In one of my other clubs this week, I was leading a meeting in which we were looking into some potential speakers for a conference we are holding in the spring. One of the groups found an amazing preview of a new Netflix documentary called The White Helmets. You can watch this thrilling preview here. Basically, The White Helmets are a voluntary group in Syria who have taken on the role of first responders to bombings in a country where the government departments no longer are in place to handle these situations. While everyone in this meeting was stunned by the footage and work that The White Helmets are doing, one of my closest friends asked about where the speaker would need to be flown in from. The student who found the video responded by saying Aleppo. My friend then asked, “and where is that?” By no means is my friend unconscious of what is going on in the world, but this had taken me aback. One of the most dangerous places in the world and she had no idea about what was going on there. I realized that this is no fault of her own, but that as students who care about the world, it is important to understand the current situation in Syria to at least some extent.
As you’ve hopefully seen from our beautiful PennSID posters around campus, the situation in Syria is at extreme levels. The current civil war has been going on for approximately five years. More than a quarter million Syrians have been killed and over eleven million have been displaced. It is currently estimated that more than 50 bombs and mortars a day land on Syrian neighborhoods. What started out as pro-democracy protests in March of 2011, suddenly became violent when security forces fired on some of the protestors. A couple months later, protests evolved asking for the president’s resignation and were combatted by military force. When opposition emerged, a civil war had essentially begun.
Nowadays this is not just a war between those for and against the president. It has become covered by religious overtones as the Sunni majority of the country combats that of the president’s Shi’a sect of Alawite. Similarly, with the emergence of ISIS, the conflict has become increasingly violent as the Islamic State looks to gain a major foothold in Syria.
So why should we care? Obviously, there are horrible things happening, and sometimes it feels as if there is nothing to do about them. The major concern for many U.S. citizens is the involvement of foreign powers in the conflict and the extremely high exodus of refugees. Russia and the United States are two of the biggest players with Russia supporting President al-Assad, while the United States has focused on promoting democracy and saving people from the Islamic State. Similarly, as we have seen throughout this year’s presidential debates, a major concern has been welcoming in Syrian refugees. Many say that the U.S. needs to play a bigger role in helping with the relocation of refugees, as the burden is falling largely on European and Middle Eastern countries. However, many are concerned about national security despite a rigorous approval procedure that any refugee applicant must go through.
Overall, I hope that this has given you a little more background on the issue in Syria and some of the staggering figures that many seem to be unaware about. Keep up with the conflict by staying in touch with PennSID and checking out our events where we discuss many similar issues and what role we can play in the situations.
Sources: thewhitehelmets.org, BBC.com