- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
As the U.N. Security Council meets today to discuss how to halt Syria’s descent into civil war, the available statistics show a country more violent than ever — and increasingly defined by armed conflict.
In mid-November, I charted the rising bloodshed in Syria and found that the country was on pace for its deadliest month yet. Since then, the United Nations has admitted that it can no longer keep track of the country’s death. However, the Violations Documenting Center in Syria (VDC), which is affiliated with local activist groups, has continued to keep track of the body count — and the picture isn’t pretty.
The past three months have easily been Syria’s bloodiest, resulting in 3,029 deaths. By way of comparison, roughly 3,100 people were killed during the first six months of the revolt — meaning that violence in the country has doubled since then. And it’s only getting worse: 829 Syrians were killed in November, 1,049 were killed in December, and 1,151 were killed in January.
The statistics also bear out the view that the revolt increasingly resembles a guerilla war. According to the VDC’s statistics, 312 soldiers were killed in January — 27 percent of the total death toll, the highest proportion during the entire conflict. By contrast, in December, military members only accounted for 18 percent of the deaths. It is unclear whether the VDC counts the deaths of defected Syrian soldiers as civilian or military, so the actual percentage of combatants killed in Syria could be even higher.
This February also marks the 30th anniversary of the Hama Massacre, when President Hafez al-Assad initiated a brutal crackdown in the western Syrian city in order to put down a rebellion. Since then, Syrians, historians and policymakers have wondered how a regime could be allowed to virtually destroy a city while the international community sat and watched.
The low-end casualty estimates for Hama stand at around 7,000 people. According to the VDC, a total of 7,054 Syrians have been killed in the past year. Three decades later, it seems, we have our answer.