The phenomenon of militarization, which characterised the Syrian Revolution months after its inception, raised a lot of controversy and arguments about the inevitability of shifting from peacefulness in the prevailing circumstances. It could be noted by tracking the controversy and examining it as objectively as feasible, that those anti-militarization parties, regardless of their motives and objectives, which were sometimes against the revolution, tried to cut this great revolution off its historical condition, where it was launched, and the overall complexities accumulated by the regime and its brutal violence, the intensive external interference, and conflicts of projects of regional and international strategies for influence and conflicting interests. This regional and international intervention has exposed the nature of the Syrian regime and its complex and sometimes contradictory connections, and the depth of the functional role assigned to it for decades in this volatile region in the world.
There are many questions that impose themselves in this context. Would it have been possible for the peaceful Syrian revolution, which was manifested in the noblest form, to stand in the face of the violence exercised by the regime? Could the roses distributed by Ghiyath Mattar in Darya, or the demonstrators of AlAssi Square in Hama be accepted by the regimes members and thugs? Was militarization an implicit goal amongst the rebels? Have militarization damaged the revolution? What is the extent of this damage? Did militarization cut off any path towards peaceful civil action after all this Syrian blood shed?
To find objective answers for the questions posed by the phenomenon of militarization of the Syrian revolution, not necessarily being indifferent to the revolution itself, requires to consider principally that what happened in Syria since 18 March 2011 was a revolution of the people seeking freedom, dignity and justice, a move that was not partisan or factional or regionally, nor against a single act injustice or to fulfil specific demands, or a fix for a certain deficit in the government’s performance. The Syrian reality, at least since the Ba’ath takeover of power on March 1963, has accumulated repression and harassment, marginalization and corruption perpetrated by the regime, which required more than one revolution to fix. If the characteristics of peacefulness and militarization are adjectives of tools, whenever goals of the revolution and its tools meet, in the right circumstances, with a cohesive and wide social holder, objectives become achievable, with less human and material costs. As this is not the case in Syria, it is legitimate to question the factors that contributed to the shift towards the militarization of the Syrian revolution, and the results of this transformation. It is a common knowledge that any revolution could be governed by peaceful and violent contents, what makes one content more prevalent than the other is the position of the authoritarian party that deliberately (in our case) adopted a systematic violence, starting form the third week, assassinating demonstrators, to accuse those who it called the infiltrators.
Modern and post-modern history of revolutions does not provide many examples of past experiences that were free of violence, namely revolutions against tyrannical local authorities, not those national revolutions aiming to free their countries from an external occupier. For example, the revolutions of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in 1972 and the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, all of which were suppressed by naked violence despite their begging peacefulness. While in colour revolutions in Eastern Europe, Romania and Hungary to Ukraine, in addition to what happened in Georgia, a single shot was not fired. Similarly was the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005 and the revolution of 25 January 2011 in Egypt. While Bouazizi revolution in Tunisia, and the first two years of the Yemeni revolution, were tainted by violence. But in the revolutions of Libya and Syria, the violence that was leashed by both regimes has surpassed imagination and expectations.
Examining these experiences indicate that the first wave of revolutions of Eastern Europe came at the height of the Cold War, when Soviet tanks were ready for the invasion of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland in order to enhance these countries’ regimes. In the second wave, the Soviet Union had collapsed, ending the Cold War, and change seemed like a foregone conclusion. The forces of authoritarianism lost their raison d’être and the ability to cope, one example of that is how the Soviets sent back the fugitive Ceausescu plane to Bucharest, to face with his wife a hastily sentenced to death. In Lebanon, the shock of the assassination of Hariri, and the mobilization of external forces, subdued the controlling forces inside Lebanon. The situation in Egypt was more confusing, and most contradictory, that the army, which protected millions of demonstrators in the first revolution in January 2011, and refused to suppress them, is the same which brutally and bloodily suppress the protesters in the second June revolt in 2014, and this brings us to examine the controlling powers in the decision and where they reside, and the nature of the conditions that govern its decision!
In sum, every revolution has its own terms, and do not necessarily go according to the context of the decree, and all the theories that try to put all the revolutions in the one pod, and analyse them according to a theory, are blunt instruments of theorising and patronising, or an evasion of moral maturity required by the time of profound changes.
