Since the early days of February, 2023,northern Syria and southern Turkey have been on everyone’s lips. These two regions were hit by two massive earthquakes. Social media is awash with photos of Syrians, Turks and foreigners crying for support. There was a viral and touching picture of a man holding the body of his daughter that lost her life in the aftermath of this natural disaster. The girl’s body was retrieved from a damaged building in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey. In another development, Syrians were moved to tears by the miraculous fate of a courageous nine-year-old girl named Sham who was rescued alive after spending close to two days in the rubble. Unfortunately, her legs were badly damaged that a doctor suggested the limbs would be amputated. Another thrilling event was a mother who went through labour pains and birthed a child while trapped in the rubble. The mother was found dead but the child was alive and kicking, her umbilical cord still connected to her deacesed mother’s. The earthquakes have terminated the lives of tens of thousands of people. It is regarded as one of deadliest natural disasters to happen in recent times. They have been described as catastrophic. In Turkey, there was a government-issued state of emergency in the affected areas. As usual, the military was deployed by the state department of armed forces. Furthermore, emergency crews were alighting from aircrafts, flying in from different parts of the world. Yet there are still so many people in desperate need. The survivors are devastated. They are calling on the government to send technological tools to lift heavy slabs of concrete, so as to make the rescue operation more effective and timely. People are still trapped in the rubble.
However, in northern Syria, the situation is even more complicated. Because even though it has fallen out of news headlines, the war there is not over. And most countries that could have been of help to them are feeling reluctant to deal directly with the Assad government. These countries, including USA, see it as ironic, if not counterproductive for them to reach out to a government that has brutalized its people over the course of a dozen years now. The USA could have been the Arab country’s greatest ally, since it has natural resources such as oil.
Even before the earthquakes, Syria is a caravan of hostility and belligerency, and there was already a desperate humanitarian crisis there. About 4.6 million people live in northwest Syria, 4.1 million of them rely on aid to meet their most basic needs , things like food, shelter and fuel. It is estimated that a staggering 90% of the population are living in poverty, one of the highest in the world. People who supposed to be engaged in legitimate and developmental endeavors are recruited to fight in the army and kill thousands of people. The enemies of the Syrian government are both internal and external. The capital, Damascus, was not spared. Although casualties were relatively small, houses were damaged, living hundreds of people homeless.
The government has been the worst perpetrator of evil. There have been constant airstrike and systematic targeting of civilian facilities, this includes not only residential buildings but also power stations, water stations, hospitals and schools. The country is gradually receding into the Stone Age.
Syria practices an absurd sort of democracy. The President, Bashar Hafez al-Assad, assumed this position after his father died of heart attack, after 29 years of his military dictatorship. In fact, it is wrong to associate that sort of government to a democracy whose premise is the majority wish of the people. However, they managed to make up a farce idiotically labeled as an election, where Bashar Hafez al-Assad was the only contender. It is better to call it a military monarchy, where an army General controls all the affairs of the country without accountability to anyone or any institution. The country has a Prime Minister and a legislature. Neither of these two bodies are anything short of an assembly of yesmen. The President seems to wield the greatest power. He has the power to hire and fire a Prime Minister, unlike what a parliamentary republic is known to be.
Many political watchers are of the opinion that Bashar Hafez al-Assad is trying to paint a good image of himself in the international community. Well, that is what almost all dictators are known for. And it shows an element of cowardice in them. Bashar al-Assad is not different from Adolf Hitler. Though the latter had greater scope of influence than him. When he inherited the presidency from his father, he launched many strange policies that are alien to the people. This has long triggered uprising and fueled guerilla warfare.
It worthy to repeat that Syria is an economically poor country, even though it has the potential of becoming a great nation. The production of oil is almost unfeasible as a result of territorial struggle between the so-called government and groups that are bent in destabilizing the fabric of the land, all in the name of religious and ideological grandstanding. The country is notorious for making money from selling illegal drugs. Something that is unheard of! The tourism sector alone could have gathered thousands of dollars into the nation’s coffers. Remember that Syria is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, having many historic sites, both biblical and secular. The hospitality industry which is a subsector of the tourism sector could have been able to foot the country’s bill as we see in United Arab Emirates. But nobody want to visit a warzone, no matter how ancient its cites are. Syria has been visiting war for decades.
Although it claims to be secular, but there have been loads of reports about constant conflict in different regions of the country, even though over 70% of the inhabitants are Muslims. But you know, in Islam, as in every other religion, there are schism and sectarianism. These divisions are used by political con men like al-Assad to command fear and obedience in the nation. His very power feeds in that. His father was even far respected than himself, irregardless of the that he was an infamous coup plotter.
International sanctions have been imposed on the country by the US. But they are mainly imposed on specific government entities that have been contributing to the violations committed. Russia, Iran, Iraq and Algeria have all sent aid to the Syrian government. But the government controls what aid goes where. So they also control what does, or does not end up in the opposition areas.
There is immediate response in the form of tents, temporary housing, food packs, hygiene kits, drinking water and blankets.
In the country, earthquake rescue teams have to negotiate a patchwork of areas controlled by rival forces.
Most of the country as far north as Aleppo is controlled by President Bashir Al-Assad while Kurds are in charge in the east.
So the bottom line is, in Syria, all assistance has to be negotiated, agreed and monitored at the highest levels in coordination with Syria government, and often, Russia and Turkey too. And mostly, it is done through the United Nations and that takes time. While right now people are freezing, hungry, injured , or even worse, still trapped under the rubble.
THE WAY FORWARD FOR SYRIA
Quite a number of countries experienced terrible times, countries such as Singapore. Yet, with the political will, they were able to build a nation of their dream. Syria will not likely come out of this mess in decades. It is easier to wreak havoc than to repair. The ongoing war in Syria should stop as fast as possible. There is nowhere in the world that can ever grow in any measurable metrics if there is internal or external aggression. The reason why countries like Egypt and Qatar are where they are today is because they enshrined an atmosphere of peace and unity in their nationhood. It was something that occurred overnight, but it intentionally engineered. So, Syria can decide to turn a new leave now or never. All odds are not against them. Firstly, they need to institute an interim government that will usher in a proper democracy. Secondly, they need to amend their constitution to fit into the spirit and culture of the people. Thirdly, they need to openly fight terrorism. It can only be successful if they are willing to call on the United Nations for assistance and other well-meaning bodies. They should reduce their political association with other communist, undemocratic nations like China and Russia. Fourthly, they need to look inwards. Find a way to revitalize decaying sectors like tourism and culture. And lastly, facilitate economic growth by investing in education. When I say education, I mean, that the Arabs should be taught from cradle that life is not all about warfare. If it is about warfare, Syria could have been at the top of its game. But look at where they are: at the bottom of a barrel.