This past week, US Secretary of State John Kerry toured the largest Syrian refugee camp, the Za’atari camp in Jordan, and encountered “the human side of this crisis,” as he put it. Indeed, the situation in the camp is very difficult, so difficult that thousands of Syrians have left the camp to return to the civil war in Syria. There has been intermittent reporting about the endemic sexual violence suffered by women in these camps. The human side of the Syrian Civil War, as seen in the Za’atari refugee camp, is very bleak.
But it is also only one side of the suffering. Three weeks ago the LA Times ran an interesting piece on two religious minority shrine enclaves, the town of Saydnaya with its ancient Greek Orthodox monastery of the Virgin and the Sayyida Zaynab suburb of Damascus with its grave of Zaynab, the daughter of ‘Ali and Muhammad‘s daughter Fatima. The human side of the Syrian Civil War includes besieged minorities expecting to be annihilated if the regime falls.
One quotation in each of these articles stood out to me:
- “A 43-year-old woman in a tan jacket and gray headscarf asked Kerry what the U.S. is waiting for. As a superpower, the U.S. could change the equation in Syria in 30 minutes, the woman said. Like other refugees, she asked not to be named for security reasons.”
- “‘I have a question for you,’ Azar [the head of Saydnaya’s defense] asks a visiting U.S. reporter. ‘Why does America want all the Christians out of the Middle East?'”
The first quotation shows how the myth of American omnipotence is taken for granted among refugees, generating a lot of anger at US failure to take their side in the conflict. The second quotation shows how the unintended consequences of previous US interventions in the Middle East, such as the targeting of the Iraqi Christian population in the sectarian violence following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
These pieces are best read together to get a sense of the multiple human sides to a conflict which has torn Syria apart. What is clear is that there are no good options for anyone in this war. What is often forgotten is that none of the fighting forces, rebel or loyalist, are “the good guys.”