During the time of Ottoman rule all the nations inhabiting these lands were considered Ottoman subjects and there was no irresistible hatred or enmity between the nations. However, in the early twentieth century, it was clear that the Ottoman Empire's days were numbered. Some historians and experts believe that the Ottoman Empire could disappear already in the nineteenth century, however, Sultan Abdulhamid’s masterful play on the contradictions of the Western powers, concerning the question of the division of "the Ottoman legacy", gave additional 30-40 years of life to the Empire.
XIX century and early XX century was marked by the rise of nationalist ideas throughout the Middle East. For multinational decrepit empire, "nationalism", whether Turkish, Arabic or Kurdish, is an infection, from which there is no cure. Everything was decided during the First World War, in which the Ottoman Empire entered as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary. In this situation, the Western powers and the Russian Empire certainly took advantage of the fifth columns within the Ottoman Empire; in particular, Russians organized Armenian uprisings and the British organized Arab revolts.
Arabs, represented by their elite who had joined the British, were promised to create their own state after the war. However, as we know from history, the creation of an Arab state was not in the plans of the winners. They obviously wanted to acquire new colonies and markets. In 1916 was signed the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, according to which, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles along with Istanbul, as well as some areas in the east of Anatolia, had to go to Russian, and Arab provinces shared between France and Britain. In the plans of the Entente there was no place for an independent Arab states or country. Allies just used the Arabs and their nationalist feelings in the fight against the Ottoman Empire.
In 1923, the French mandate was established in Syria and Lebanon1. Winners draw border of acquired territories not on the basis of ethnic composition, historical backgrounds, but on the basis of their political and economic interests at the time. As a result, the contours of the current Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon were defined. The Kurds were divided among several countries, it was a time bomb. Alawites became a part of the territory, which was dominated by Sunnis, Turkomans were in the territory where the majority of the population were either Kurds or Arabs, which led to persecutions against them in the future. In other words, the British and French maximally created potential trouble spots in the Middle East. Given how the borders of Syria and Iraq were drawn, we can say that those are artificial boundaries drawn by the victors, and were imposed on the population of these countries.
French mandate in Syria lasted until 1946. However, it should be noted that the French rule in Syria, was not entirely warmly welcomed. The French mandate was followed by uprisings and dissatisfaction. And among the discontented were both Arab nationalists and Arab elite.
Syria gained its full independence only after the Second World War. The years of independence were marked by alternating dictators, replacing each other by coups and conspiracies, and prolonged "state of emergency". For reference, Syria lived in a state of emergency from 1963 to 20112. The state of emergency was lifted only in 2011, but it was too late.
I find it hard to judge whether the Syrian authorities had an action plan in the case of global turmoil in the Arab world. And if there was one, what did it assume. As we know, history does not tolerate the subjunctive mood. What would be if Assad would have started a political process in 2011? This question can have different answers, and each of them will seem reasonable. However, that did not happen. Although in fairness it should be emphasized that the Syrian authorities took certain measures in order to resolve the situation. But all of them were either half-hearted or too late, did not give and could not give a tangible effect. Resorting to harsh repressions, the Syrian authorities have thus lost the initiative, and further aggravated the situation. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Assad probably took a leaf out of Colonel Gaddafi's book, everyone knows where Gaddafi’s stubbornness led him, and knows what happened with Libya. It is worth noting that the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt were not as bloody and violent as the Assad regime in Syria. The protests, which began in early 2011 in Syria, by the end of the year escalated into open armed confrontation between the opposition and the authorities. As the civil war was escalating, the allies were determined, if we talk about Assad, on his side were fighting units of the IRGC (Iran), the soldiers of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah, and the Russian military contingent in Syria. The opposition has been able to enlist the support of Turkey, the Gulf States, led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as a number of Western countries. At this point, the Syrian Arab Republic, de facto ceased to exist in the form in which it was at the beginning of the protests in 2011. The country is divided between the various factions, warring among themselves. Part of the country is still controlled by the Assad regime. Although by means of the Russian army, the forces of Assad managed to regain control over certain territories, in general, Russian intervention could not radically change the situation in favor of Assad. The political future of Bashar al-Assad at the moment is the subject of dispute and political bargaining.
The mass outflow of the population and its results for the future of Syria
Each country is first of all its population. It is people, human capital, and the forces determine many factors in the country's life. In 2011, Syria's population was 20.8 million people.
