Syria's Civil War: exploring the conflict and investigating why it happened

The Syrian Civil War is a complicated and controversial topic; it officially began in 2011, but the causes of the conflict run much farther back in time. Simply put, the war broke out when president Bashar al-Assad tortured and killed hundreds of peaceful protesters and imprisoned many more. However, it should be noted that there were many more contributing factors. The two original sides of the civil war are the Free Syrian Army and the government, ruled by Bashar al-Assad. The agony caused because of the conflict is immeasurable, and there are many parties and groups involved in it. Moreover, the history of the civil war is deep-rooted and significant in understanding causes and effects of the war.

Currently, there are numerous parties involved in the war, each for their own reasons. The four main parties involved are the rebels, Assad with his government, ISIS, and the Kurds (“Syria’s War: Who is Fighting and Why”). It should be mentioned that there are many sub-groups fighting in Syria as well, and other countries have joined in as time has passed.

A comprehensive map of who controls different areas in Syria (Shakeeb Asrar).
"Free Syrian Army fighters run after attacking a Syrian army tank during fighting in the Izaa neighborhood" ("These 27 heart-wrenching photos tell the story of Syria's civil war")
  1. Firstly, there are the rebels. When violence against protesters began, some soldiers defected from Assad to form the Free Syrian Army. Eventually, extreme jihadists sided with the rebels in order to join the conflict, though president Assad encouraged it in order to make the group look bad. This organization is fighting Assad and the Syrian government for more religious freedom and rights as a people.
  2. President Bashar al-Assad makes up another side of the ongoing conflict. “What began as a protest movement aimed at ousting President Bashar al-Assad (1965–) developed into a brutal, ongoing, factional civil war" (Syrian Civil Unrest). His regime is known for human rights violations, such as torture, inequality, and inhumane treatment of civilians.
  3. ISIS has a prominent role in the Syrian Civil War, though the group originally branched off from the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, which saw potential in the chaos in Syria, and sent fighters to join in. Once they had established themselves, they split into ISIS and the al-Nusra Front; consequently, they are enemy groups. ISIS's focus is taking land from any opponents and controlling anyone who stands in their way.
  4. Lastly, there are the Kurds. They are one of the major ethnic groups in the Middle East, but do not have their own country. For this reason, they are unwanted and have violence shown towards them by almost all groups.

As the war continues, other countries are affected and join in the brutality.

  1. "The U.S. supports the moderate rebel groups and has begun conducting airstrikes against ISIS, while maintaining its opposition to Assad" (Zorthian). The United States persists against Assad's party, but also keeps from supporting extremist groups also fighting in Syria.
  2. Russia and Iran have shown support of president Assad by supplying money, military aid, and advisers. “On November 28th pro-government forces backed by Russian bombers finally punched through rebel lines in the east of Aleppo" ("Aleppo falls apart; Syria"). This evidence clearly demonstrates their participation in the Syrian Civil War as aids to Assad and his cause.
  3. Like the U.S., Turkey opposes Assad. However, they were not initially against ISIS, as "that would provide indirect support to Kurdish fighters who are supported by Kurdish groups outlawed in Turkey" (Zorthian).
  4. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anti-Assad and fight against ISIS and Arab nations like Jordan. In addition, they conduct airstrikes against the two groups.

As previously mentioned, there are many events that contributed to the conflict, and important events that continued the war.

"A flashlight illuminates the body of a man killed by Syrian army shelling at a graveyard in Aleppo" ("These 27 heart-wrenching photos tell the story of Syria's civil war")
  1. “2000 June - President Assad dies and is succeeded by his second son, Bashar” (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). This was also important, as it was when Assad first came to power and began governing Syria. His controversial decisions were what ultimately lead to uprisings, which resulted in the civil war.
  2. Additionally, according to BBC News, the nationwide uprising was triggered in March of 2011, when security forces shot and killed protesters who wanted political prisoners to be released. This violent reaction to protesters is what lead to anxiety sweeping across the country.
  3. “In 2011, what became known as the 'Arab Spring' revolts toppled Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak" (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). The Arab Spring was extremely important in the civil war because the movement signified democratic uprisings in a multitude of Syrian countries.
  4. In May of 2011, government tanks entered Deraa, Banyas, Homs and suburbs of Damascus in attempts to end protests to Assad's regime. This event fueled anti-regime protesters even more, and was also significant because it lead to the United States and European Union to tighten sanctions (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”).
  5. During the month of July in 2012, the Free Syrian Army was able to capture Aleppo after blowing up three security chiefs in Damascus (“Syr.ia’s Civil War Explained”). This meant that the rebels were showing that they are a formidable enemy against the government, and were gaining power and land.
  6. "2013 September - UN weapons inspectors conclude that chemical weapons were used in an attack on the Ghouta area of Damascus in August that killed about 300 people, but do not allocate responsibility" (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). This event during the Syrian Civil War introduced the use of chemical weapons, and was an eye-opening experience due to the sheer amount of people that were murdered.
  7. Additionally, in September of 2014, the U.S. and five other Arab countries attacked Islamic State around Aleppo and Raqqa via air strikes (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). This is another important event, as it demonstrates America's increasing involvement in the war as it progresses.
  8. During September of 2015, Russia launched it's first air strikes in Syria, "but the West and Syrian opposition say it overwhelmingly targets anti-Assad rebels" (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). Despite this being Russia's first physical involvement in the conflict, the country's actions made it clear that it supports the Syrian government.
  9. In March, 2016, Russia provided air assistance to the government to retake Palmyra. This evidence further shows how pro-government Russia is in the Syrian conflict. However, they were driven out of Palmyra in December (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”).
  10. "2016 December - Government troops, backed by Russian air power and Iranian-sponsored militias, recaptures Aleppo, the country's largest city, depriving the rebels of their last major urban stronghold" (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). This is a significant piece of evidence because it demonstrates the battle to own Aleppo, as it is a crucial city in Syria. It also explains how the rebels may have to retreat, because they cannot compete with the alliance between Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government.

