Syria and the rapid descent into bloodshed

By Harry Hagopian
March 29, 2013

We have recently passed the two-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising. What started as a series of peaceful demonstrations against a vicious dictatorship has been turned into a bloody war of Scud missiles and cluster bombs by the Assad regime against their opponents.

While the regime seems to be receiving unknown amounts of munitions and monies to use against the rebels, allegedly from Russia and Iran, the opposition forces are still fighting with light arms. The USA is not taking a clear lead, and the European Union is divided between those who wish to sit out this ‘civil war’ and the UK and France who are willing to help arm the rebels.

Notwithstanding all the other questions about the use of violence, including principled opposition to all its manifestations, it seems to me on purely pragmatic grounds that the current argument suggesting that arming rebel forces in Syria is automatically dangerous because it strengthens radical Islamist forces, and creates anti-Western elements, is fallacious.

Like many others, whether in Syria or elsewhere, I am gravely concerned about exclusive and radical (largely referred to as Islamist) forces whose whole vision disowns 'the other' grabbing power. The evidence of where this leads in terms of further atrocity and violence is clear.

But those radical forces, whether they are from the country itself or are jihadists from abroad, are receiving their weapons already, irrespective of attitudes in the EU. So it makes little difference to them if others desist from providing arms.

There is also an argument that not assisting those opposition elements who are not religiously-motivated, who are more inclusive and who do not wish for a sectarian Syria, actually strengthens Islamist radical forces and depletes any hope for a secular and inclusive future for the country.

Something certainly needs to happen to break the violent logjam and to avoid the situation worsening as both Assad and anti-Assad forces weaken and the country risks splintering into ungovernable fiefdoms.

In the midst of all this, are we witnessing an attempt to trade the Iran nuclear dossier for the survival of the Assad dynasty? If so, woe betide, as this will not end well at all and the whole region will be caught up in the war that has ravaged Syria to date.

As for Christians and people of faith, whose concerns are humanitarian and who seek a just peace for all the people, let us pray for Syria and support the charitable appeals that have been launched recently - including that of the Disasters Emergency Committee ( With well over 70,000 dead, roughly two million internally displaced, a million refugees and so much wanton destruction, we have reason to feel that after two years ‘enough is enough’.

Also on Ekklesia:

* 'Can Syria's disintegration be prevented?' (a slightly extended version of this blog):

* 'Truth, nonviolence and the Responsibility to Protect', by Simon Barrow:


© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor ( Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is now an international fellow, Sorbonne III University, Paris, consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK), Ecumenical consultant to the Primate of Armenian Church in UK & Ireland, and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is Follow him on Twitter here: @harryhagopian

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