The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has roped in Google to create an interesting project called Searching for Syria. The interactive and user-friendly project uses a wide variety of data and imagery — including aerial images, videos, satellite imagery, demographic data and other footage such as testimonials of refugees — to comprehensively take stock of the Syrian war.
The website, devoid of any partisan political undertones, provides information about all facets of Syria before the war started and gives a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Syrians before it was torn asunder by the war.
The brutal war and the biggest refugee crisis
The atrocious conflict in Syria – which has led to 2.5 million deaths, forced 5 million people to flee from their homes and has resulted in the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War – is raging since 2011. It has ceased to be a civil war or an internecine conflict and has mutated into a multidimensional proxy war with multiple stakeholders who wield substantial clout in the international geopolitical arena. What started off as a series of peaceful protests by civilians — in the wake of the Arab Spring that had engulfed the entire middle east — against the decades-old Baathist regime in Syria soon turned into an armed uprising against the state and lead to the meddling of other regional and global powerhouses, converting Syria into a theatre of a deadly war and the epicenter of terrorism with the presence of dreaded terrorist organizations like ISIS.
Conflicts everywhere lead to a grave humanitarian crisis, death, destruction, massive displacement and a brutal wiping of vibrant cultures and ways of life. There are many complex reasons for conflicts and they are marked by region-specific factors, but one common feature is the eruption of pent-up grievances, fraying social contract with the regime, political opacity, deepening social fissures, resentment against dismal economy, pervasive authoritarianism, lack of social mobility and external intrigues, maneuvers and machinations for some strategic geopolitical benefits.
Syria before the war – a glimpse
Just like other developing nations, the people of Syria enjoyed fashion, sports and the simple pleasures of life. In 2008, Damascus, the Syrian capital, which is the oldest continuously inhabited capital city in the world, was chosen as the cultural capital of the Arab world. The Syrian panorama is that is dotted with old castles, Roman Ruins and architectural sites once had a burgeoning tourism sector and the country attracted more tourists in 2010 than Australia.
A lot of people would be pleasantly surprised to know that a Middle Eastern nation that did not even appear regularly in the news before the war was in the popular tourist itinerary. The multicultural nation was known for the confluence of traditionalism and modernity in the Arab world and was relatively free of the ultra-conservative influence of clerics.
Like other nations, it had quaint towns and bustling trade centers, most of whom dated back to centuries. But now they have been reduced to rubble by constant shelling and bombing.
The World’s biggest refugee crisis
UNHCR said the objective behind creating this website was to create awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees and to show what Syria was like before the war and highlight lesser-known facts about this historical country, which has been at the crossroads of many cultures and civilizations.
The war-ravaged country is not even a shadow of its former self now and rebuilding, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts will take decades once a semblance of normalcy and peace is restored. The tragedy of the Syrian people has very few parallels in the modern world.
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has called the Syrian refugee crisis “The biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.”