There are many factors as to why the Free Syrian Army defected from the government, and causes of the Syrian conflict.

“Initially, lack of freedoms and economic woes fueled resentment of the Syrian government, and public anger was inflamed by the harsh crackdown on protesters” (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). In particular, there was harsh religious persecution on behalf of president Assad, as well as inhumane treatment of civilians. In particular, president Assad starved civilians who did not agree with his regime, so civilians were faced with starvation if they did not agree with him. Furthermore, he has used chemical weapon attacks on his own people, and even gone as far as to slaughter protesters as an example.

Another cause that prompted the conflict is a severe drought that lead to people moving out of suburbs and into cities in order to get access to food (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). The close proximity of so many people lead to unease between the two groups of Syrians. With all the other factors together, such as Assad's viscous demonstrations, the trust between people completely shattered.

The Syrian Civil War affects those within the country, as well as those out of it.

“Five years since the conflict began, more than 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, more than a million injured and over 12 million Syrians - half the country's prior population - have been displaced from their homes" (“Syria’s Civil War Explained”). Likewise, civilian's houses have been destroyed by firearms, explosives, and other destructive methods used by the parties involved in the civil war (“Syrian Government Army Killed Dozens"). The constant fighting results in people having to leave for their safety, and the only those who are involved in the war or too poor are to leave are left in cities like Aleppo.

Syria has also developed an extreme refugee crisis because of the conflict. "5 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.3 million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children" ("Syria refugee crisis"). The six year long war has forced innocent people to move out of their homes, making them alien in their own country.

CBS News correspondents travelling through the Syrian Civil War front lines wrote, "So we moved, driving through the narrow streets to the heart of this ancient city, large parts of which have been reduced to an apocalyptic wasteland. We stopped because the colonel wanted to inspect his fighters on the front lines... as soon as they spotted us, government snipers opened fire." This firsthand experience demonstrates the danger and level of intense violence still found in war-torn cities in Syria.

Overall, the Syrian Civil War is a brutal, ongoing conflict that involves various parties. The history of the war continues to be made with each passing day, and there are many causes and effects because of the war, such as civilian displacement, violence, and economic and nutritional issues.

Works Cited

Al Jazeera. “Syria's Civil War Explained from the Beginning.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera Media Network, 7 Feb. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/syria-civil-war-explained-160505084119966.html. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

Al-Din, Diaa. “Dozens of Damaged Buildings.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 6 Apr. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/in-syria-four-years-of-war/389781/. Accessed 2 Apr. 2017.

Al-Doumy, Sameer. “A Fighter from the Jaish Al-Islam (Islam Army) Runs to Avoid Sniper Fire.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 16 Mar. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2017/03/in-syria-six-years-of-war/519804/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

"Aleppo falls apart; Syria." The Economist, 3 Dec. 2016, p. 39(US). Global Issues in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A472368135/GIC?u=nhais_hsao&xid=72a95368. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

Almohibany, Amer. “Jaish Al-Islam (Army of Islam) Brigade Fighters Launch a Rocket.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 6 Apr. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/in-syria-four-years-of-war/389781/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

Ammar, Hassan. “The Atlantic.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 16 Mar. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2017/03/in-syria-six-years-of-war/519804/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

Asrar, Shakeeb. “Syria: Who Controls What?” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera Media Network, 1 Mar. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/05/syria-country-divided-150529144229467.html. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

BBC News. “Syria Profile - Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 1 Mar. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14703995. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

Brabo, Manu. “A Flashlight Illuminates the Body of a Man Killed .” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 2016, www.latimes.com/visuals/photography/la-fg-living-under-siege-life-in-aleppo-pictures-20161213-htmlstory.html. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.

Brabo, Manu. “A Free Syrian Army Soldier.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 2016, www.latimes.com/visuals/photography/la-fg-living-under-siege-life-in-aleppo-pictures-20161213-htmlstory.html. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.

Getty Images. “Destruction in Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 6 Apr. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/in-syria-four-years-of-war/389781/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

Harris, Johnny, and Max Fisher. Syria's War: Who Is Fighting and Why. Vox, 14 Oct. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKb9GVU8bHE. Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.

Hebbo, Mahmoud. “Workers Document and Count Dead Bodies.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 6 Apr. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/in-syria-four-years-of-war/389781/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

Kitaz, Sultan. “Residents Help an Injured Man.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 6 Apr. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/in-syria-four-years-of-war/389781/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.

News, CBS. “Inside Syria's Civil War.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 14 Oct. 2012, www.cbsnews.com/news/inside-syrias-civil-war/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2017.

"Syrian Civil Unrest." Global Issues in Context Online Collection, Gale, 2016. Global Issues in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CP3208520407/GIC?u=nhais_hsao&xid=4a68839f. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

“Syrian Government Army Killed Dozens In Taftanaz ‘Syria.’” UPI Photo Collection, 2012. Global Issues in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CT4099960611/GIC?u=nhais_hsao&xid=65aec21f. Accessed June 2017.

World Vision, Inc. “Syria Refugee Crisis: Facts You Need to Know.” World Vision, World Vision, Inc., 13 Mar. 2017, www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syria-refugee-crisis-war-facts. Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.

Zorthian, Julia. “Who's Fighting Who In Syria.” Time, Time Inc., 7 Oct. 2015, time.com/4059856/syria-civil-war-explainer/. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.

Created By
Megan Garey
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