This article details not just the current situation, but chronicles the history of this fragile state. I recommend reading it now and keeping it as a refresher for later.
Syria has a torrid history of a fragmented, often volatile, state. Only twice in Syria’s history has this fragile state been a nation-state:
Hellenistic Seleucid dynasty, based out of Antioch (the city of Antakya in modern-day Turkey) from 301 to 141 B.C.
Umayyad Caliphate, based out of Damascus, from A.D. 661 to 749
The demographics of this land have fluctuated greatly, depending on the prevailing power of the time. Christians, mostly Eastern Orthodox, formed the majority in Byzantine Syria. The Muslim conquests that followed led to a more diverse blend of religious sects, including a substantial Shiite population. Over time, a series of Sunni dynasties emanating from Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley and Asia Minor made Syria the Sunni-majority region that it is today.
The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement (a British, French, and Russian agreement of influence and power in the Middle East after WWI). France was given control over Syria.
When the French mandate ended in 1943, the ingredients were already in place for major demographic and sectarian upheaval, culminating in the bloodless coup by Hafiz al Assad in 1970 that began the highly irregular Alawite reign over Syria. With the sectarian balance now tilting toward Iran and its sectarian allies, France’s current policy of supporting the Sunnis alongside Saudi Arabia against the mostly Alawite regime that the French helped create has a tinge of irony to it, but it fits within a classic balance-of-power mentality toward the region.
This history is crucial for understanding the turmoil in the region and for trying to establish security in the future.
The Syrian state will neither fragment and formalize into sectarian statelets nor reunify into a single nation under a political settlement imposed by a conference in Geneva. A mosaic of clan loyalties and the imperative to keep Damascus linked to its coastline and economic heartland — no matter what type of regime is in power in Syria — will hold this seething borderland together, however tenuously.
“The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Read more: The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War | Stratfor
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