘Look, can’t we come to some sort of settlement here?’”
Jen Taggart is a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief for Cedars. She enjoys writing, listening to music and fueling her chocolate addiction.