July 6, 2020

Conflict in Syria and the Fear of Genocide

By Alexis Herr

The conflict in Syria began on 15 March 2011 when protests erupted in response to the arrest and torture of fifteen children all under seventeen years of age. The young revolutionaries had tagged the common Arab spring slogan “The people want the fall of the regime” on a wall and Syria’s authoritarian regime’s brutal response sparked outrage throughout the country. This short blog post will provide a very basic synopsis of Syria’s ongoing civil war and in so doing address the characteristics of the conflict that some fear (myself included) may evolve into genocidal policy.

Syria’s 22.5 million citizens are divided into two main groups. Arab Sunni Muslims make up 65 percent of the population and the Alwaite minority accounts for 12 percent of all Syrians. The ruling family and its military are predominantly Alwaite whereas the protestors are led by Arab Sunni Muslims. The struggle between the ruling elite and the opposition has evolved into a conflict between two main ethnic groups and threatens to upend the idea of inclusive Syrian nationality. The Assad regime responded to Arab Sunni Muslims’ protests by rallying Alwaite and other minorities (Kurds, Christians, Druze, and Shia) against what it defined as a foreign Sunni fanatic threat. Mobilizing his military and loyal followers, Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad responded to his critics with brutal force. Thus, what had begun as a peaceful protest quickly evolved into armed sectarian warfare.

The brutal fight between the pro-government and anti-government forces has come at a great cost to human life. The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 Syrians have died and the bloodshed has forced another one million to flee. The ethnic divisions between the two warring groups has led many to fear that in Assad’s attempt to destroy the resistance, he will enact a policy aimed at the destruction in whole or part of all ethnic Arab Sunni Muslims. If this occurs, what was a civil war will officially become genocide.


To lean more about the Syrian conflict, please refer to the following sources:


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide


United Nations News Centre on Syria

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