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Syria was a single party republic located on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea in western Asia. It was bordered by Turkey to the north; Iraq to the east; Jordan and Israel to the southwest. The nation collapsed because of Doomsday and ceased to exist in its present form.
Syria was a nation which could trace its existence back over a thousand years and at different times had been part of several empires including the Phoenicians and Romans and finally the Ottomans beginning in the 16th Century. At the end of World War I, the League of Nations partitioned the Ottoman Empire and Syria was carved out as the French Mandate of Syria. France granted independence to Syria in April 1946 as a parliamentary republic. Over the next several decades, the nation would undergo a tumultuous history which saw it wracked by several coups and coup attempts, multiple governments, and four different constitutions. By 1963, the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party, also known as the Ba'ath Party, emerged as the dominant and by 1970, the only political party in the nation. Following hostilities with Jordan in 1970, the party’s military wing staged a coup a led by Defense Minister, Hafez al-Assad. He installed himself as president and subsequently restructured the government to place nearly all power in his hands. Syria had also been involved in several unsuccessful wars with Israel, including the Six Day War which resulted in the loss of the Golan Heights. Since 1976, Syria had a heavy military presence in neighboring Lebanon ostensibly to provide security due to the ongoing civil war. As of Doomsday, approximately 25,000 soldiers and accompanying armor was stationed at a number of bases.
Syria had a strong military alliance with the Soviet Union dating back to 1956 and was an intricate part of the Soviet military network. The Soviet navy and air force were allowed to use Syrian ports and airfields and as many as 5,000 Soviet advisors were stationed with-in the country. As such, Syria was heavily targeted on Doomsday, with the majority of attacks taking place in western area of the country. Although it is unclear how many warheads were actually detonated, it is known that at least twelve were involved as well as one to cause EMP disruption. The targets included:
- The capital of Damascus, including President Assad and nearly all government officials and most high ranking Ba'athist Party members
- Cities of Aleppo and Zabadani
- The Mediterranean Sea ports of Tartous, where a Soviet Naval supply and maintenance base was located, and Latakia
- Soviet Sam-5 Missile sites near Homs and Dumayr, which were manned by Soviet personnel, and adjacent areas
- And several major military and air force bases scattered along the borders with Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey.
On September 26, 1983, the population of Syria stood at approximately 9.6 million, many of whom were concentrated in the western half of the nation, especially the northern and southern areas. As such, when the nation was attacked on Doomsday, a large portion of the population, approximately 25%, perished immediately in the attacks or within a week’s time from radiation exposure, accidents, injuries or violence. Since Syria was a one party state with power concentrated in limited hands, the destruction of the capital resulted in a massive breakdown and failure of government and aid services. What assistance was available came at a local level. Adding to these problems was the damage caused to communication and transportation because of the EMP.
Many refugees and survivors from the affected areas immediately headed south towards Jordan and Israel or west to Lebanon in the hope of finding assistance and shelter. They utilized what method of transportation they could, be it foot, animal, or still functioning motor vehicle. Already sick, most from radioactive fallout, many perished along the way. Because these nations were trying to address the immediate needs of their own populations and did not have the resources to assist the refugees, they made a concerted effort to turn them back when they could, often at gunpoint. There were numerous reports of troops deliberately firing on refugees. However, some managed to make it across loose borders. Others made the decision to head towards eastern Syria which was one of the few areas in the country which had not been struck as badly, in particular the districts of Deir ez-Zor and Al-Hasakah. Between October and December 1983, it is believed over one million people set off in this direction or to the border with Iraq. To add another layer of misery, refugees were often the victims of roving bands of criminals or rogue military. By the end of 1983, at least 2 million more were dead from disease, starvation, injuries, and radiation sickness.
