When: 2011 – Present
Location: Middle East
Estimated Dead: 200,000+
Displaced Persons: 10 million
Both the Syrian Government and elements of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have been targeting and killing civilians based on either ethnic background, religious identification, or political designation. The Syrian government has imprisoned and killed over 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. 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. Over 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.”
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 Deraa, where initial protesters were asking for local reforms. The unrest triggered nationwide protests. 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.
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. Over 200,000 people have died since the start of the conflict, 70,000 of which are civilians. 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.
Personal stories of those affected in Syria
Syria Resource Guide (Moving Beyond Witness)
Syria Conflict Mapping Project (The Carter Center)
Syria (The World Factbook)