Syria is an Arab country located in the Middle East, between Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. Its 193km Eastern coastline edges the Mediterranean Sea, allowing for a narrow coastal plain which quickly moderates into the arid desert conditions of the East. The Euphrates River feeds the surrounding drainage basin, providing a significant proportion of the country’s food whilst the Anti-Lebanon Mountains stand tall as a catchment for rain across central Syria (Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, 2007).
Family is core to the Syrian way of life as households tend to accommodate extended relatives who come together over large meals usually comprising of Mediterranean ingredients such as lamb, chicken, chickpeas, eggplant, olives, rice and yogurt (Country Reports, 2016).
Arabic is the dominant ethnicity (90%), whilst Kurdish and Armenian are the next most prevailing. Correspondingly, Arabic is the official language; Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic and Circassian are widely understood; and French and English are somewhat prevalent.
Religious adherence is mixed. Most Syrians are Muslim (predominantly Sunni 74%), 10% are Christian, 3% are Druze and there are few Jews remaining in Damascus and Aleppo (CIA World Fact Book, 2016).
The Syrian Arab Republic was granted independence by the French in 1946. After a number of coups, the new country united with Egypt in 1958, soon to be separated again in 1961. Throughout the 1990’s peace talks were negotiated with Israel following the forfeit of the Golan Heights area in the Arab-Israeli war, however an agreement was not reached.
More recently, when antigovernment protests broke out in 2011, the Assad government conceded some of the antagonist’s demands regarding electoral liberalisation, but was unwilling to submit to their call for Assad’s resignation. The government’s ongoing use of military force to subdue unrest has seen interminable violence despite international pressure and numerous economic sanctions against the Assad regime. In 2012, the Syrian National Coalition was internationally deemed to be the new legitimate representative of the Syrian People. 2014 UN peace talks between the coalition and the regime were unsuccessful in resolving the conflict which has now put approximately 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance (January 2016 est. World Fact Book, 2016).
Human development indicators reveal a catastrophic contraction of the Syrian economy since initial Arab Spring outbreaks began. Estimates suggest that growth has regressed some 35 years, proving to considerably exceed the toll of comparable prolonged conflicts experienced in other countries (UNDP, 2014).
Household purchasing power has diminished as a result of the government’s inability to address international sanctions, loss of infrastructure and a severe reduction of domestic production capacity. These crippling factors are predicted to stifle present and future generations for years to come.
- Conflict, warfare and displacement – Due to protracted violence, more than half of the Syrian population has fled their normal place of residence. Of these, the majority (6.5 million people) are internally displaced whilst approximately 4.8 million are dispersed throughout the neighboring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (as of April 2016, CIA World Fact Book, 2016).
- Food security – At the household level, displacement has obliged a disruption or loss of livelihood for a growing number of income earners. Exacerbated by perpetuating food and fuel prices, numbers scaling in the millions have no choice but to rely on limited humanitarian assistance for each meal they consume. More broadly, gunfire and explosions have diminished agricultural output to a fraction of what it once was as former farms have simply been abandoned, and remaining farms lack the necessary infrastructure and man power to stay operational (WFP, 2016).
- Trafficking in Persons
Human traffickers have taken advantage of vulnerability brought about by social upheaval and lack of law enforcement. Syria is both an origin and destination country for victims of trafficking who are forcibly exploited as soldiers, human shields, executioners, prostitutes, forced brides and domestic servants.
CIA WorldFact Book - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations - http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Syria.aspx
Country Reports - http://www.countryreports.org/country/Syria.htm