At the moment, it is impossible to say with certainty how many people were precisely killed in the Syrian conflict. Though, even the most modest estimates sound terrifying. For example, Violations Documentation Center in Syria estimates more than 133 thousand people killed in the conflict3, according to the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, more than 273 thousand people were killed during the conflict4. In my opinion, it is incorrect to talk about exact figures at the moment. To date, no one has accurate information about the number of victims (the more so with each passing day the number of victims is growing), but even rough estimates speak of a great disaster. The Syrian people are de facto going through genocide.
As of March 2016, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 4.8 million Syrian refugees5. Of these, about 2.75 million in Turkey, more than a million in Lebanon, 642,000 in Jordan, 246,000 in Iraq and 119,000 in Egypt (Quite a number in the EU countries, especially in Germany). In addition to these persons, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are over 6.6 million internally displaced people inside Syria itself6. It appears that the number of Syrian refugees is higher than the entire population of, for example, Georgia...
Even if hostilities cease and peace comes to Syria, I dare to assume that most of the refugees will not return back. If we analyze the process of population outflow from Syria, we can see that the economy, demographics and intellectual potential of the Syrian nation suffered serious and irreparable damage. The first refugees from Syria started to leave in 2011. Wealthy people, those who had funding and opportunities first left the country. Previously they pulled their capital out from the country. Further, among the refugees can be found a lot of middle-class doctors, teachers of higher educational institutions, medium-sized entrepreneurs, lawyers, scientists, experts from various fields. The absence of all these people in the country in the postwar period will create great difficulties in various fields, such as health, education, high technology, private enterprise, the financial sector, the state apparatus, and so on. Moreover, given that most of the representatives of the higher and middle classes, who left Syria, are people of secular orientation. This means that in the case of the Syrian democratic elections, secular party may receive fewer votes, in the absence of a large part of the electorate, which, of course, strengthens the position of the Islamists, giving them a chance to come to power through elections. And legally secure what they have won with force.
It should also be noted that the Russian military operation in Syria has made a significant contribution to the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, “Russia’s military activity in the region has fuelled the humanitarian crisis and driven more people to Turkey’s borders.”7
Daniel Silander and Don Wallace in their book “International Organizations and the Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect: The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria ", believe that Russia and China are guilty in the growth of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, using the UN Security Council for the maintenance of the Assad regime, as well as large amounts of military aid from Moscow to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.8
In the light of the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, which has affected all the countries bordering it, as well as the EU, Turkey’s proposal on the establishment of "buffer zone” in the north of Syria sounds quite reasonable. The Turkish side proposes to create a zone, free of weapons and military operations and house here Syrian refugees9. It is proposed to create the necessary infrastructure, including the construction of houses, schools and hospitals. With the help of the zone, of course it will not be able to completely block the flow of refugees from Syria, but it is possible to significantly reduce it. People can be placed in this zone in Syria. That is, they will not have to leave the country in search of refuge. Turkish authorities have actively lobbied this issue in the EU and NATO. In general, the west views this idea with interest. Certainly the establishment and maintenance of such a zone is associated with the military and political risks, but the benefit from it is not small either, both in the short and in the long term.
However, Russia (as well as Assad) acted against this initiative, which does not accept the solution of the problem without taking into account its interests and those of its ally.
Discussions on the topic of creating a buffer zone continued for quite a long time. Consensus on this issue has not been achieved, and Ankara does not want to act unilaterally.
While the debates, negotiations and political bargaining on creating or not creating a buffer zone in Syria goes on, people continue to die, as well as a large number of people continue to flee Syria in search of safe places.
Ali Hajizade, political analyst, head of the project “The Great Middle East”
1. League of Nations Official Journal, Vol. 3, August 1922, p. 1013
2. Riley M. Townsend, The European Migrant Crisis, 2015, p. 43.
3. Violation Documentation Center in Syria - http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/
4. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - http://www.syriahr.com/en/2016/03/15/about-2-millions-and-half-killed-and-wounded-since-the-beginning-of-the-syrian-revolution/
5. UNHCR, Syria Regional Refugee Response http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php
6. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs http://www.unocha.org/syria
7. NATO Secretary General discusses instability on NATO’s southern borders with Turkish Prime Minister - http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_128855.htm
8. Daniel Silander, Don Wallace International Organizations and the Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect: The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria 2015, p. 147.
9. U.S.-Turkey deal aims to create de facto ‘safe zone’ in northwest Syria https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/new-us-turkey-plan-amounts-to-a-safe-zone-in-northwest-syria/2015/07/26/0a533345-ff2e-4b40-858a-c1b36541e156_story.html?tid=sm_tw