Syrian Civil War: Four Things You Should Know

The Syrian conflict is complicated, with too many parties involved

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Syrian security tries to quash dissent in Douma, but residents remain defiant, Jan. 14, 2012. (Elizabeth Arrott/VOA)

Two days ago, as the battle in Aleppo intensified, Syrians took to social media to post their last goodbyes to the world. The world, in its turn, re-awoke to the harrowing realities of the plight of the Syrians with a piercing pang of guilt and shame.

Starting yesterday, thousands of civilian and rebels from the last rebel bastion are being evacuated from east Aleppo following a ceasefire deal with the government, which marks a major victory for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Every few months or so, we, the rest of the world, awaken to the ongoing horrors in Syria, termed by the UN as the worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century. Then there is the scramble for knowledge, for understanding what the whole conflict is all about.

Admittedly, the Syrian civil war is complicated, with too many parties involved. We, Bayside Journal, try to break it down for you. Here are four things you need to know about the Syrian conflict.

1. Where Did It All Begin?

The Arab Spring. It reached Syria in March 2011, and took the form of pro-democracy protests in the southern city of Deraa against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The government’s answer to this was open firing on the demonstrators and imprisoning others.

2. Who Are Involved?

The war in Syria is riddled with sectarian and political overtones, with international coalitions adding to the complications. Assad belongs to the Alawite (Shia) sect, whereas the rebel factions are Sunni. The majority of the Syrian population are also Sunnis.

Then there is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which rose and expanded in northern and eastern Syria in 2013 and whose main aim is to create a unified Islamic territory to enforce fundamentalist beliefs.

There are also the Kurds, who seek self-rule in areas in northern Syria where they are in.

3. Foreign Involvement

Sect plays a role. Assad is backed by Iran and Iraq where Shia are a majority, as well as Shia militias that include fighters from countries like Lebanon and Afghanistan. The rebels are supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey.

An international coalition with US at its helm has been bombing what it regards as terrorist organisations that include the ISIS and also the rebel factions.

4. What Is the Situation Today?

Aleppo has almost entirely been seized by the Syrian government. Now Assad’s regime has control over its capital Damascus, some of the areas in southern Syria and Deir Az Zor, north-west coastal region, and a huge part of region close to the Syrian–Lebanese border. The rest are controlled by the Kurds, rebels, and ISIS.

The war in Syria has resulted in a surge of migrants undertaking perilous journeys to reach safe shores in Europe, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. In all these five years of the war, over 450,000 have been killed, and two million injured. Nearly half of Syria’s pre-war population have been displaced.