I will share about my direct encounter with Syrians, but it will make sense only when the scenario is made clear.
For almost everyone watching the news, Syria has been an issue of perplexity and incertitude since it erupted in 2011. This void of unintelligibility was filled by rumors, self-made or half-baked stories and more importantly national interests of many countries as well as sectarian interests of many sects. It indeed is a conflict of extreme complexity, with both- national as well as international- characteristics.
For those who may not have been keen enough to follow Syria, the people of Syria rose against their dictator in 2011, during the Arab Spring, in which other Arab countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen protested to pull down – what they called 'illegitimate governments'. The Syrian President crushed the protests, which had spread to 20 Syrian cities. The torture and killing of a 13-yr old Hamza Al-Khateeb had exacerbated the situation, and by the end of May 2011, 1,000 civilians and 150 soldiers were killed and thousands detained. The soldiers who had denied to fire on protestors were executed as per some reports, which led to the defection of thousands other security personnel, who formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA)- an anti-government armed rebel group.
Hafiz-al-Assad who declared himself as President in 1971, ruled with an iron fist, as any dictator would do- banning assembly of more than 5 people. He survived many attempts of revolt from 1976 to 1982, primarily at the hands of Muslim Brotherhood. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar-al-Assad took over as President. It must be noted that the Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect, which forms only 8 to 12% of the Syrian population. Therefore the opposition of majority, right from the beginning, to seek democratically elected government, through a fair election, is quite obvious. The gradual militarization of conflict intensified when IS sent its local members to Syria, which operates as the Nusra Front, who also wanted to topple Assad, although for a different purpose. This also led to the inter-rebel fighting.
Assad is openly backed by his foreign allies- Iran and Russia. The US, as is their habit, to export democracy to foreign nations, wants to oust Assad. This internationalized the issue. The West wants to, as usual, use the Syrian rebellion in its own favor. The world knows that they have no interest to restore democracy or they have no love lost for the Syrian people or their rights. This is the reason they are so interested in the conflict and their media is incessantly talking about Syria. At the same time, this gives excuse to Assad & his allies, to project the whole conflict as the West v/s Assad and they paint the whole massacre of Syrian civilians since 2011, as either the handiwork of extremist groups in the region or a staged Hollywood shooting of dying children, to hoodwink the world community. This is plain stupid. The 9/11 attack happened like a blitzkrieg in few minutes and it's still being looked at from different angles, and for anybody to claim that what's been happening in Syria for years is a movie, does not make sense. People have a habit to see things in black and white. It needs extra effort to decipher it even further. It's true at certain instances the western agencies have exaggerated some facts and could've possibly put out wrong photos ascribing them to be from Syria, but to conclude that Assad is a saint and it's all disinformation campaign, is not done. In fact, as per Syrian Network for Human Rights, 76% of civilians have been killed by Syrian-Russian-Iranian regimes, while the extremists and stakeholders like FSA have been responsible for the rest.
I'm in the MENA (Middle-East and North-Africa) region, these days. A few days back, I went to one Masjid where I met a couple of Syrians, along with a Palestinian (who I initially thought was also from Syria). To see Syrian kids on traffic-lights in the region has been a norm since past few years, but I haven't been as direct as I was, this time. Importantly, the two didn't know each other, from as far as I could understand. Talking politics is a risky affair here, especially since I was directly seeking their opinion on Bashar al-Assad. They were hesitant in the beginning but when I insisted, one of them raised his hands and turned emotional: 'May Allah send Assad to hell! May Allah send him to Abu Jahal's dwelling! He thinks he is Allah and is in control of everything'. Although this was all known to me from my local experience but being devil's advocate, I asked that some people say otherwise, to which he retorted, 'Million people or percent (since we spoke in Arabic) say the same. This is all with the backing of Iran', he said. And then they rushed to their cars, fuming. The Palestinian all along echoed their sentiments.
We must understand that the West is not God that they can enact such Hollywood-style drama so flawlessly, for years. This is the 21st century. We live in a global village where people meet in person as well as virtually. My colleague received an audio from his friend in Ghouta, cursing Assad and Russia. The West & Israel certainly have their own interests in highlighting such issues but to think Syrians love their 'legitimate ruler' and that this is all propaganda is the ignorance and bias of highest order. To say Ghouta is being 'freed' by sucking baby blood is pathetic. As per them, even Aleppo has been 'Freed' and is in control of Assad; why don't then refugees run to Assad's 'free' places in their own country, instead of drowning and dying while running to far-off foreign lands? It's like Indians thinking everything in Kashmir is because of Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan may have its interests in fomenting trouble in the valley and may have even exaggerated certain incidents, but to say that Kashmir is happy with India and they have no sentiment of their own, is again a disastrous conclusion. Pakistan also showed a Palestinian photo in the UN, claiming it to be a pellet-victim from Kashmir; does that mean there are no pellet victims in Kashmir? At times, the issues are multi-faceted. This is international politics and it has no morality, with no country being an exception. Iran wants its interests to be served, so does Russia and the US. If a country uses sectarian sentiments to gain ground, it's the responsibility of the people of that sect not to allow it.
The solution is that all the foreign fighters be called back- be that Hezbollah, Shia militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan whose fight is sectarian and have otherwise no locus-standi in Syria, or the other side of the extremist foreign fighters. Assad and his foreign allies consider this child-slaughter justified for the sake of their hold on the region. There is no whataboutery here. Syria is a human catastrophe; let's not make it sectarian. At least, the commoners shouldn't look at it that way.