Almost 600,000 Syrians have abandoned their homes and are burning their clothes as fuel, as they stream towards the Turkish border.
But why are they deserting their country? And who is behind it?
Syria has been immersed in a complex civil war since 2011. In a recent development, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has launched a military invasion into rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria, namely the Idlib and Aleppo provinces. This has displaced hordes of Syrian civilians, who are fleeing to the Turkish border, much to Turkey’s dismay.
To better understand this situation, let’s examine the reasons fueling this war.
A Nine-Year Conflict, Explained
The rebellion in Syria began just as similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had led to the overthrow of dictatorial leaders. These series of uprisings in the Middle East came to be known as the Arab Spring.
In Syria too, this sparked a desire for democracy, and peaceful protests erupted throughout the country. Bashar al-Assad, however, responded to the insurrection by detaining and killing protestors. With that, the civil war soon developed.
- Soldiers defecting from the military established the Free Syrian Army, one of the initial rebel groups in the civil war. The number of groups has only grown, with an estimated 1000 groups actively fighting against Assad. These groups have become increasingly aligned with religious extremist groups.
- In the meantime, ISIS, an extremist jihadist (religious) group in the region, exploited the unstable situation and started expanding its territory to build a caliphate.
- Syrian Kurds, the largest minority ethnic group in the country, have also joined the conflict. They helped the U.S in the battle against ISIS. However, they are under attack from neighboring Turkey that considers the group as a terrorist organization.
- Meanwhile, countries have jumped into the conflict as well. Within the Muslim religion, there are two major sects: Sunni and Shia. Syria has a Sunni-majority population, ruled by Assad who is a Shia. So, Shia-majority countries, like Iraq and Iran, have supported Assad, while the Sunni-majority Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have supported the rebels.
- The U.S. and Russia have injected themselves in the conflict as well. The U.S. is mainly focused on battling ISIS, while Russia is intent on upholding the Assad government.
Assad's government has been regaining territory. It has successfully launched attacks into the former rebel-held areas of Idlib and Aleppo. For the first time since 2012, Assad's army has regained full control of the Damascus-Aleppo highway, or the M5, that connects major Syrian cities.
With hundreds of thousands of refugees moving towards its borders, Turkey is concerned. The country is already struggling with 3.6 million Syrian refugees. So, what is Turkey doing? It is supporting Syrian rebels in north-west Syria in the fight against Assad. It is hoping to eventually move all refugees within its borders back into north-west Syria.
As a result, Turkey and Syria have engaged in military attacks and Turkey has warned Russia which is supporting Assad's government.
Sounds complicated? With so many players fighting for control, the Syrian crisis is a nightmare that has dragged on for nearly a decade.
Sources: Al Jazeera, CNN, NYTimes, BBC, Newser, Washington Post