Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 26: March to May 2011 Period

The initial incident which sparked a new wave of resistance by opposition political groups in Syria in 2011 to the undemocratic Baath regime of Bashar Assad was the arrest on Mar. 6, 2011 of ten to fifteen Syrian children under the age of 16 in Daraa, Syria—for spray painting “Down with the regime [nizan]” on a wall—by local Syrian police.

Only about 200 to 350 people had initially joined a “Day of Rage” demonstration in Damascus on Mar. 15, 2011 in which Syrian political opposition groups demanded that Assad’s Baath regime rescind the Emergency Law of 1963 and release all remaining Syrian political prisoners. But when the families of the arrested schoolchildren in Daraa then held a street protest on Mar. 17, 2011 to demand the release of the ten schoolchildren, local Syrian security forces “opened fire” and killed several of the protesting family members, according to James Gelvin’s The Arab Uprisings; and, in response to the shooting down of these non-violent Syrian protesters, the following events happened in Syria after Mar. 17, 2011, according to the same book:

“…The next day [Mar. 18, 2011], their funeral procession brought out 20,000 demonstrators who chanted anti-government slogans and attacked government buildings…Protests erupted the same day far to the north in the coastal city of Banias…Protests soon spread to other cities including Latakia, Homs, Hasaka, and Qamishli, as well as to the small towns surrounding Damascus…”

Initially, the Baath regime cited the Emergency Law of 1963 as its legal basis for using its security forces and soldiers to attempt to violently suppress the initially non-violent opposition political groups’ street demonstrations of the post-March 2011 uprising in Syria, by overruling the Syrian constitution and detaining and arresting demonstrators indefinitely.

But on Apr. 16, 2011, the Baath regime agreed to repeal the Emergency Law of 1963, as demanded by the Syrian opposition groups coordinating the post-March 2011 Syrian uprising. In addition, to win more popular support for the Baath regime from Syria’s Kurdish minority, Assad’s regime also had agreed on Apr. 6, 2011 to grant citizenship “to 250,000 Kurds who, it maintains, had crossed into Syria from Turkey illegally in the early sixties,” according to The Arab Uprisings.

The same book also characterized the Syrian opposition political groups which were seeking to democratize or overthrow Assad’s Baath regime during 2011 in the following way:

“The opposition in Syria consists of 5 main components. The…spontaneous, mostly peaceful crowds…A variety of pro-democracy, pro-human rights, and social media groups…These groups have not been particularly successful at mobilizing substantial numbers…The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood…has been present only at opposition conferences outside Syria because it is illegal in Syria…Once the uprising broke out, however, the brotherhood declared its support for pro-democracy protesters, and called for a multiparty democracy.

“The final group that has participated in the uprising is deserters from the [Syrian] army and their support networks. Included among the latter are merchants and smugglers, who have armed those who abandoned the [Syrian] military without weapons…and the Turkish government, which allowed deserters to establish a cross-border presence in Turkey…”

The Arab Uprisings indicated why some of the lower-level conscripted Syrian soldiers—without needing any U.S.-NATO encouragement—might have started to desert from the Syrian Army after the post-March 2011 uprising against the Baath regime began: “Sunni conscripts, repelled by the level of violence their Alawite officers were willing to inflict on protesters, began to defect from the army in increasing numbers.”

(end of part 26)

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