Syria’s war has transformed the country in both shattering and subtle ways. While many evolutions are for the worse, others inspire cautious optimism: Syrians have shown relentless ingenuity in adapting to every stage of a horrendous conflict, salvaging remnants of dignity, solidarity and vitality amid nightmarish circumstances.
They have generally done so on their own terms, grappling with changes ignored by virtually everyone who claims to help or represent them. These transformations are far removed from peace talks and power politics, and rarely considered in aid efforts. They apparently elude the growing pool of outsiders able to visit Syria, who often remark that things are more “normal” than they thought: Damascene cafes are filled with people, shops have begun to reopen in Aleppo, and officials of varying nationalities buzz with over-optimistic plans for the future.
Indeed, Syrian society has been reshaped in ways that will take time to discern. A thorough reassessment is in order if we are to grasp even the most basic realities of Syria as it continues to exist and evolve today. In gauging the magnitude of these changes, accounts from ordinary Syrians provide the most powerful guide.
The decimation of Syria’s male population represents, arguably, the most fundamental shift in the country’s social fabric. As a generation of men has been pared down by death, disability, forced displacement and disappearance, those who remain have largely been sucked into a violent and corrupting system centered around armed factions.
An Alawi family in a coastal village provides a window into the ravaged state of Syria’s male population, even in territory that has remained firmly under government control. Of three brothers, one was killed in battle, a second paralyzed by a bullet to the spine, and a third—an underpaid, 30-year-old civil servant—lives in fear of conscription. [Continue reading…]