After a decade of war, societal breakdown has led to food shortages, scarce healthcare resources, and a concerning difficulty responding to the COVID-19 crisis in Syria. This is compounded by the government’s continued attacks on civilians, medical facilities, and schools, reportedly using banned cluster munitions in partnership with their Russian counterparts. Additionally, aid continues to be restricted in the region, making life even more difficult for civilians on the ground.
When • 2011 – Present
Location • Middle East
Estimated Dead • 500,000+
Displaced Persons • 10+ million (6.2 mil IDP, 5.6 mil refugees)
In March 2011, Syria was swept up in the tide of the “Arab Spring” – a series of protests that had begun the year prior throughout the Middle East – as pro-democracy protests sprang up all around the country. The first protests took place in the southern province of Dera’a, where initial protesters were asking for local reforms. The unrest triggered nationwide protests. The President Bashar al Assad and the Syrian government promised reform, but in fact engaged in a brutal crackdown that saw almost 2,000 civilians killed in the first several months of the uprising. Peaceful protests then quickly escalated into a nationwide armed uprising. Opposition supporters began taking up arms and by 2012 had formed a full organized opposition force to the Assad regime. Syria descended into a civil war as multiple groups vied for control of Syria’s cities and towns.
For over a decade, the conflict in Syria has been replete with mass atrocities including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
The Syrian government has imprisoned and killed more than 11,000 political opponents over the course of the civil war, and has used barrel bombs and cluster munitions to attack civilians in a direct attempt to decimate civilian population centers. At least 17 confirmed incidents of mass killings have been carried out by government forces and pro-government militia since the beginning of the conflict. According to Human Rights Watch, 15,000 prisoners have died due to torture, and at least 100,000 Syrians remain “forcibly disappeared.” Additionally, in August 2013, government forces fired rockets filled with sarin gas at several suburbs surrounding Damascus, killing between 300 and 1,400 people.
The Islamic State has targeted ethnic and religious minority groups in the region, such as Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’ites, in an attempt to eradicate non-Sunni Arabs in Syria. More than 5,000 members of these minority groups have been executed in separate instances since the onset of the civil war. There have also been reports of the Islamic State using child soldiers as well as employing young women as sex slaves throughout the Islamic State territory. The Islamic State has also destroyed multiple historic sites within Syria in an attempt to rid the country of what it considers to be un-Islamic and “idolatry.”
Along with Assad’s government, there are the Free Syrian Army, the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); and the Al-Nusra front, a radical break-off group tied to Al-Qaeda; and they have all been fighting for control of Syria since the onset of the civil war. In addition, Syrian Kurds, an ethnic minority in the north, have taken large swaths of territory from both Assad’s forces and those of ISIL, in what some suspect is an attempt to secure an independent Kurdistan in northern Syria. Today, foreign governments directly involved in the conflict include Russia, the United States, Iran, and Turkey. More than 500,000 people have died since the start of the conflict, 228,009 of which are civilians according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Nearly half of all Syrians (an estimated 10 million) have been displaced, with 3.5 million Syrians seeking refuge in other nations, including Turkey and Jordan.
Timeline of critical events in Syria
2011 – Two teenagers are arrested in March for pro-democracy graffiti, sparking a protest in Dara’a. The violent government response to the protest left more than 100 citizens dead.
2011 – In July, the protest movement spread across the country, growing to100,000 in the streets.
2011 – The Free Syrian Army was established.
2012 – Government attacks on Homs begin.
2012 – The inaugural Friends of Syria Meeting was held in February to discuss the path to peace and delivery of humanitarian aid.
2012 – Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan was accepted in March by the UN Security Council and government of Syria.
2012 – Peace Talks begin in Geneva w/ UN, U.S., Russia, Arab League, and others
2012 – Kofi Annan resigns as UN Envoy to Syria and is replaced by Lakdhar Brahimi.
2013 – Syrian President Bashar al Assad presents his own proposal for peace in January, but other parties are not in agreement.
2013 – Creation of ISIS – merging of Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq.
2013 – In June, confirmation of the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s government.
2013 – The UN calls for the destruction of all chemical weapons in Syria.
2013 – Creation of the Islamic Front.
2014 – Lakdhar Brahimi resigns as UN Envoy to Syria.
2014 – In September, the U.S. launches first airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
2015 – U.S. agrees to train and equip Syrian rebel movement to fight against Assad.
2015 – Russia launches its first airstrikes into Syria.
2015 – Peace Talks in Moscow in April.
2015 – U.S. sends in special ops troops.
2015 – In November, International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meets in Vienna.
2016 – A ceasefire is negotiated, but again broke down within a matter of months.
2016 – More chemical attacks reported in Aleppo.
2017 – First Peace Talks held in January in Astana, Kazakhstan.
2017 – After a sarin gas attack, President Donald Trump ordered 59 cruise missiles fired at a Syrian airbase.
2018 – Chlorine gas attacks reported in January in Douma.
2018 – In May, the tenth round of peace talks in Astana established support for UN Res 2254.
2018 – In August, President Trump ends $230 million in aid to Syria.
2018 – Chemical attack reported in Aleppo in November.
2019 – Leaders of the Astana peace process meet in Ankara for their 14th round of talks. (Iran, Russia, Turkey
2019 – In September, a Constitutional Committee established with equal representation from the Syrian government, rebel groups, and civil society.
2019 – The first meeting of the Constitutional Committee is held in October in Geneva.
2019 – Near complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by December, leaving just 600 in the northern region.
2020 – In March, Turkey, Syria and Russia signed a 3-party agreement to cease hostilities in Idlib.
2020 – The Dutch government evokes UN Convention Against Torture to hold Syria accountable for gross human rights violations and torture.
2020 – In November, a small contingent of the Constitutional Committee met for the fourth round of talks.