The Syrian Caliphate​

The becoming of IS​

Do you remember that spring of 2015, when ISIS seemed unstoppable and their middle-eastern dominance imminent? Today their caliphate is a fading memory and the Syrian war is once again the rebels and the Assad regime.

ISIS, IS and Daesh are all names the terrorist group carries. The former abbreviation stands for ‘Islamic State Iraq Syria’ suggesting the geographical significance of Iraq and Syria. That Iraq has been at war and a war-zone for the past ongoing 2 decades comes as no news to most. That terrorist groups thrives in such environments is not unbelievable to most either. This is where we will leave Iraq, perhaps it will be of interest another time. Syria is a different story, and that story is much more interesting for many reasons. One being that it ultimately most part of the nation became subjected to ISIS and the city of Raqqa became the self-proclaimed Capital of the illegitimate ‘State’ called ISIS.

The Story of Syria

In order to fully comprehend what happened in Syria and to some extent what is still happening. We will first look back at the history. Syria gained independence from France shortly after world war II, 1946 to be precise. Fast forward to early 1950’s and an important man enters the political stage, Ḥafiz al-Assad. Surely the name sounds familiar? Ḥafiz al-Assad was active in politics already from a young age. Upon returning from his years in exile he joined the ‘coup d’état’ in February 1966 and became minister of defence. Perhaps the story could have ended there, and the name Al-Assad would not string a cord in westerns ears. Yet, there was another war that was approaching this time with Israel. As the defence minister Ḥafiz al-Assad was responsible for losing vast Syrian territories during the 6-day war with Israel.  

Who can seize the power?

A power struggle broke out within the cabinet. Ḥafiz al-Assad managed to out-maneuver the political opposition and seize power. By 1971 he was President in Syria and would remain in that position as a totalitarian ruler until his death 2000. Then his son, the eye-doctor with the UK-education succeeded him; Bashar Al-Assad. Which would eventually be the cause of the civil war and the upraise of ISIS.

A new Syria​​

Who was this new leader for Syria and why is his name associated with ISIS? Although, there were objections to the transferal of power from father to son, Bashar’s western background brought some optimism for the critiques. At the time for the power shift Syria had some issues such as stagnating economy and an overlapping systematic surveillance of the population. Bashar did indeed loosen the tight grip of the population and the Syrians enjoyed some liberation in regards to freedom of expression. Bashar released some prisoners as a consequence, yet, the totalitarian state remained and Bashar ran as president unopposed and received 100% off the votes. In other words, Bashar rejected the western concept of ‘democracy’ or rather ‘rule’. Yet, Bashar’s fathers stricter rule seemed to be a fading memory.

Map over Syria

The Arbic spring

In 2010 a man in Tunisia set himself on fire as a protest of the regime. This became the ‘fire’ that started the so called Arabic Spring. Consequently lead to revolutions in a handful of middle-eastern countries. In 2011 these protest reached Syria and as a consequence civil war broke out. Even though Syria had moved towards a lesser totalitarian rule, the Syrian population were not satisfied. A rebel group was founded and they their troops had the goal to overthrow the Assad regime, ISIS had yet to become a piece of the puzzle. 

Assad was accused of using chemical weapons upon his people and he consequently denied this. Yet, the western democracies persisted and tried to overthrow Assad. Then 2013, the civil war had been ongoing for 1 year and the situation was critical for Assad. Then this terrorist group emerged, a group which the world had yet to witness with an indescribable terror. Fear spread amongst the Western Allies, Assad was no longer the prime target for their forces. This group needed to be stopped by any means possible according to many.

Too good to be true?​

There has been some speculation since the timing seems a bit good to be true for Assad. He was no longer under the same pressure by the West. The theory suggested is that Assad released prisoners to create this chaos. This is obviously only speculation and there will probably never been any evidence in support of it. Yet, the theory is relevant, since we know that Assad had previously released prisoners, so it is not unlikely. But what his aim would be can never be proven. Yet, the theory is interesting, particularly since this was the ultimate cause for Bashar Al-Assad to remain in power. Perhaps, we could conclude that there are indications that this could be the case. These released prisoners ultimately helped forming the infamous ISIS.

The end of..?

The history of Syria obviously has many more elements. Yet, these are causes that were relevant to understand why Syria looked the way it does today. However, this does raise a lot of other questions. Is ISIS a blessing in disguise for Assad? Bashar Al-Assad was not a religious fanatic, on the contrary before the civil war Assad was announced for his religious tolerance. Though, he was far from perfect. Imagine this though, a religiously tolerant country becomes a breeding ground for the extreme Islamic group, who also managed to establish a Caliphate there. 

During 2014 Bashar Al-Assad played a role in the history books seemed to be a finished chapter,. yet not in 2018, his reign seems to once again be foreseeable. It seems that Vladimir Putin flexing his muscles and his military assistance helped seizing control over the country, did he do so only to give that power away? Or those this ‘gift’ have strings attached? Nonetheless, it has surely made a strong legion between the two countries.