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March 2nd, 2012

Destruction in Syria. Photo credit: Flickr user FreedomHouse by Mulham al-Jundi via Creative Commons

There is a lot of news right now coming out of the Middle Eastern country of Syria. Unfortunately, there is a serious conflict there between Syrian citizens and the government led by President Bashar Al-Assad.

Many innocent Syrians have died as a result. And many people around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about this.

Thousands of Syria’s citizens began pouring into the streets about a year ago to protest President Assad, demanding that he step down. Assad’s family has been in power for over 40 years and Syrians wanted to be able to make their own choice for who will lead them. They also want more personal freedoms, better opportunities and improved living conditions. They do not have much of that under President Assad. The courage of protesters to stand up for what they believe in is enormous. Protesters in general were named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2011.

Protests in Syria. Photo credit: Flickr user Nasser Nouri via Creative Commons

Syrians were inspired to act by neighboring countries where protests against repressive governments had already taken place, like Tunisia, and then in turn Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya. The protests became known as the Arab Spring or Arab Awakening. Over the course of the past year, this has played out differently in each country but leaders were eventually ousted in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

So far in Syria, President Assad has overseen a violent crack-down on ordinary citizens and refuses to give up power. The United Nations — a membership organization of most of the world’s countries — says that well over 7,500 Syrians have died so far.  And the attacks on citizens are getting worse.  Very few citizens in Syria have any way to effectively protect themselves or fight back.

President Assad says that it is terrorists, supported by other countries, that he is fighting against and not his own people, but virtually no one believes that. Journalists are not easily allowed in to tell the story of what is happening there, and a few of the brave ones who were reporting from there have died trying to do their job. Daily life is difficult and dangerous for Syrians.

Syrians had hoped for peaceful change in their country but it is not turning out that way. Now it looks like there might be a civil war — when one group of a country’s population fights another– in this case with Syrians against their government. But it would mean more people dying.

Syria's flag

Many countries around the world are trying to figure out what to do about this.

The United States believes that President Assad should step down and be punished for crimes for the way his government is treating his people. Many countries in the United Nations also believe Assad should resign. But two major countries — China and Russia — have strong relations with Syria and don’t want to take action against President Assad. China and Russia voted against the United Nations authorizing action against Syria. Another ally of Syria, the country of Iran, says that Syria should be given “space and time” to settle its own problems. The United States Human Rights Ambassador, Eileen Chamerblain Donahoe, recently said that those countries “are on the wrong side of history.”

One concern is that if other countries get involved on opposite sides of the conflict, then the fight will grow beyond the borders of Syria to include more countries.

But another concern is that if other countries don’t get involved, then more innocent people will die while no one is doing anything to help them. Many close observers of the violence believe that other nations have a responsibility to step in under those circumstances.

Destruction in Syria. Photo credit: Flickr user FreedomHouse via Creative Commons

Earlier this week, President Assad held a vote called a referendum. Syrians went to the polls while their cities were under attack to vote for a new constitution that, among other things, may allow them to vote for a new leader one day. While it sounds promising, many people in Syria believe it wasn’t fair and in fact it could keep President Assad in power for many more years to come.

In the meantime, innocent lives are being lost as the world watches … and the hope for a peaceful resolution dims.

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