Photos courtesy of Trey Powers
The Syrian Civil War was brought to the center of RWU’s 2017 Student Academic Showcase and Honors (SASH) conference on Tuesday, April 18 as Professor Ora Szekely delivered a keynote address titled “The Syrian Civil War and Refugee Crisis: From Bad to Worse.”
Szekely is currently an assistant professor of political science at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as the author of a book entitled “The Politics of Militant Group Survival in the Middle East: Resources, Relationships and Resistance.”
In her address, Szekely described the Syrian Civil War, which began in March 2011, as a situation that “started out terribly, and has only gotten more terrible as time goes on.”
Although several actors are present in the war, Szekely highlighted the destruction caused by ISIS, a group that she calls “unusually horrific, even by the standards of radical terrorists.”
She attributed this horror to the group’s wealth, large supply of weapons, and an internal doctrine that is “incredibly violent toward civilians.”
While the terrorist group has been losing territory, Szekely related a recent spike in terrorist attacks to ISIS “resorting to what they know best.”
Furthermore, Szekely explained that the matter of simply working with the Syrian government against ISIS is complicated by the state of the Bashar al-Assad regime, which she called “no better” than the terrorist group; data from the Syrian Network for Human Rights indicates that the Syrian president’s regime has killed more civilians than all parties of the Syrian Civil War combined, including ISIS.
“This is a leader that has turned his full military might against the civilians,” Szekely said of Assad.
Szekely also discussed the “profound consequences” that the Syrian Civil War has imparted not just upon Syria, but other countries throughout the Middle East and the world as a whole. Millions of Syrian refugees have fled to Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, while the United States has comparatively accepted under 20,000 refugees.
Several times throughout the address, Szekely stressed the importance of separating refugees from their enemies, stating, “It’s not a good idea to conflate refugees with the thing they’re running from.”
Junior Meghan Chartier was among those in attendance at the address, which she attended in order to expand her perspective on Syria.
“The Middle East isn’t really my forte, but coming to this talk, [Szekely] broke it down so people can understand,” she said.
“Because I am an international relations major, I know for the sake of being more well-rounded in my knowledge and what I want to go into that this is pertinent to history,” Chartier continued. “Kids are going to be learning about this in 20 years, maybe less, and I think it’s really important to be more worldly, because a lot of the times our generation looks at the simple facts of what the media is saying, while this breaks it down so you can understand all scopes.”
While the war has reached beyond Syrian borders, Szekely ultimately emphasized the plight of the Syrian people.
“When talking about the Syrian Civil War, it’s important to remember that Syrians themselves are at the center of it, and should thus be at the center of our conversations,” she said.