Ad-Lib in Idlib Part 3
The more research I conduct, the more I realize that the situation in Syria becomes crazier and crazier. The sectarian undercurrents that divide the country and the region have become the central pathology of the Syrian conflict — they will impede its resolution. It is imperative that we understand the varied dynamics of the situation there if we hope to even remotely pray intelligently for what is happening. Since the peaceful demonstrations during the “Arab Spring” in Syria in 2011 the situation in Syria has deteriorated. Let me address a couple of reasons that the Syrian situation has degraded to such an enormous humanitarian catastrophe so that we can understand better how to think about what is happening there.
- There was a massive security presence in urban centers throughout Syria underpinning a false appearance of confidence that betrayed the brittleness of the regime under the surface. The “Arab Spring” only lifted the lid off an already boiling cauldron of discontent.
- Syria’s leadership is ruled by a minority Islamic sect called Alawi. President Assad’s family is an Alawite family. Alawites number about 4.5 million in a country of 22 million. They are a Shi’ite sect of Islam in a country of Sunni Muslims. This is opposite from Iraq where a Sunni Baa’thist party ruled a predominantly Shi’ite population under the heavy hand of Saddam Hussein until 2003.
- There is a Free Syrian Army (FSA) or coalition under the leadership of, primarily defectors from the Syrian Army, after the cruel crackdown by President Assad. They are seeking to defeat the pro-regime forces of President Assad and to instill a democratically elected secular government. They are awash in cash from private donors around the Middle East. Because of all this cash however, there is a lot of corruption. The coalition is growing out of favor with the rural populations because of the crookedness. They have been cautiously supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Currently, they are loosely partnered with the Islamists in order to defeat the pro-regime forces, but they are cognizant that one day they will have to deal with the Islamists as the Assad regime falls.
- There is a growing Islamist movement called, Jaish al-Fatah, which has begun to garner much support from the local populace as well as from other Middle Eastern countries. It was established under the guidance of Turkey in 2015. They have gained control of several areas, but they struggle with factionism and distrust due to theological issues. They have also attracted fighters from organizations such as the al-Nusra front, al-Qaeda and other ideologically jihadist groups. They are heavily backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They are trying to get them to unite with the FSA to defeat the pro-regime forces. Since 2015 they have experienced a lot of success on the battle field, especially since being assisted by the Turkish Special Forces and Air Force. There are many foreign fighters within the Islamist battalions bringing great combat skills to the theater of operation. The Islamists along with the FSA, consisting of many different battalions make up the majority of rebel fighters in Idlib.
- “The Kurdish predicament will continue to curse so many of the potential partnerships that could lead to the defeat of the pro-regime forces. The Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is branded a terrorist organization in the United States, Europe, and Turkey. The People’s Protection Units, (YPG), the military arm of the PYD has been one of the USA’s primary partners in the struggle against ISIS. Where so many others have failed, the YPG proved to be a hardened group of fighters who were extremely effective and courageous in pushing ISIS out of Syria. What complicates the matter is that the Turks hate the PYD and consider them one of their greatest enemies. They have done everything in their power to thwart the relationship between the US and the PYD. This has been one of President Erdogan’s greatest miscalculations with the US leadership. The YPG number close to 50,000 fighters and have a strong US backing. They are a formidable fighting force. Currently, no one wants to go against them, but both the FSA and the Islamists know that one day they will have to deal with them. For now, they want to see them unleashed on President Assad.
- ISIS has been rendered combat ineffective as an army by the US backed Kurds and other forces in the region. However, it is unlikely that they will go away. They have been working off a seriously ingrained meta-narrative that requires the Caliphate to be governed out of the city of Raqqa, Syria. They will continue to be a thorn in the side of everybody that is not them.
Arrows show who is fighting against whom. As you can see, the lines of conflict are complex.
The Bible tells us that “the fervent and effective prayers of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16) I think I understand the definition of fervent prayer. It is prayer that emanates from our hearts as it reflects the heart of our Father. But what about effective prayer? It is prayer that is informed. It flows from an accurate knowledge of the mind of God and the things for which we are praying. Prayer is effective, especially as it reflects the mind and heart of God.
It would be easy to put our heads in the sand and simply ignore all that is happening in Syria. It is too complex! It’s so far away. Surely God has better things for which he wants me to spend my time and emotional energy. What does any of this have to do with me?
We simply cannot as Christians ignore what is happening to these people in the Middle East today. Thirteen million Syrians have been left homeless. Almost 500,00 have been killed with millions injured. If our desire is to have the mind of Christ in all things, we cannot ignore the plight of all these people. We cannot NOT pray for them. We must intercede for them and do whatever Father asks of us regarding them. Christians can no longer afford to stand by and watch. The escalation of violence, poverty and human abuse surrounds us. We will not live immune to its nefarious effects.
Why should we act? Because it is why Christ came to this earth, to bring restoration and redemption to all peoples….including the people in Syria.
What can you do? Let me start once again by challenging you to begin with prayer. Pray effectively. How can you do that?
- The Syrian Circle… I love this prayer and news digest. It will help you become an effective pray-er concerning the situation in Syria. The Syrian Circle team also helps churches find ways that they can be a part of what God is doing there. I highly recommend it. Go to: www.thesyriancircle.com
- There are many other brothers and sisters in Christ caught up in serving Syria as well. Open Doors has some effective news sources as to how you can pray. https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/14-ways-stand-pray-syrian-believers-deadly-war-rages/
- Here is a wonderful tool you can use to help your church or small group pray more intelligently.https://prayercast.com/syria.html
- A nice prayer resource.. https://www.tearfund.org/2015/09/how_can_i_pray_for_syria_and_the_middle_eastern_crisis/
You can go and/or give. There are millions of refugees who have fled the fighting in Syria.They have fled to countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and all of Europe. They are living significantly below human subsistence levels in unimaginable poverty. You can serve these people by going to help them or by giving to support those who are going. Very soon there will be a plethora of needs beyond our ability to even imagine.
Here are a few resources that will help you in knowing how to give and go:
- Preemptive Love… I keep hearing about the amazing work they are doing right in the middle of it.https://preemptivelove.org/
- Samaritan’s Purse has maintained an active presence in Northern Iraq throughout the crisis. They have a solid love for these people. https://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/refugee-crisis-in-northern-iraq/
- Millennium Relief and Development Services supports a host of projects throughout the Middle East as well as along the Refugee Highway in Europe. They can help you find a project that will suit you. MRDS.org
Owens, K.Y. (2015). Backbone of the Syrian Revolt: Inclusion of Rural Sunnis key for International Efforts to end Conflict. (SWP Comments, 39/2015). Berlin: Stifftung Wissenschaft und Politik-SWP-Deutsches Institut fur Internationale Politik und Sicherheit. https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/backbone…
Boaz Ganor (2002) Defining Terrorism: Is One Man’s Terrorist another Man’s Freedom Fighter?, Police Practice and Research, 3:4, 287-304, DOI: 10.1080/1561426022000032060