Syrians have never been fond of violence, and never called to it, and they never missed a chance to express their calls and demands for reform in a peaceful manner. Their widespread mobility in the first decade of the century speaks for their peacefulness, when they issued statements calling for reform ( statements of the 99 and the 1000), and set up forums that have spread all over the Syrian cities, and dialogued on reform and its necessities and dimensions in what was known as Damascus Spring movement, which was interrupted by the regime with arrest and prosecution under the pretext of preventing a slide toward “algerianization” (working similarly to the Algerian case) as vice president, Abdel Halim Khaddam, then claimed in a speech in a auditorium at Damascus University. However Syrians activists continued their mobility made within the circumstances and conditions.
The Syrians came out in peaceful demonstrations in March 2011; these demonstrations swept all Syrian cities, in solidarity with the martyrs of Daraa who were killed by the regime in Al-Ommari massacre, when people were demonstrating for the release of the children detained on the background of childish graffiti on the walls of their schools.
The regime met the demonstrators with physical violence in their cities, using its thugs who were gathered from state employees with or without their consent. This new phenomenon is the way the regime dealt with the demonstrators, by deliberately put the Syrian community in a confrontation between one another, and dividing it into opposition and loyalists, lasted for months, but began to taper off gradually, when the regime began using live ammunition, killing demonstrators gradually since the third week of the revolution, according to the only plan it had, a plan adopted in the context of its security choice to deal with the rebels.
The Syrian street and the peaceful revolution were lured into to the arms and militarization, so this was not the choice of the revolutionaries or peaceful demonstrators who turned out for freedom and dignity, and the violence and repressive tools that the regime has met them with, through shooting them in squares, streets and alleys, in addition to arrests and detention, and then torturing in prisons to death, all of this and the like, pushed them to take up arms.
The phenomenon of dissention from within the army for some military personnel who refused to shoot their families and people, having been thrown by the regime army in confrontation with rebellious cities, contributed to accelerating the shift towards militarization, also boosted by the continuation of machine mass murder, and the expansion of crimes of torture and rape, and the multiplicity and widening of massacres, with Arab and international community being unable to do any little thing to stop it all.
Observers of the Syrian Revolution see clearly that many of the civilians who joined the free Syrian army later, were the forefront of peaceful demonstrations, and those who carried banners and placards demanding to topple the regime and the establishment of a state of freedom and law, and then later the who called for militarization of the revolution in self-defence and to defend and protesters. One of the reasons behind the emergence of the free army was to secure the effective protection of those peaceful demonstrations, and rein in the security forces and the army from carrying out their operations against Syrian civilians.
The fact that the regime had released dozens of detained Islamist militants from its jails in the first year of the revolution says a lot about how the regime wanted to inject these extremist leaders, who it knew well, and who spent years in detention centres, especially in Palmyra and Sednaya prisons, into the revolution to push it in the direction of militarization, to give it a religious radical and extremist colour.
Perhaps this move was one of the articular steps that have contributed to change the course of events on the ground and militarily on the entire Syrian geography; giving the regime a plea for deploying its army and the invasion of cities and towns, spreading devastation and death, and then to openly recruit sectarian militias from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.
The regime has pushed the revolution with all its powers and methods to arms; and for the revolutionaries to hold up arms was the shift the regime wanted and worked on, enabling it to drag the revolution to its ring, a ring of violence which it excels in and guarantees its winning; while the rebels and civilian have only resorted to arms to defend themselves and their neighbourhoods and villages, turning this into a phenomenon which pervaded all Syria.
With the escalation of the Syrian revolution, and the regime continuing its use of repression and bloodshed, defections in the ranks of the army appeared successively, where the first signs of what was called the “armed opposition” have emerged, and then, the formation of an armed movement called “Free Officers Movement”, followed by a succession of defections from the army, leading to the establishment of the “free Syrian army” to defend the Syrian people against the oppressive and tyrannical regime.
