By Badirkhan Ali
It wasn't too long ago when we refused calling the revolution a "civil war" in Syria. We refused comparing the two because we believed that the civil war was too contaminated compared to the great people of Syria, and because we believed that the "civil war" and the "revolution" were two opposite things. We were subordinated by the peaceful version of the revolution even after it was converted to several armed groups of different backgrounds, containing some that are armed and trained by Al-Qaeda. We continued being servants of the peaceful model even after the violent was not limited to the regime troops.
This, however, is a very romantic point of view, not logical nor historically right. All the rooted revolutions were in some way or another civil wars. Furthermore, many historical references that have studied the well known revolutions didn't really differentiate between revolutions and civil wars in the first place, instead, the two always came together in the context as synonymous. Hanna Ardent has shown in her book "In the Revolution", published in the 60's of the last century, the tie between revolutions and wars in general and especially on the rule of violent within the revolutions. She tries to reveal the magic around the word "revolution", so to speak. She then goes further from revealing the romance into showing the revolution's contradictions and highlighting her doubts about its desires and paths. She describes the relation between a revolution and a war and goes deeper into debating the relation between the revolution and the foreign war as well. She then recognizes that "revolutions and wars are not to be pictured out of the field of violence". (Hanna Ardent, In the Revolution (Translation of Ata Abdulwahab), The Arabic organization of Translations, 1st edition, 2008, pages 21-23).
However, the Syrian civil war has special attributions that are worth mentioning:
The first one being the use of "the state apparatus" from the Syrian regime in this war against the revolution. This makes it a nontraditional civil war. That of which means the Syrian civil war is not an out result of the absence of the authority in the government, such of what happened in Lebanon (1990-1975) neither what happened in Iraq after the American intervention and the over all collapsing of the state in 2003, nor any similar examples in the history. Instead, the Syrian civil war (using the term "civil war"away from its traditional context) happens while all the state agencies (specially the military and the security forces) are under full control of the authority, which is a side of this civil war, versus limited resources to the other side of this civil war.
Therefore, the Syrian civil war, in this sense, doesn't represent or describe the accepted description of the traditional civil war. The term here is ambiguous at least. On the other hand, if the term was used to indicate that the war is not a regular war, meaning it is not by two different countries, two authorities, and two militaries, suggesting that it is an internal war which means that Syrians are killing Syrians, then this term is right. Not forgetting, however, that the internal war doesn't deny the feeder factors and the international interventions from abroad.
Therefore, if we were to un-link the "bad" meaning from the term "civil war"; if we were to completely erase it from the Arabic language and from the Syrian's minds, especially from the minds of those who refuse the term "civil war" (taking to a consideration that it is more comfortably said in other foreign languages), we could then call what is going on in Syria a "civil war".
The civil war then would refer to two different Syrian sides, one being the revolutionary groups that hold value, goals and views of the future that are very different from those of another group (not necessary being Alawiis) which forms the government authority that is not very limited to its denominational identity.
In fact, its impossible to imagine a rooted revolution as such, aims to topple a regime that is very complex in both its structure and function such as the one in Syria. Especially that this regime is not isolated socially, not fully forced onto the Syrians, nor that it has lasted for the past two years with foreigner support only. It is impossible to image all of this without getting in any civil conflict and a huge material rooted violent coming from both sides (within their ability) each attracting social and political targets.
The Syrian civil war, after all, is not just an aberration that hit the revolution. It is an objective path in circumstances such are the Syrian diagnosed circumstances. That said, and aside from the romantic slogans about reassuring the minorities and the chanting slogans that "Syria will be a place for all its children"after the fall of the regime, far from the sweet talk about the civil state that is based on equality and democracy, and away from the talk that the battle is only with the men of the regime and not with some social groups in particular, one has to wonder: How would we topple a regime that holds a great support (in compression to the audience of the rooted revolution, after deducting the silent minority (or majority) ) and an authoritarian coherent system that is integrated around a nucleus of military-security base, without a deep civil conflict?
However, this is different from stating that the war in Syria is a Sunni-Alawi civil war; this is debatable. I don't deny this sectarian war, instead, I put it in the context of the Syrian civil war, or rather, the wars and conflicts that are active in Syria today. In this sense, it might be right to say that there is a major general civil war in Syria today, this of which was explained in details above. This major civil war is represented through the militarized conflict between the authority and the armed rebels, along with four civil wars in Syria; not just one, four! These overlapping wars relay on the great major war and eat off of it; the four wars vary with the impact, and depth; some happens for real, and some are in the process ready to turn into a war at any moment.
