The Syrian Conflict – Origins & Evolution

Lewis Charles

Aleppo, once a contender for Syria’s oldest and most impressive cities, now lies in ruins. The conflict began shortly after a wide series of protests in 2011 across the Middle East, dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’ by some. Protests began in the Syrian city of Deraa, shortly following the arrest and torture of numerous teenagers who painted anti-Assad slogans on a school wall. Syrian security forces fired on the demonstrators, killing several, this triggered nationwide protests demanding Syrian President Bashar-al Assad’s resignation.

Syrian security forces responded with merciless and brutal levels of violence. Supporters of the opposition to the government, began to take up arms. Unfortunately, with the government continuing to escalate the levels of violence in a bid to suppress the unrest a descent into civil war was unavoidable. Opposition forces increasingly began to organise and battle government forces for control of cities, towns, and the countryside. Battles reached the Syrian capital Damascus and the major city of Aleppo by 2012. The Syrian government lost control of huge areas of the country, and at present, has virtually no presence in over 50% of the country. As the fighting spread, so did the casualty rate; by June 2013 the UN said 90,000 people had been killed in the conflict.

By August 2015, that figure had climbed to 250,000 according to activists and the UN. As the conflict escalated, the opposition was too weak to win a decisive victory against the government, and likewise for the government against the opposition. The conflict continued, and the opposition began to splinter into separate groups – this meant that there wasn’t one single opposition movement, that was militarily strong enough or organised enough to defeat the government. Increasingly the conflict has become sectarian. Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority largely support the opposition in their fight again Bashar al Assad’s Shia Muslim Alawite sect. Regional and global powers have been drawn in. Shia power Iran, combined with powerful Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah have deployed thousands of troops to support the Assad regime. Meanwhile, Sunni power Saudi Arabia has spent billions on supplying weapons to various opposition groups in Syria. Western powers have also provided arms since early in the conflict to groups whom they deem as moderate. All of this has added fuel to the fire ensuring that the conflict continues.

The evolution of the uprising has seen secular moderates in the opposition become outnumbered by Islamists and jihadists, many of whom are not Syrian. The emergence of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is symbolic of this trend. ISIL took advantage of the chaos, and took large parts of Syria and Iraq, committing brutal crimes as they did so. This led to a U.S.-led coalition launching airstrikes in a bid to destroy ISIL, though they prove far from being dissolved. Following much pressure placed on the government during last summer, the world’s most unpredictable actor got involved, Russia. Since then, the Russian Air Force has relentlessly bombed the opposition to the Assad government, pushing the balance of power back into Mr Assad’s favour.

Peace efforts are underway to find a solution to the conflict, with most (but not all) of the actors in the conflict taking part in the Geneva Conference regarding the unstable situation Syria. For as long as agreement continues to look unlikely, the situation in Syria will continue to escalate, and many more historic cities like Aleppo will potentially be lost.


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