The Free Syrian Army inception can be divided into 5 stages:
Stage 1: started at the beginning of November 2011, when the ” temporary military council” was formed, and Riad al-Asa’ad was appointed as its President, with eight officers as members of the Council, aiming to overthrow the regime, and protect the Syrians from its repression, and the preservation of public property, and prevent any chaos that could be anticipated after the fall of the regime.
Stage 2: started with the announcement of the formation of the organization called “Supreme Revolutionary Military Council” in February 2012, which had some differences with the former leaders of the free army.
Stage 3: when the formation of a “joint leadership of the Free Army” inside Syrian territory was announced, to include the provinces of Damascus, Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deir al-Zour.
Stage 4: when the “Joint Command of the revolutionary military councils” was formed in September 2012, to put the units of the Free Syrian Army in a wider and more coordinated frame.
Stage 5: starts with the beginning of the founding of “the Supreme Military Command Council,” in December 2012 during the consecutive talks between the leaders of the military and revolutionary councils and leaders of the brigades and battalions, leading to the assignment of 261 representatives for them, under the name “revolutionary forces committee”, and then the “Supreme Military Command Council”, as the highest military authority in the revolution, who drew military policies up to the overthrow of the regime.
The work to establish the Free Syrian Army was not straight forward, but proved to be problematic through all the stages referred to above. In fact the developments and multiple phases that have occurred were attempts to resolve some of these problems, and in response to challenges, such as the gap that existed between troops and field leaders on the ground battles on one hand, and their commanders residing in Turkey on the other, and the difficulties in finding channels for military cooperation and coordination between the outside and inside , which resulted in contradictory paths, with the continuation of the change in the policies of the countries in the region, plus the state of competition and internal divisions that contributed to the exit of some military leaders of the free army. On top of that the clear and growing influence of Islamic-oriented Salafist Brigades, with the escalation and intensifying of competition among newly formed Islamic battalions and the military council, which were formed previously.
The competition of external support has also clearly contributed in drying out the support directed towards the military councils and the Free Syrian Army, compared to the large financial aid pumped into the Islamic brigades, who became stronger than the FSA, causing defections to the benefit of the financially supported Islamic factions, which contributed gradually into shrinking the size and capacity of the FSA, while other brigades and factions were enlarging.
Perhaps one of the most important problems that contributed to the faltering of FSA, is the case of defecting which affected tens of thousands of officers and officer cadets and recruits, who did not defect from one institution to another, but were individual and spontaneous to a large extent, where every dissident turned to his own social environment for protection, with every officer grouping some of the civilians who took up arms in his area. But with the widespread of the phenomenon of armed Islamic battalions, many civilians joined for other factors, including the military and material capacity and the funding given to those factions rather than the FSA. And many of the dissident officers, who were not welcomed by the Islamic factions that were not keen to accommodate them and to benefit from their expertise, retreated and ended up in Jordan or Turkey waiting for better opportunities.
Having gained the control of some border crossings, especially between Turkey and Syria, the armed opposition relationship with Turkey were enhanced, including the FSA and other armed factions, as the border with Turkey became the essential crossing for weapon and logistics supplies to the armed opposition in Syria.
Turkey confirmed that clearly when its prime minister declared in May 2013 that the Turkish aid to the Syrian opposition “is focused on logistical support”, and that this support “will continue”. Saudi Arabia and Qatar too, were the main suppliers of money and weapons to the Syrian revolution, as well as key supporters for the political opposition and they contributed to the opposition forces holding meetings (with their many names and titles) stressing out the need to unite and support the military councils, and the entire revolutionary military entities, and the formation of a military high command under which all armed formations should fall.
The US role in the Syrian issue was and still is an important and essential factor in controlling what is happening in Syria. When the United States entered the conflict, they had their own reservations, and were very sensitive and cautious about the possibility of arming the opposition, fearing that the Islamists could come to power in Damascus, so they refrained from supplying weapons to the FSA, leaving that task to other countries in the region, but insisted on rationalising this support. for this purpose, two monitoring rooms were established (Moum and Almog) in Turkey and Jordan, noting that the US position has seen several developments later, with the escalation of the conflict in Syria, a vote through the Foreign Relations Committee in the US Senate in May 2013 on a draft resolution allowing the US administration to arm specific groups in the Syrian opposition, the resolution, which won a majority of votes (15 to 3) stated that: ” President Barack Obama was to be given the right to arm groups in the Syrian opposition, in accordance with the specific obligations linked to human rights, the rejection of terrorism and the proliferation of chemical weapons and therefore should ensure these commitments before giving up arms or training for them.”