Civil War & the Rise of Al Jazeera
By early November 1983, western Syria had descended into anarchy amid the devastation of Doomsday. In the east however, in particular the governorates of Ar-Raqqah, Deir ez-Zor, and Al-Hasakah, mostly untouched, except for the radioactivity blowing from the strike zones, surviving government officials were attempting to impose order and re-establish the old government. Between 3 to 4 million people were crowded into the region, many refugees from the rest of the country. On November 28, 1983, about two months after Doomsday, surviving Syrian Ba'athist government and military leaders convened in the city of Deir ez-Zor led by Rifaat al-Assad, the younger brother of the deceased president.
The leader of an elite military unit known as the Defense Companies, Rifaat and his soldiers had bloodily suppressed an uprising the year before in Hama by the Muslim Brotherhood, earning the nickname the “butcher of Hama.” Ever a political survivor, Rifaat left Hama shortly before it was destroyed by American nuclear weapons on Doomsday with about 8,000 men and some armor. He eventually made it to eastern Syria and used his authority to organize the gathering. He confirmed that most high ranking officials including his brother were dead and that western Syria had been devastated and was in chaos. It was their duty he declared to preserve the government.
After some debate, the group agreed and the decision was made to declare Deir ez-Zor the new capital of Syria. They would focus their efforts on preserving what remained of the nation and begin rebuilding. Through arm twisting and his reputation, Rifaat was appointed the new president of the nation. Rifaat issued a number of decrees, hence forth a state of emergency and martial law would be in effect indefinitely. The government would impose rationing of food and vital services and take control of all stocks of food, water, and medical supplies. Refugees were to be put to work rebuilding the nation.
He also called for the evacuation of all remaining Syrian soldiers who had been occupying eastern and northern Lebanon and sent a dispatch to that effect via fighter plane. Eventually, only about 15,000 of the estimated 40,000 would return home. The rest having either died from or as a direct result of the war or just simply vanishing, most deserting to form their own militias.
By the spring of 1984 tensions had grown within eastern Syria. Although many survivors felt some sort of loyalty to the old government, no matter how harsh it had been, most blamed it for having dragged the people into a devastating war. Adding to this discontent, was the feeling high ranking officials were forcing people to adhere to a policy of austerity, while they themselves did not. As Syrians watched family and friends go hungry or die from the lack of medical care, anger within the region gained strength. Elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opponents of the old regime helped to fan these fires of protest. Small rallies and marches began appearing in different areas, especially in and around areas where refugee camps had been established to hold refugees from western Syria.
President Rifaat’s response to these protests was immediate and harsh, instituting a crackdown using the military and security forces. Thousands of demonstrators were arrested and thrown into prison or sent to work on public work projects for the new Ba'athist state. There were more than a few reports of summary execution squads having been held. Although this did result in an immediate halt to nearly all of the protests, it also had the effect of enraging the people further and spreading dissent. Beneath the surface, emotions were boiling, looking for the right conditions to explode.
On May 20, 1984, a Ba'athist Party truck was handing out food rations to a group of local citizens in the city of Mayadin. After distributing a small portion, the truck attempted to drive away. A group of hungry women and children attempted to block its path, crying "Please, more food!" A party official aboard, angry at what he felt was the group’s insolence, drove the vehicle straight at the crowd expecting them to move. Although most were able to jump out of the way, four people, two children, who could not move fast enough died.
As crowds began to gather for noon prayers at the city’s mosque, news of the incident quickly spread. Angry worshippers staged an impromptu demonstration over the incident and by the time a group of soldiers arrived to disperse them, the crowd had swelled to several hundred. Despite repeated commands to leave, the crowd refused and began chanting “killers” and “Change, change, change!” When an angry man threw a stone, the troops open fire spraying both the crowd and innocent bystanders who were going to prayer with gunfire. When the shooting stopped, at least 60 people lay dead and more than a 100 were wounded. After a stunned silence, punctuated by the cries and moans of the wounded, the crowd suddenly surged forward and attacked the troops. After subduing and killing many of the soldiers, the demonstrators, now armed with their weapons surged through the streets shouting "Allähu Akbar" and "Horreyah" over and over again. By nightfall, the mob was in control of the city and had set ablaze a number of buildings, including the local Ba'athist Party headquarters. Civil war had broken out.
To be continued...