The Howler

The Howler

Global Review

Ian Wallace

Turmoil in 2017

A Global Review of Political Conflicts over the Calendar Year


A civil war in Syria constituting serious human rights violations is coming to a close.   An unpredictable Supreme Leader of North Korea made progress in his nuclear program, and a new President of the United States faced the fury of the world for the first time this year.  Another civil war in Yemen threatens to have far greater implications if aid is cut off.   In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta barely retained his seat in an election full of controversy, and most recently, an ethnic cleansing effort in Myanmar may become the next genocide on our planet.  This is a global review of major conflicts around the world in 2017.

The Syrian civil war, which includes a fight against the Islamic State, throughout both Syria and Iraq, as well as an attempt of rebels to overthrow the Assad regime, is by far the biggest highlight of the year.  Beginning in 2011, President Assad saw that his opposition would oust him if he let the rebellion stay in the political sphere.  As a result, Assad started the war by firing on the peaceful democratic protesters, and a few members of his army broke off to form the Free Syrian Army to fight Assad’s regime.  To avoid foreign backing of the rebels, Assad released Islamic Extremist groups, having known that they would join the Free Syrian Army.  However, foreign backing came anyway; first from Iran to Assad, and then the Gulf States, Jordan, and Turkey to the rebels.  The United States, furious at Assad’s use of chemical weapons to fend off the rebels, sent aid not only to the rebels, but also to the Iraqi Army to fight a new group, the Islamic State, which coincidentally broke away from Al Qaeda during the war.   Beginning in 2014, the United States began focusing the war effort on fighting the Islamic State, which allowed the Assad Regime to regain control.  However, in 2017, President Trump decided to change the focus of the US involvement in Syria, focusing more on the Assad regime, characterized by bombings of Syrian air force bases.  Despite his efforts, Trump may be late to the game.  Aleppo, a major stronghold of the rebels, has already fallen to Assad, and the Assad regime has continued to use chemical weapons on its own people.  The future looks bleak for the Arab Spring Protesters of 2011, as Assad looks to be regaining control over his country.  According to the former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, Assad will win the brutal conflict, and he will not have to be held accountable for his human rights violations.  

While Assad is reasserting control in the Middle East, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea is using a far scarier method of asserting control in Asia in the form of a nuclear program.  After a nuclear test on the third of September 2017, North Korea announced that they had made a hydrogen bomb capable of being placed on an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.  However, their claims are disputed because the size of the blast was too large.  They have carried out successful tests with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, but they have yet to miniaturize.  As tensions rise due to the nuclear tests, South Korean defence minister Song Young-Moo suggested that the United States resupply nuclear weapons to the peninsula.  

Another Arab Spring Protest that has ongoing implications is the Yemeni Civil War, which began when protesters forced President Saleh to hand power over to his deputy, Mr. Hadi.  Hadi struggled with unemployment, corruption, food security, and fending off the Shia Houthi movement in the Northwest.  The Houthis took advantage of Hadi’s weak government by expanding their territory.  Predominantly Sunni neighbor Saudi Arabia began bombing the Houthi rebels, but the Houthis received support from the Shia stronghold of the world, Iran.  In the territorial struggle that followed, over 4,000 civilians were killed in public gatherings such as schools and funerals.  In 2014, the Houthis took control of the capital, Sanaa’a, which triggered a blockade by Saudi Arabia in order to force the Houthis to give up their control.  The Houthis still remain in control to this day, leading to a child starvation crisis that could see seven million deaths if the blockade continues.  

While Corruption is causing a food crisis in Yemen, it’s created a hotly debated year of elections in Kenya that nearly saw incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president, ousted from office.  After the anticipated elections on August eighth, 2017, opposition candidate Raila Odinga challenged his eight percent margin of defeat to the Supreme Court, arguing that the computerized elections had been hacked.  In Kisumu, Kibera, and Mathare where Odinga has the most support, violent protests took place, which continued until the Supreme court ruled that there were inconsistencies with the results and that another election was to take place in October.  Odinga eventually withdrew from the election, but Kenya’s political sphere remains divided.  Similar to the United States General Election of 2016, Odinga planned to ‘drain the swamp’ and end embezzlement in office, but not everyone was convinced.  

Finally, to cap off the year of 2017 is another case of human rights violations in Myanmar.  The predominantly Buddhist country has persecuted its Rohingya Muslim minority for years, neglecting the minorities in the coastal Rakhine State.  The Rohingya have been denied higher education and citizenship ever since the 1982 Burmese Nationality Law was enacted, but the persecution goes much further than the law.  Over the past year, Myanmar has been exhibiting ethnic cleansing through burning Rohingya villages and forcing the Rohingya northward into Bangladesh, despite their cultural claim to the Rakhine State.  Reports from refugees of gang-rape and mass killings are getting the United Nations to consider classifying the ethnic cleansing as genocide, but the Rohingya are not entirely innocent victims either.  The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army has been attacking the government forces to seek revenge, exacerbating the ethnic cleansing, and giving an excuse for the government of Myanmar to perform their ethnic cleansing.  The combination of aggression and retaliation could lead to another case of the worst possible human rights violation in 2018.

The conflicts in the year of 2017, publicized or not, could turn out to be some of the worst on record.  The imminent danger of millions of people and the instability of numerous governments around the world will give us reason to say ‘peace on earth’ this holiday season.

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