Attitudes in Syria towards ending the conflict seem to have changed sharply over the past year: views of both pro- and anti-regime respondents have hardened. A year ago, war-weary regime supporters and opponents alike favored a national-level negotiated political settlement to end the bloodshed, involving compromise by both sides and, in the case of many regime opponents, possible exile for Bashar al-Assad. In this study, most Syrians we interviewed said they opposed anything other than fighting until a victor emerges. This seems to be attributable to brutality and atrocities that have deeply scarred those on each side. Respondents on both sides anticipated their position will prevail, and therefore utterly rejected a partition of Syria. Many could not envision a scenario in which their side does not win.
Fight to the Finish
At this stage, there is little difference between regime supporters and opponents regarding their ideas about ending the war. Many on both sides wanted an end to the conflict, but only on their side’s terms.
Opponents of the government seek the defeat and end of the Assad regime.
The conflict must continue because we have reached the point of no return. We cannot tolerate the regime anymore. We must follow through and end the rule of this tyrannical regime.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 27, Aleppo
I think that this is the best solution, and that is exactly what needs to happen. All the rebels should unite their forces and rid Syria of Bashar [al-Assad] and his criminal gang. They should also go back to continuing their plan of ending the injustices of the regime and its evils.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 35, IDP, Homs
Regime supporters wanted only a victory in which the army prevails.
The fighting must continue until the Syrian Army takes its victory. That will happen in each area throughout Syria, as it has happened in Al-Qusayr, Aleppo, and others; victory is near. These criminals are strangers, and they are bound to get out of this country.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus
Every period that passes, every day that passes, our army is getting back and freeing more areas. They are gaining control over them, and the weakness of Da’esh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS), and that these are Takfiri groups, is clear; it is clear and obvious you know. Now, our valiant army will take control over all Syria and bring back security to all of Syria.
— Alawi Male (pro-regime), 24, Tartous
Fears were voiced by a few respondents – refugees in Jordan – that victory would mean that the victors take revenge on the vanquished. The principle fear was that ordinary people will be hurt whether the outcome favors a cruel regime or the brutal rebels. “If the government of Bashar al-Assad wins, there will be ethnic purification. Most of the denominations have lost a lot of relatives, and that is boiling up the tendencies to get revenge. On the other hand, if the rebels win the fight, they would want to get all of the people who have fought against them out of the country, so it would be the same both ways,” said a Sunni man (anti-regime), 35, who is a refugee in Jordan.
Negotiated Settlement Unacceptable to Either Side
Most on either side of the Syrian divide now reject a negotiated national settlement based on compromise, despite its broad appeal in our prior study. The language used by both pro- and anti-regime respondents is strikingly similar. Profound suffering and the dehumanization of the opponent have left them unwilling to accept talks with the other side at the national level, much less resolve their differences. Murderers, tyrants, terrorists, and foreigners, they said, cannot be negotiated with. To do this would betray those who have sacrificed on their side.
You cannot negotiate with murderers, especially after the arrival of mercenaries and bullies from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon to defend [Assad]. That is why we should band together and be one hand to fight evil.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 40, Deir al-Zor
I do not think that this (negotiated settlement) would work; the revolution would not have started in the first place if the people would settle for the government of Assad to still be in control.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 35, refugee, Jordan
I have never heard of a government elected by the people negotiating with the terrorists, who are not the people of this country.
— Kurdish man (pro-regime), 32, Al-Hasakah
This solution is not acceptable in any way because we will never negotiate with the agents of Zionists in the West. If we do accept this, we would be disowning the blood of our martyrs, our children, and our army. We promise that we will keep fighting until we terminate terrorism.
— Christian woman (pro-regime), 23, IDP, Homs
National negotiations and compromise solutions are difficult ideas to suggest to Syrians at present. After four years of conflict, hostility against the leaders and forces of the opposing sides has become intense.
Only a few war-weary respondents considered negotiations to be the best solution. However, anti-regime opponents saw the departure of Assad as an essential condition for a negotiated outcome.
This idea is great because it would spare Syria more struggles, violence, bloodshed, and destruction and unite Syrians as a society and a country.
— Christian man (pro-regime), 28, Damascus
Such negotiations taking place is much better than destroying the country. Yet, at the same time, these negotiations should not be just for ceasefire, but also for rescuing Syrians from this dictator, so we would be able to live in peace.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 26, Hamah
Despite increased divisiveness, however, only a couple of respondents called for Assad and his regime to be “erased,” and there were no outright calls for his execution.
Overall, talks and compromise, at least at the national level, seem to have lost much of the appeal they held for Syrians a year ago, as the conflict has become more brutal and the opposing sides increasingly unwilling to consider each other’s leaders as acceptable interlocutors.
Syria Must Remain Whole
Despite general cooling of support for a negotiated settlement, nearly all respondents, pro- and anti-regime alike, rejected the idea of a divided Syria. Some suggested that Syria’s unity and diversity has always been its strength and cannot be sacrificed. Others did not want to go the way of neighboring countries like Lebanon and Palestine, where division has been institutionalized on religious or geographic lines.
Syria has never, and will never be divided. Syria has never discriminated between denominations or religions, and we, Syrians, know how to treat our own wounds and live together as one like we used to.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus
[Partition] is the worst outcome I can think of, because Syria and Syrians are known for their resistance against conspiracies and assaults. We embraced nearby countries like Lebanon and Palestine. Insha’Allah we get through this, and for Syria to go back to being better than it was.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 40, Deir al-Zor
Each Side Predicts That They Will Prevail
Both pro-regime and anti-regime respondents expected that in five years they will have won – a sharp contrast to the perceived stalemate most saw a year ago. In line with the deepening polarization and changing military situation on the ground, neither could envisage a situation where their side did not win.
When the Free Syrian Army prevails over the regime, life in Syria will go back to being normal for its people. We will get rid of Bashar al-Assad’s unjust regime, and we will get to live in our country the way we want.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 30, Aleppo
It will be the same as it was five years earlier. All the indications and the developments that are taking place in our country at the moment indicate only one thing; that safety and security will be restored day after day by the help of friendly countries and with the arms of the heroes of the army, the protectors of the country. Kurdish man — (pro-regime), 32, Al Hasakah
Significantly, however, the outcomes most respondents considered unlikely in five years’ time were ongoing fighting or the possibility of ISIS gaining power. Some respondents, particularly refugees, fear an ongoing stalemate and the increasing power of ISIS. “I really don’t know but I think it will remain the same because ISIS is getting stronger,” said a Sunni woman, age 20, from eastern Syria, living in Jordan. But, except for this small group, no one envisaged the possibility of an ISIS victory.
Summary of Findings on Potential Outcomes
Rather than moving Syrians closer to ending hostilities by opening them to a negotiated settlement, another year of ever more destructive fighting has pushed pro- and anti-regime parties further apart. The violence and suffering from the conflict have sharply increased hostility towards the opposing side’s leaders and forces. Less willing to compromise, those in different camps said they want to continue fighting until their side has the upper hand over all of Syria. Nevertheless, they reject partition, perhaps because they expect outright victory, and tend to dismiss the risks of a potentially inconclusive conflict or ISIS success.
- The Arabic term Takfiri refers to those individuals or groups who accuse other Muslims and non-Muslims of apostasy. ↵