Still, American aid remained scarce and modest, exclusive to particular factions, insisting on not to provide any qualitative weapon to the opposing, to avoid weapons falling into the wrong hands, as they claimed.
Politically, America did not take any serious action to prompt the UN to issue any resolution that would allow changing the power balance on the ground leading to regime change, for various considerations and multiple interests, including the lack of an alternative satisfactory regime, taking advantage of the time to mature one in line with the stated strategy of no winners and no losers policy. Based on that, it is reasonable to blame the Americans and the international community for the situation in Syria, along with the Arab League. In this sense, the militarization of the revolution could be considered one of the results of the failure of the United States and the international community to protect civilians.
The sole serious military threat, the US administration had issued was when the regime used chemical weapons in Algotta, and it was only to pull out this weapon for the sake of Israel’s security, not to protect the Syrians who had been attacked by the regime with chemical weapons on numerous occasions previously, in 2013 and prior to that and later. There is no doubt that Israel’s security was, and remains, one of the basic pillars on which the American position towards the Syrian issue was built, but it is not exclusive to this factor; America is a superpower with cosmic strategies and interests, and therefore, they are looking at the change in Syria , which imposed its inevitability by the Syrian Revolution, from a broader perspective that takes into account their global interests and conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, defining its political positions, regardless of the extent of the damage caused to the aspirations of the Syrian people, and the extravagantly high price they have to pay.
Many factors, and the regimes violence at the forefront, have pushed the Syrian Revolution towards militarization. The deeper the militarization becomes, the shallower the civil activism and the narrower the peaceful space will be, because it is impossible for peaceful demonstrations and civil action to continue under the bombardment, artillery and rumble of arms. Yes! the militarization has damaged the Syrian revolution, on so many levels, and delayed the harvest, and raised the cost, and the damage can be summarised in two parts: First, that the diminishing peaceful civil voice, with the prolonging of the revolution and the accompanying atrocities, have deepened the social divisions, giving the regime its desired chance to add a sectarian dimension to the conflict, especially when raising the slogan of protecting minorities, summoned sectarian militias from Iraq, Lebanon and Iran, making the majority of the oppressed in the arena of conflict, of a specific sectarian colour, and the oppressors of another colour, all under the auspices of the “state” !? And perhaps it is the first time in history a state is sponsoring a conflict of this kind under the name of law, which allowed a lot of parties, at home and abroad alike, to call the Syrian situation as “civil war”, which is something that does not apply to the Syrian situation up to the present.
Second, the prevalence of the phenomenon of Islamic battalions on the military scene in the conflict, which has necessitated an anti or negative international position, and revived the supressed minorities fear of which the regime had benefited from, supported by the nature of the rebellious social environments, as well as the positions of supporting countries. It is also noted that the Islamic battalions, particularly those which are based on a Syrian structure and have Syrian projects, failed to unite yet, in spite of the oneness of their ideologies and rhetoric. On the hand, organized “Al-Nusrah” and “the Islamic State -Daesh”, who carry an extremist and trans-borders Islamic project – which Al-Nusrah tries to hide – has adversely affected the Syrian revolution, especially Daesh who fought against the opposition factions more than they fought the regime, and seized control of large areas in Syria, most of which has been facilitated by the regime, and practiced documented violence and terrorism, stirring the whole world against them and against the Syrian revolution simultaneously.
Civil movement is not totally diminished in the Revolution sphere, although dimmed. The Syrian people have proved, with its vigour and determination, they will not spare any form of fight in the prevailing situation; whenever the bullets stop, demonstrations go out in the streets of villages, towns and cities, confirming the goals of the revolution and its continuity, this is what happened in Ghouta, Aleppo, Maart, Idlib and others; this is the gamble of an authentic revolution, a revolution of freedom and dignity, to resume its path again, and as the revolution for the modern national state and a pluralistic democratic society, and not in order to establish a new tyranny replacing the former one.