When the world sees Syria today they see a failed state, a state which has limited legitimacy in the eyes of the populace, and a state divided between various sects. Only several years ago this civil war seemed impossible, with the iron fist of the Syrian Baathist Party. Syrians had long lived under a strict police state in which torture was widespread and human rights were harshly curtailed. This was the Syria that existed only several years ago, and as execrable as it may, it was a far better situation than Syria today.
It has become difficult to imagine a Syria before the civil war. Syria was a popular tourist destination with ancient structures and cities like Palmyra and Damascus holding some of the greatest sights in the Middle East. Syria was a multicultural and multi-ethnic country which possessed a vast array of religious minorities from Jews and Christians to Sunni and Shia and Muslims. The country had been relatively secular and religious tensions were not overt due to the heavy hand of the government. While human rights were certainly curtailed, many people were able to develop happy and stable lives for themselves. While some may dismiss this view as overly maudlin, as long as ordinary citizens stayed away from the political sphere they were largely free to live their lives with relative autonomy.
So what has become of the people of Syria? Millions of Syrians have left the worn-torn country to seek refugee in neighboring countries, namely Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Many of these people were likely apolitical and simply wanted to live their lives in stability and peace. Some of these people may have participated in the pro-democracy movement known as the Arab Spring, yet when the Syrian regime began to shoot civilians many had to flee or turn toward violence.
Bashar Al Assad's regime still holds a significant amount of territory in Syria, although the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic State, the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups have contested his regime's control of territory. In governorates such as Latakia people still cling toward normalcy, but they cannot feign ignorance toward the war just miles away. Many of these people may not like their government, but they crave the stability and livelihoods they built under its rule.
We can only hope that the war ends quickly and peace returns to Syria. As I write that statement I know it is idealistic and facile, for it is likely to be years if not decades before peace returns in Syria. No one knows if Assad's rule will continue or whether his regime will come to an end, nor if there is a rebel group that can maintain power that would be supported by all Syrians. The Syrian Civil War is one of the worst tragedies occurring in the world today, and a ceasefire and relative peace remains only a fleeting hope.