News / Middle East

Debate Rages: Is Syria Conflict Civil War?

Is Syria headed towards civil war?

With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continuing his crackdown on anti-government uprisings - and the opposition taking up arms - the bloodshed bears the hallmarks of a civil war.

But the question of whether Syria is indeed embroiled in a civil war is fueling debate not only in international diplomatic circles but also in the blogosphere.

There are no international guidelines that clearly define a conflict as civil war. And the Syrian government and opposition leaders do not describe their fight in those terms.

Syrian activists say they are battling a brutal government and trying to protect citizens.  Rebel fighters mainly stage hit-and-run attacks.

Syria's Main Opposition Groups

  • Syrian National Council:
    - Turkey-based coalition is Syria's largest opposition grouping.
  • National Coordination Committee:
    - Primarily based in Syria.
    - Wants government to enact reforms through dialogue.
  • Free Syrian Army:
    - Comprised of military defectors and claims to have at least 15,000 members. Claims have not been independently verified.

Media reports say the armed opposition - largely a group known as the Syria Free Army - has neither the training nor the firepower to conduct a full-fledged military fight against Syrian forces.

The government says it is defending itself against armed terrorists and outside agitators.

Civil war label elusive

Still, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned the General Assembly this week that the continued violent repression and sectarian tensions in Syria might soon plunge the country into civil war.

But Syrian activist Karam Nachar took to Twitter this week to quash that notion.

"Stop calling it civil war!," he wrote, "as if there's a symmetry of power btw the regime and the so called 'rebels'! This is a regime killing its people."

VOA posed the question to its Twitter followers: "Share your opinion:  Has the unrest in #Syria crossed the line into civil war? Where is the line?"

@AliChubby, a blogger and citizen journalist in Amman, Jordan, Tweeted:  "Syria situation been described as 'Getting into Civil War' but I don't think it did...bc not everyone has picked up arms yet."

Nachar told VOA via Skype from his New York City home that the fractured group of rebels around the country is fighting to safeguard the Syrian people.

"Now for the past several months we have seen military defectors that are trying to protect these people, but obviously they are failing," Nachar said.  "They are failing to protect themselves.  So I am really worried about this shift in discourse in the mainstream media, especially in the West, from talking about a Syrian uprising to talking about a civil war."

Opposition forces organizing

But there are reports that the Free Syria Army fighters, commanded by a senior defector from the Syrian Air Force, seem to be growing in organization. From bases in Turkey, rebels are reportedly gaining increasing outside support with money, arms and underground training.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 5,400 civilians and about 2,000 Syrian security forces, as well as military officers who have defected, have been killed in the ongoing violence.

Omar McDoom, a lecturer in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, says the Geneva Conventions do not specifically define the term "civil war." They do, however, loosely describe criteria for conditions qualifying as civil unrest.

"This definition doesn't hold very well for many of the internal wars that we see that are being fought today," McDoom said. "As many of these civil wars are in fact very asymmetric, in which the governments are overwhelmingly powerful and, as a result, the opponents often use guerrilla or insurgent tactics where they don't' hold ground. They constantly move, which is the situation here."

McDoom says from an academic perspective, the situation in Syria is "unequivocally in a civil war."

In academia, McDoom says civil war is defined as "incompatibility between the government and the opposition." He says that in a civil war, the opposition is armed and the annual casualty count normally has to total around 1,000 people from both sides of the conflict.

Judging by those figures, the Syria situation seems to fit the civil war template.  So does some of the action on the ground.

In the besieged city of Homs on Friday, Syrian forces resumed shelling and bombarding opposition strongholds.

Media reports, gleaned from opposition activists, say that bands of rebels controlling some neighborhoods are returning fire.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs