After two heavy earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the world stood in solidarity with the victims. While Turkey remains prepared with aid and assistance, Syria is prepared to play a geopolitical game. After the damage caused by the earthquake, the Syrian President is denying to provide aid to the regions under terrorist rule.
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Syria faces a bigger challenge in West Asia after the earthquake
The two biggest earthquakes hit Western Asia this week. One of magnitude 7.8 followed by another of magnitude 7.5. It jolted parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Cyprus and Lebanon and the death toll is nearing 30,000 now.
While humanitarian aid poured in from everywhere to save the victims in Turkey. The equally devastated Syria is facing a bigger challenge – the earthquake has destroyed the only route to provide aid in the war-torn country, the internal and international politics is also playing a bigger role in the distribution of aid. There is no effective government in Syria and parts of the country is under the control of Turks, Kurds, Jihadis and Bashar al-Assad. For the last 12 years, there is a civil war in the country. The impact of all this is becoming a concern for those who are caught in the earthquake, as the Assad government wants to wipe out the population caught in the calamity.
What happened in Syria?
Tracing the civil war in Syria is not an easy job. It is difficult for a layman to understand who’s fighting whom in Syria and for what reasons. There are many conflicts in Syria and together they form the civil war situation in the country.
It all began under the rule of Bashar al-Assad. Syrians were suffering from “uneven development” under his rule. The country was plagued with corruption, unemployment and a lack of freedom of speech. In 2011, democratic uprisings began in the country but the government tried to violently crush them. The security forces were implanted in the country to ensure no such uprising happens again but soon, the opposition took up arms to get rid of them. Assad called it “foreign-backed terrorism.”
To put it simply, various forces in Syria (allies of the Turks, Kurds, Assad’s opposition, and Jihadi organisation like Islamic State group (IS) and Al-Qaeda) wanted to topple Assad’s government. They either wanted the right to self-government or autonomy within the region. All these groups are backed by various international actors. When the violence escalated and the country fell into a civil war foreign powers began to take sides. They started providing weapons, ammunition, money and fighters.
Who’s supporting whom in Syria?
The government of Assad is backed by Russia and Iran. Russia has its military bases in Syria which were established before the civil war. Russia’s only naval base outside the former Soviet Union is in Syria’s Tartus. It has been doing air strikes to kill those, whom Assad is calling the terrorists in the region but most of the victims are civilians or opposition rebels.
Iran has deployed hundreds of troops in Syria to fight against Assad’s rebels and trained and maintained the National Defence Forces (NDF). The NDF is mostly trained by Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Iran sees Syria as its only ally in the Middle East since the Islamic Revolution. Iran’s ministers have also claimed that they do not subscribe to the idea of using extremist forces and terrorism to topple Assad and the Syrian government. Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen are also supporting Assad.
The US, UK and France are not in support of the Assad regime and hence they provide help to “moderate” rebel groups. They remain wary of the jihadist rise in the region and hence they assist the rebel groups to fight against jihadist groups like IS and Al-Qaeda. Since 2014, a US-led international coalition has also launched airstrikes and sent special forces into Syria to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, in retaking territory once held by IS militants in the country’s northeast and preventing the jihadist group from re-establishing itself.
Turkey opposes Assad’s government as well but their main targets are the Kurdish YPG militia that dominates the SDF. Turks believe that these Kurds are an extended group of an already banned Kurdish rebel group in Turkey. Turkish troops that fight the Kurdish YPG military have also acquired territorial control on Syria’s Northern border. They had a stronghold in Idlib and have stopped any intervention carried out by the Assad government.
Currently, rescue operations for the earthquake are being carried out in Idlib. It is controlled by the Jihadis, the true enemies of Assad. Idlib becomes important for us, as it is the worst-affected region after the earthquake where the Assad government is denying any humanitarian aid.
These are the main foreign actors in Syria’s conflict. Other than this, Saudi Arabia is countering the military established by Iran in Syria. At the outset of the conflict, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were eager to resist Iranian influence by providing weapons and funding to the rebels. Israel further complicates the matter as it remains concerned with Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria, and the activities of the Hezbollah and other Shia militias that it has conducted air strikes with increasing frequency in an attempt to push them down.
This is not an ordinary civil war or a conflict between the strong powers of the region. This is a complex situation, where one is trying to oust the other one. It has become the land of many proxies where people remain neglected. The sad truth is, nobody is trying to find a solution to this conflict. Now with the earthquake, UN-provided humanitarian assistance is at stake.
From the picture below, we can make out that the most affected areas are the ones where there is no elected government. The region is either controlled by the Jihadis or Turkish military or the Kurds which are backed by foreign powers, most of them are fighting against each other and not directly against Assad.
The Syrian government and the politics of aid
On February 11, President Assad visited the Aleppo region in Syria to meet the survivors and criticise the west for not providing aid. Aleppo came into the hands of the Assad government in 2016, when the Syrian state backed by Russia conducted strikes against the rebels forcing them to leave the region. Those who left Aleppo resided in Idlib. Currently, the White Helmets are rescuing the people in this region. President Assad said that his government will allow aid but not if it goes to people whom they regard as terrorists.
Another problem is that the only border crossing that allows for the aid to come in has been badly damaged by the earthquake. The Bab al-Hawa crossing is an international border between Turkey and Syria.
The United Nations (UN) said six lorries carrying shelter and relief supplies had gone through Idlib’s Bab al-Hawa crossing. The UN special envoy for Syria said on Thursday that earthquake-affected regions of the country had received “nowhere near enough” lifesaving aid and warned that assistance must not be “politicised”.
How is the Syrian aid being politicised?
The two biggest earthquakes in Turkey have become a silver lining for the Syrians and Russians. Many experts are saying the earthquake ‘did what the Assad regime and Russians wanted to do to us all along.’
Turkey has gathered its emergency teams and troops, as it is well prepared to handle the fallout from natural calamities. International rescue teams are still arriving on the ground from the United States, Ukraine, Lebanon, Japan, and other nations as many offer their support for the Turkish and Syrian victims. While Syria is getting the minimal help. The matter of fact is that for the last 12 years, the country has witnessed a mass loss of life due to war, crime, murder, poverty, hunger and the pandemic. And now the earthquake. The international community has ignored the misery of the people of Syria. Syria remains way behind in terms of funding than what it needs, this has been happening since the civil war commenced in the region.
The White Helmets and other volunteer organisations are lacking everything they might need to rescue the victims, such as diesel to power their heavy equipment, shelters for individuals who are currently outside in the cold, and winterization kits. There hasn’t been a single official rescue team sent by nations across one specific border into Syria, despite the rush of local organisations to provide humanitarian aid—a drop in the ocean of what is required. In actuality, absolutely nothing has crossed that border. The crossing itself, according to the UN, is unharmed, but the roads leading to it are either blocked or destroyed. As a result, this rebel-held region is at the mercy of its limited resources and a government that wants to eradicate its population from the face of the earth.