Alice Fordham | Syria

Alice Fordham is a journalist who regularly reports on the Syrian war. She lives in Beirut and works for National Public Radio in America. She has been reading your comments and posts and has replied to some of your thoughts.

Dear Burnet News Club members,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments on the situation in Syria. You’ve obviously been reading and thinking a lot. And you raise a lot of questions that politicians, diplomats and military people haven’t found any easy answers to.

Before we get to your thoughts, let me tell you very quickly the history of the situation in Syria as I see it. Lots of people have
different views, of course, but I’ll give you mine.

Syria before the war - cc: SA 3.0

Until 2011, Syria was a medium-sized and very beautiful country in the Middle East. It was famous for its ancient history, and you could go and visit a lot of ruins. It was famous for its delicious food. And it was famous for its very polite and friendly people, so lots of young students used to travel there to learn Arabic.

But, it had been ruled by the same family - the Assads - for about 40 years. First by the father, Hafez al-Assad, and then by his son Bashar who is still president now. It was not a country where people could speak freely. Many people were held in jails, and even tortured, and in the 1980s there was a rebellion which was crushed quite brutally.

So that’s part of the reason that in 2011, people started demonstrating in the streets against the president. Many people who were in those demonstrations told me that although the protestors did not have guns, the security forces shot and killed some of them. After that happened, the protesters armed themselves, and a big rebellion began.

Protests during the Arab Spring in Syria - cc: syriana2011

In the six years since then, the country has broken up into lots of areas controlled by different groups fighting in that civil war. The fighting has meant millions of people had to leave their homes.

And other countries have got involved in the war. For example, Russia and Iran are now supporting president Assad. And Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States, have supported the rebel fighters. Britain also supported some of the rebels, and British officials said that president Assad was killing Syrians and that he should leave Syria and not be president any more.

But now, it looks like president Assad, with support from Russia and Iran, is winning the war. The rebel fighters had to leave their biggest base in the city of Aleppo at the end of last year.

So, some people think that the best way to help Syria is to try to persuade president Assad to let people come back to Syria in safety, and not punish them even if they lived in an area where there was a lot of opposition to him. This is called reconciliation. And there are some areas where there were a lot of rebel fighters, where there has been a kind of reconciliation - although there have been some problems along the way. Reconciliation is hard.

But then, some people say they could never accept life under the rule of president Assad, even if it was safe for them. Many Syrians blame him for destruction and death on a huge scale. So Ravenclaw Reporter from Malcolm Arnold asks “is it possible to have a leader that all sides support?”

Well, that’s a hard one to answer. Probably Syria now is so divided that it’s unlikely that there’s a leader that everyone could support. But during the war some groups have suggested possible leaders which might be a compromise - not everyone would love them, but most people might be able to accept them. Over the years of this civil war, there have been a lot of peace talks and people, including the international group the United Nations, have made some suggestions about Bashar al-Assad leaving his job as president and having elections for a new president. But president Assad and his allies - especially his allies in Iran - have been very clear that they do not want to do that. And inside Syria there are a lot of people who do support Assad, some of them even love him.

And then several of your other comments were about whether it is ever right to intervene in another country’s war. Ultimate feather09 from Hanwell Fields Primary said Britain should make a no fly zone in Syria to protect the people. A no fly zone, in that case, would mean that Britain’s army and war planes would attack any planes that tried to fly over that part of Syria. This would mean that president Assad’s forces would not be able to drop bombs on people. So they could stay in their homes and not become refugees.

But it would also mean that Britain was interfering in somebody’s else’s war. It would probably make the rebel forces stronger in the no fly zone area, and some of the rebels are quite extreme and very violent, against ordinary people as well as against soldiers fighting the war. And it could make problems for us with president Assad’s powerful friends in Russia and Iran.

So that’s probably why Britain and other countries didn’t make a no fly zone up until now. Tabby cat 0.5 from Crampton Primary School had the same view of a lot of experts: “I think that NOBODY should get involved in another country’s war. It might make things worse for the country that interferes with the problems that is nothing, ABSOULTELY nothing to do with you. That’s just being silly.”

Now, all this is already very complicated. I know, I’ve been trying to understand it for years! But I’m going to explain one more thing to you. And that’s where Britain did get directly involved in the Syrian war, and why.

The reason was the group usually called ISIS. Remember, I said that in Syria there aren’t just the rebels and the government fighting, there are lots of different armed groups. And the one that many people are most afraid of is ISIS because they are very extreme and because they say they want to attack countries like Britain as well as Syria.

A few years ago, ISIS had got more and more powerful in Syria and also in Iraq which is just next door, until they declared a state of their own. They took over several whole, big cities. So America and Britain and some other countries decided to take action against them, and they started to attack them, mainly with bombs dropped from planes. They’re still doing that now, and ISIS is much weaker than it was.

And the final comment I’ll get to is from LazyLion68 from St Peters Primary School, who asks, “Why can’t Russia join forces with us and stay out of the conflict altogether?”

