BEYOND THE COAST
by Tarik Ayasun
Since the March of 2011, news from Syria sometimes dominated the news and other times played second fiddle to the domestic political scene here in America. Unfortunately, most Americans may not be able to locate Syria on a map of the Middle East, let alone on a world map. The geographical location of Syria is important not only to her immediate neighbors; Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon but to the rest of the region. Syria has a long coast on the Eastern Mediterranean hosting at least three major ports which would provide easy access to open waters bypassing the Suez Canal, possibly diminishing its value as a strategic connector. When one closely examines Syria’s location and locations of her neighbors, it will be easier to understand why Russia and China are unwilling to support actions against her troubled President Bashar Al-Asad who is indiscriminately killing his own citizens by blockading and bombing opposition cities and villages. While at the present time the events in Syria do not play a role in the daily lives of our citizens, in the long run it will affect every one of us one way or the other. Just as the world was deaf, mute and blind to what was happening in Germany under Adolf Hitler; the world seems to be repeating that performance today about the events taking place in Syria. While it may be unimaginable for the average citizen here on Marco Island to think our own government would surround our beautiful little island with gun- ships, tanks and military forces and bomb our buildings and kill our friends and family on a daily basis for any reason whatsoever; that is exactly what is happening in Syria and we, along with the rest of the world seem totally helpless and unable to do anything about it!
Syria is one of those “created” countries with a diverse population of a number of sects of Islam, various tribes, small and oppressed Christian and other minorities scattered around a country which is slightly larger than the state of North Dakota. The capital of Damascus – located at an oasis fed by the Barada River – is thought to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Total population of Syria is estimated to be 22 million, 74 percent of whom are Sunni Muslims, 16 percent other Muslims (Alawite, Druze) and 10 percent consisting of Christians of various denominations and tiny communities of Jews. The Alawite control the military as well as the government, even though they are a small minority of the population.
In May 2007 Bashar al-Asad was elected to his second term as president with 97.5 percent of the “vote”. Influenced by major Arab uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, antigovernment protests broke out in the southern province of Da’ra in March 2011, with protesters calling for the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law allowing arrests without charge, the legalization of political parties, and the removal of corrupt local officials. Since then demonstrations and unrest have spread to nearly every city in Syria, but the size and intensity of protests have fluctuated over time, and Aleppo and Damascus have remained relatively calm until this past week. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 Syrians have been killed since the unrest started a year ago.
In the background of all the unrest is Syria’s best friend Iran. Over the last ten years, the government of Iran dominated the Syrian political scene. One will determine the importance of Syria to Iran. Should there be a one hundred percent successful blockade of the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Iran would be able to export their oil and import all their other vital needs through the ports of Syria in the Mediterranean. Syria is also Israel’s access to Iran and Iran’s easy access to Israel by air or overland.
As the unrest continues and more and more Syrians lose their lives; and in the absence of any severe reaction from Western powers Bashar Al-Asad will more than likely get tougher and more and more rigid in his stance. History tells us that at the end of the day, he will go down in flames like Kaddafi of Libya, Saddam of Iraq and multitudes of others before them as people of all colors, creeds and religious beliefs yearn for freedom and will not tolerate living under the daily oppression of dictators. Unfortunately, in the Middle East, as well as in other parts of the world, Dictators rise and fall in every century. The results are inevitably the same; they leave behind a scorched country which will need years to rebuild, a population so crippled that it will take miracles to rise again and the probably the saddest part of it all, a world that will remain deaf, mute and blind to the rise of the next dictator; either right at the same spot or somewhere else around the world which our average citizens can’t name or place on a map.
A brief history of Syria as well as a map is attached for the readers of Coastal Breeze.
Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946. The new country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decades. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-Asad, a member of the Socialist Ba’th Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional peace talks over its return. Following the death of President al-Asad, his son, Bashar al-Asad, was approved as presi- dent by popular referendum in July 2000. Syrian troops – stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role – were withdrawn in April 2005. During the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hezbollah. In May 2007 Bashar al-Asad was elected to his second term as president. Influenced by major uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, antigovernment protests broke out in the southern province of Da’ra in March 2011 with protesters calling for the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law allowing arrests without charge, the legalization of political parties, and the removal of corrupt local officials. Since then demonstrations and unrest have spread to nearly every city in Syria, but the size and intensity of protests have fluctuated over time, and Aleppo and Damascus have remained relatively calm. The government has responded to unrest with a mix of concessions – including the repeal of the Emergency Law and approving new laws permitting new political parties and liberalizing local and national elections – and force. However, the government’s response has failed to meet opposition demands for Asad to step down, and the government’s ongoing security operations to quell unrest and a rise in armed opposition activity have led to violent clashes between government forces and oppositionists. In November 2011, international pressure on the Asad regime intensified as the 22-nation Arab League and Turkey voted to impose economic sanctions. As of January 2012, the UN Human Rights Council estimated that at least 5,400 people had been killed since the onset of Syrian protests.
Source: CIA-The World Factbook
Currently a member of Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board, Tarik Ayasun has given many years of community ser- vice to various organizations.