Saturday, 18 May 2013

Syria breaking up

After more than two years of conflict, Syria is in danger of breaking up into several smaller units (Ben Hubbard, 'Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War', New York Times May 16, 2013).
The black flag of jihad flies over much of northern Syria. In the center of the country, pro-government militias and Hezbollah fighters battle those who threaten their communities. In the northeast, the Kurds have effectively carved out an autonomous zone. After more than two years of conflict, Syria is breaking up. A constellation of armed groups battling to advance their own agendas are effectively creating the outlines of separate armed fiefs. As the war expands in scope and brutality, its biggest casualty appears to be the integrity of the Syrian state. [...] it appears Syria is so badly shattered that no single authority is likely to be able to pull it back together any time soon. Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis. [...] fueling the country’s breakup are the growing brutality of fighters on all sides and the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence.
The central government has reportedly "largely given up on trying to reclaim parts of the country far from the capital", "other than hitting them with airstrikes or artillery, Mr. Assad has made little effort to reclaim rebel-held areas in the country’s far north and east".
Situation in March 2013 (Political Geography Now)
Instead the government has been focussing on
solidifying its grip on a strip of land that extends from the capital, Damascus, in the south, up to Homs in the country’s center and west to the coastal area heavily populated by Mr. Assad’s sect, the Alawites. 
In the  void left by the withdrawal of the government in the country’s north and east, "rebel groups have seized swaths of territory and struggled to establish local administrations". The problem is that
The war’s duration and the competition for resources have left the rebel movement itself deeply fractured. Few effective links exist between the rebels’ exile leader, Gen. Salim Idris, and the most powerful groups on the ground. And recent months have seen increasing fights among rebels, diminishing their ability to form a united front against the government [...]  These spreading fissures leave little optimism that Syria can be stitched back together under one leadership in the near future. 

Syria Ethno-religious composition (Wikipedia)
From the point of view of the antiquities trade, the importance of this is that by far the bulk of the more visible archaeological sites of Syria are in those northern, rebel-held, territories. They in fact form the beginning of the upper arm of the swathe of sites which we learnt of in school as "the fertile crescent". At the moment, it seems a lot of the goods (the ones we know about) have been going out through Lebanon. It is possible that middlemen in Turkey will emerge as the next suppliers of western markets as the government solidifies its hold on the south and west.

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