When future historians sit down to write the history of the Syrian conflict there is a simple test that’ll determine whether their objective is to mine and reveal the truth, or whether it’s merely to shovel more dirt onto the mountain of the stuff erected over the course of its five long years as a monument to propaganda. The test will be their depiction of the Syrian Arab Army and its role in the conflict. If said historians credit it with holding the line against the forces of hell committed to the country’s destruction as a secular, non-sectarian, multireligious, and multiethnic state, enduring the kind of losses and casualties placing it among the most courageous, resilient, and heroic of any army of any nation that’s ever existed, then, people will know that truth and not propaganda prevailed.
Glorifying war and conflict is difficult to resist for those living safely many miles away from its horrors and brutality. Those who do glorify it should take a moment to study and imbibe the words of Jeannette Rankin, who said:
You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.
The war in Syria confirms the abiding truth of those words when we consider the epic nature of the destruction it wrought, its tragic human cost, and how it shook Syrian society to the very limits of endurance. By now, it means that whilst Syria’s survival as an independent non-sectarian state may be certain, its ability to recover fully from the earthquake Rankin describes is something that only time will tell. However, the fact the country managed to achieve its survival and, with it, the opportunity to recover is predominately the achievement of the Syrian Arab Army, whose complexion is a microcosm of the very society and people it defends… Sunnis, Shi’ites, Druze, Christians, Alawis, etc. In the process of doing so, as we write these words, it lost over 60,000 men according to the latest report by Robert Fisk, one of the more estimable Western correspondents based in the region. This is without factoring in the 1,000-plus Hizbullah fighters killed, along with Kurds and members of various government-allied militia groups. It also doesn’t include the tens of thousands wounded or maimed.
Nevertheless, just think about this staggering statistic of 60,000 killed for a moment. In a country with a pre-war population of 25 million, and an army numbering in the region of 220,000 at full strength, the loss of 60,000 troops places the epic nature of the conflict in which they perished on a par with the Eastern Front during the Second World War. Of course, Russian aid and solidarity was a key factor in turning the tide of the Syrian conflict. However, all the aid and solidarity in the world amounts little without a people and army’s will to resist the invasion of the country by thousands of extremists whose passions for butchering human beings in the most heinous ways imaginable qualifies their labelling as barbarians.
The salient point lost in the countless columns, reports, and op-eds written and published, equating these barbarians with the Syrian government and its military, is that the Syrian Arab Army and Syrian people are the same; one begins where the other ends and vice versa. The ability and willingness of the army to endure the battering it has, and which no other army in the region could have withstood, is contingent on its support from the Syrian people. This support was constant even in the midst of the huge external pressure arrayed against the country from Western powers that at one point were convinced that the army’s collapse and total defeat was only a matter of when and not if.
The current ceasefire, brokered by Russia and supported by Washington, takes place at a time when the conflict turned emphatically in the government’s favour. During an offensive that began in early February, the SAA smashed its way across northern Syria. Combined with an offensive launched by the multiethnic SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in northern Aleppo Governorate, it effectively succeeded in encircling Aleppo city and cutting the main supply routes from Turkey to the opposition forces in control of a large part of the city. Given the number of armed factions involved in the conflict, the lack of any central command structure directing its activities, the fact that the ceasefire has thus far held with only a few minor violations is testament to the changed reality on the ground.
The machinations and plotting and mendacity of the Saudis and Turks… not forgetting that of their Western allies… all came to naught in a country where every town and street, every hill, village, and road has been touched by war. In the last analysis, it’s proof that governments, diplomats, or functionaries in palatial staterooms and chancelleries don’t make history. Ordinary men and women willing to fight and die in defence of their people, homes, and communities make it. Their honour in doing so contrasts with the dishonour of those who made the mistake of regarding Syria as just another piece on their geopolitical chessboard. No one should ever underestimate the human cost of protecting Syria’s sovereignty and integrity. Do so and you denigrate those who fell and those who will undoubtedly fall as and when the fighting resumes. Neither should we underestimate the size of the mountain to climb before we can put Syria back together when the guns eventually fall silent. For just as one struggle ends, another will begin.
2 March 2016
American Herald Tribune