And to answer that we have to look at why Russia got involved in the conflict in the first place. One reason is that the Russian president Vladimir Putin wanted to stop the Syrian civil war from being a place where extreme and violent groups like ISIS could get strong. He thinks the best way of doing that is to help president Assad get control over
the country again.

So, Russia probably won’t join forces with Britain. But what Russia is doing now is talking to the country of Turkey. As we know, Turkey supports the rebel forces and Russia supports president Assad. So that means that president Assad’s allies and the rebel forces’ allies are trying to find a compromise. And at some peace talks last month, Syrian rebels and representatives of the president sat at the same table for the first time. It wasn’t an easy or a happy meeting. But some people hope it could be the beginning of the end of a war that has caused so much suffering.


  1. Ravenscroft Primary School Ravenscroft Primary School

    What I think if Syria stopped this war.
    I think that even if this war does stop they still won’t have enough money to pay for all the things like houses and buildings that got broke anyway. So there isn’t even any point of battling in this horrendous war in Syria but even though that all their houses and buildings were destroyed they will still hopefully have a few of their family members and even maybe friends but you can still have a great life if you don’t do what you can do but you can at least try to stay safe
    Fire raven #08

  2. St Mary's and St John's Church of England School St Mary's and St John's Church of England School

    I think that Alice Fordman has been very brave to go out to Syria and be a journalist. She is a great person as I have never seen someone so brave.


  3. Ravenscroft Primary School Ravenscroft Primary School

    your right because for all the people in Britain she is the bravest person I’ve ever heard of because Syria is a very dangerous place and to risk her life just to learn about Syria that is truly fenominal
    Fire raven #08

  4. St Mary's and St John's Church of England School St Mary's and St John's Church of England School

    I defiantly agree with you Alice, I think as well that Assad should let Syrians who disagree with him into Syria without feeling there going to be hurt. Everyone should have the right to have their own opinion. If people don’t like Assad there’s nothing he can do about that, he has to understand that there are people who agree with him and people who don’t. He can’t go around giving everyone who disagrees with him a hard time. It just doesn’t work that way.

  5. Barr's Hill School Barr's Hill School

    I really did enjoy reading your post.It was so good and I also liked the point when you was talking about that Syria was a beautiful country before the war. BY Bumpoios

  6. Arnhem Wharf Primary School Arnhem Wharf Primary School

    I believe that the children who live in Syria should be evacuated immediately and be giving a chance to live a long life.To elaborate on this children in Aleppo have been treated badly.

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  7. Colegrave Primary School Colegrave Primary School

    Personally,what will Russia and Iran and Saudi Arabia gain from doing all this.Is it helping and why are you doing this.Sometimes I get upset and scared thinking this Syria war will end up coming to UK cause we are trying to help them.


    • Hello Jewelcorrespondent10.

      It’s great to have you join this discussion! This is an upsetting issue and you’ve been very brave by bringing your concerns to the Hub. I want you to know why it is very unlikely the Syrian war will come to the UK.

      1. We have been involved in other conflicts in the past and Britain has not been bombed as a result. For example: Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

      2. In the UK we have special groups of people who are there to keep us all safe. This includes the police, the government and MI5.

      3. There are also groups of countries who do a lot of work to keep everyone safe from conflict. For example, NATO or the UN Security Control. These groups are the reason why Russia could not bomb Britain or start a World War.

      You asked what countries gain by being involved in the war. Take a look through the ‘Key groups’ poster and let me know, why are Russia involved in this war?

    • Crampton Primary School Crampton Primary School

      I agree! if we do help them the war may come to Britain and anyone living in Britain would not like that!


  8. Crampton Primary School Crampton Primary School

    We may be able to end the war quicker if we do help them but I think we shouldn’t as I have said on other posts.


    • I agree becuase I think we should send medicine and food but not weapons or troups because Russia might get really mad and might star a war with Britain.

      Illuminati 1o1

    • I agree NewsLight I think we should send medicine and food but not weapons or troups because Russia might get really mad and might star a war with Britain.

      Illuminati 1o1

  9. Napier Community Primary School Napier Community Primary School

    I can’t think of any options that might help without turning Russia into an enemy. Any way thanks Lucy I was really worried the war WOULD come to us. Now I think of it it would still be helping but it wouldn’t turn them to an enemy we should carry on (Secretly) giving weapons and aid to our side.

    The thinker 🙂

    • Hello The thinker!

      Thank you for your reply.

      I just want to clarify something, although it is very unlikely a war would come to Britain, getting involved to stop Assad would mean going against Russia.

      Russia would not like this. It could be damaging to our relationship with them. For example, Russia might stop trade deals or restrict resources coming to the UK.

  10. Villiers High School Villiers High School

    To NewsLight i think if Britain get involved it could be the end of chemical weapons and end Syrian humanitarian crisis


  11. We should help the Syrian people and give them some food.