Syrian Civil War

Syrian civil war, Syrian conflict, armed conflict between the regime of President B. al-Assad and his allies, as well as various groups of insurgents , resulting from protests in Syria that were critical of the government. The latter included Arab-Sunni and Kurdish militias as well as Islamist groups, including the so-called Islamic State (IS). Foreign states also intervened militarily in the conflict: an anti-IS alliance made up of Arab and Western states, Russian armed forces on the side of the Syrian government, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and allied Shiite militias such as the Lebanese Hezbollah as well as the Turkish army. The war was characterized by war crimes and violations of international law: Chemical weapons (poison gas) were used. Air strikes and artillery fire destroyed civil infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and waterworks. There were also sieges, kidnappings, expropriations, expulsions and rape. According to the UN Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were around 6.2 million displaced persons within Syria and around 6.7 million refugees abroad at the end of 2018. Around 13 million people were dependent on humanitarian aid. However, it rarely reached those affected. The number of deaths in the Syrian civil war was estimated at around 500,000 in 2018.

Protests and riots in 2011

Following the example of other Arab countries (Arab Spring), a civil protest movement also arose in Syria in 2011. On March 18, 2011, five demonstrators were shot dead by the security forces in Dara. In Dara they protested against the arrest and torture of young people who had made graffiti that was critical of the government. Since then, there have been almost daily protests and shots by the security forces at participants in demonstrations and funerals. Aside from Dara, the cities of Homs and Hama became strongholds of opponents of the regime. In order to contain the protests, the Syrian ruler Assad resigned on April 16, 2011 to repeal the emergency laws that had been in force since 1963, which also happened on April 19, 2011 by resolution of a newly appointed cabinet. To calm down the conservative-Islamic-oriented section of the opposition, the government allowed fully veiled teachers to return to the classrooms and closed the country’s only casino. However, radical democratic reforms did not take place. Hence, the nationwide protests held for Assad v. a. Forces from abroad blamed on. On July 22nd In 2011, over a million people across the country demonstrated against the regime, which increasingly relied on military force and systematic cleanups. On the part of the government, members of the Alawite Shahiba militia also took action against the protesters. The demonstrators increasingly called not only for the liberalization of the political system, but for the end of the Assad regime. In August 2011, parts of the opposition formed a »Syrian National Council (SNR)« in Turkey. The month before, deserted officers had proclaimed the establishment of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). In the period that followed, the nationwide protest increasingly lost its civil character and armed rebel groups formed in various regions.

Military escalation – mediation fails

Heavy fighting broke out in Homs in January 2012. Suburbs of Damascus and the province of Idlib (northwest) were also the scene of frequent battles in spring 2012. An observer mission of the Arab League set up at the end of December 2011 was canceled again in January 2012 due to the escalating violence. On February 4, 2012, Russia and China vetoed a resolution supported by the Arab League in the UN Security Council calling on Assad to resign. A 6-point peace plan by UN special envoy K. Annan appointed at the end of February 2012found – after minor modifications – the support of China and Russia in the Security Council in March 2012. The ceasefire that came into effect on April 12, 2012 according to this plan could not be implemented, and military clashes occurred again and again. The government increasingly used heavy artillery and the air force against the rebels.

In order to prevent the impending failure of the peace plan, a Syria conference (Geneva I) took place in Geneva in June 2012 under the direction of  Annan, in which the five UN veto powers, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar took part. The conference proposed the formation of a Syrian interim government made up of representatives from the government and the opposition to prepare free elections. The “Syrian National Council”, however, strictly refused to work with Assad. The military clashes continued.

In July 2012, the capital Damascus was fought over for a week until the government troops were able to regain control of most of the districts. On July 18, 2012, the Syrian Defense Minister was also killed in a suicide attack in Damascus. High-ranking government representatives left abroad. On July 21, 2012, the FSA attacked Aleppo, which became the center of intense fighting. At the same time, the government lost control of important border crossings with Turkey and Iraq. The UN Monitoring Mission (UNSMIS), which began in April 2012, was discontinued in August 2012 in view of the dramatic escalation of the conflict. The UN special envoy Annan resigned from his post at the end of August 2012. He was succeeded by the former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi (* 1934). In the period that followed, the rebels succeeded in bringing other cities and regions under control. There were repeated terrorist attacks and massacres. In order to increase the political and military effectiveness of the strongly fragmented rebel movement, the “National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces” was established in Doha on November 11, 2012 and a military council in Antalya in December 2012 as the highest command of the FSA. The exile opposition united in the “National Coalition” formed a counter-government in Istanbul in March 2013.

The Assad regime v. a. with the Shiite supremacy Iran and with the Lebanese Hezbollah. In return, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported the Assad opponents in order to weaken Iran. The Syrian regime v. a. from Russia, the opposition from the USA, European countries and Turkey.

According to, the civil war had meanwhile brought economic and civil life in the country to a standstill. An increasing denominationalization of the conflict could be observed. More and more Salafist or jihadist fighters (initially mainly members of the al-Nusra Front) found themselves in the rebel camp, which was mainly based on the Sunni majority of the population, who opposed the government and security apparatus, which was mostly occupied by Alawis. Sections of the Christian population also supported the government camp. The regime also tried to arm local people’s defense committees militarily in order to assert itself against the rebels. The Kurdish minority positioned itself neither clearly for nor clearly against President Assad. In the predominantly Kurdish region in the northeast, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) was able to strengthen its position after the government army withdrew in summer 2012 to deploy its troops in the centers of the uprising. The so-called People’s Defense Units (YPG) of the PYD fought various battles with FSA units and Islamist fighters. The main concern of the PYD emerged as the establishment of structures of Kurdish political autonomy.

Syrian Civil War

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