The first war being a Sunni-Alwi-Sheii war involving a militarized and civil militias groups that belong to the regime (Shabeha), Hezbollah, and Iraqi and Iranian militias, on one hand, and some Islamic organizations, Jihadists, and the Free Syrian Army, on the other hand. That said, the more the regime's military forces face weakened moments, the more the regime depends on two things: the civil militias (usually Alawies), especially in the mixed sectarians areas, and the other militias loyal to the regime coming from abroad. Also, the regime has militias from different sectarian backgrounds. These militias have played a mixed roles in different areas (like in the city of Aleppo) from the very beginning of the revolution. However, this war is not exhaustive yet. Today there is approximately about one million Sunni Syrian citizen who had resorted to the Syrian coast, where the majority of the Alawies reside, escaping the war and the violence in the other cities. These citizen, don't necessarily suffer because of their religious affiliations.
The second war being A Sunni-Sunni war that blocks the growing sectarian tension in the country on one end, and breaks the ice over the conflict in Syria being only a sectarian diagnoses of what is going on that there is another "civil war" which is present and brew in the society from long time ago. Yet, this war might precede the Sunni- Alawi civil war. This war revealed itself in many ways ever since the revolutionary attacked the pro regime "Sunni" of businessmen and others, ever since the intercalation of the city of Aleppo in the armed conflict by the armed militants coming from the suburbs of Aleppo, and ever since the smugglers and the arms dealers got involved in the revolution on an early stage. This happened under full silence from the opposition sometimes, and full support from the radical oppositions bellow the title "Anything in order to topple the Assad" -regardless if it was hurtful to the Syrians or not.
This war, however, became more prominent after the rebels and the revolutionaries took over control in some areas in the North part of Syria. This of where Al-Qaeda found a great soul to start flagging their flags, kidnapping and fighting over resources, rolling under warlords playing with the war economy, and introducing the great conflict about the political and social influence on the society. This war, however, will continue to grow with the increase of the chaos status, the deterioration of the daily living situation of the people, and the rupture of the social fabric of the Syrian society as a result to the war and its aftermath. That said, this war is also going to grow and increase after the fall of the regime when the local communities will have to enter the inevitable battle with the jihadist organization and groups, especially with the foreigners ones. Then, poverty alone is going to sponsor to ignite a civil war in any society regardless if it was fully homogeneous with itself because that won't help in cases such as the absence of the state.
The third war then is the Kurdish-Arabic conflict comes as a result of the difference between the two nationalist groups. The Kurds, on one hand, want to end the greater war, currently taking place in Syria, as soon as possible and as less the losses as possible without having to get involved with a great conflict with the current regime. This comes along with wanting to earn as much national rights as they could possibly get at the same time. While the Arab, on the other hand, especially those in “The Jazeerah” in Northern Syria, seem to be more considerable and concerned about the growing of the kurdish influence and the tone of voice of the Kurdish nationalists. This, on a different level, don't mean that the Arabs in the Hasakah province support the oppositions or oppose the regime at all. The Arabic-Kurdish conflict's cold war, in “Al-Jazeerah” area, has nothing to do with the position of each of them from the regime (pro or against) nor from any democracy or human rights issues. Instead, as a result of the two different ethnic backgrounds, this conflict grew in several areas, though this conflict is a specific conflict between the extremist jihadist organization, and some factions of the Free Syrian Army, on one hand, and the Kurdish "protection modules popularity", one the other hand. With that in mind, the Arabic-Kurdish conflict is flagging from the horizon, despot the historical coexistence between the two nationalities and the absence of the influential clauses in the past. Yet, there is a huge role of the Turkish policy toward the Kurd in this matter. Turkey supports the jihadist organizations, at least logistically, which will fuel the conflict that will intervene into something similar to the last example given (bellow) from the conflicts in Syria.
Lastly, the Kurdish-Kurdish conflict. The transformation of this conflict to a war is attached to the previous conflicts, on one hand, and to the purely kurdish factors on the other hand. The Kurdish civil war will remain under skin as long as the risk of the Arabic-Kurdish conflict exists. However, this Kurdish civil war lacks a small reaction to the serious violations committed by armed rebels of the PYD, the Democratic Kurdish Union, (the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Kurdish worker's party) against the kurds that oppose the rule of the PYD on their areas without any further considerations, to burst. What also stops the Kurdish civil war thus far, is the awareness of the importance of this stage in history; this is what seems to be "Historic opportunity" for many sides of the conflict. The "Historic opportunity" here relay in the ability to extract the largest amount possible of national rights. This limits the outbreak of the Kurdish – Kurdish civil war that has been, this far, only limited to a signal side, which is the side that dominants the ground militarily. The other side, however, avoids (not able at the same time) to have to reply to any of the sourly burdens. That said, there is a role of the Kurdish axes (outside of Syria) that influences the Kurdish – Kurdish in the Syrian community. Currently, these two sides had come to an agreement; they coordinate with each other, however, that doesn't stop the tension nor the occasional skirmishes between them from time to time. If a conflict happens between these two, it will result in an intensification of the local Kurdish conflict.
Finally, the common denominator between all of these wars/conflicts is the collapse of the state, the foreign interventions, the sectarian, and the different bets that doesn't directly relate to the regime violence.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer