Eassy on Syrian Civil War (A Simplified Breakdown of Who is Involved and Why)


Today the Syrian war enters its 10th year. This war has destroyed some of the oldest cities in the world, killed more people than we'll ever know, and scattered 2/3 of its population in search of refuge and it isn't over. So what's going on in Syria?

The war began as an internal affair and pro-democracy protests that escalated after a brutal government crackdown. But the story today is far more complicated.

It's a proxy battleground for foreign powers, a site of religious and ethnic conflict as well as a civil war. This is a simplified breakdown of who is involved and why.

The Syrian government and its allies:-

Russia has provided strong military support to its cold war allies since 2015 as well as protection within the UN.

Iran is also a key backer of Syria's Shia, Alawite ruler, providing elite soldiersweaponry, and intelligence to his war as well as Shia militiamen from groups such as Hezbollah.

This alliance has been ruthless using mass torture, airstrikesand chemical weapon attacks to force their battered opponents into a corner.

The opposition and their allies

The Free Syrian Army was found in 2011 by Syrian army defectors. It is now an umbrella for various rebel groups, united in their opposition to Assad but not much else.

They range from pro-democracy fighters to jihadist factions such as Hy'at Tahrir al sham formally connected to the al-Nursa Front.

They have had support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey who fear Iran's growing influence in the region plus weaker support from the USUK, and France.

Ultimately they've been helpless against the combined strength of Syria, Russia, and Iran. 


Kurds are the fourth biggest ethnic group in the Middle East but they have never had a country of their own. Scattered across Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Armenia they have often suffered as minorities.

With the Syrian government preoccupied, Kurds in the north declared autonomy in 2011. Rojava has since been controlled by the Syrian democratic forcesan alliance of Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG and Arab militiamen.

But rather than warring with Assad, their efforts have been focused on another i.e. Islamic State.

In 2014 IS expanded from Iraq into the Syrian city of Raqqa initiating a long war. But in March 2019 the SDF declared victory. 

Here they'd had some help from America. The U.S. led a global alliance against IS fighting alongside the Kurds for many years.

But after IS's defeat, President Trump ordered US troops to withdraw leaving their former allies exposed and initiating a new front in the war. Three days after Trump's announcement in October 2009 Turkey invaded Rojava. 

Now Turkey has backed the opposition since the start of the war but one of their main concerns has always been the Kurds. Since the 1970s Kurdish forces in Turkey called the PKK have pursued a bloody armed struggle for independence.

The last thing Turkey wants is an autonomous Kurdish region right on its border. 

Finally down south there's Israel.

Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes across Syria's southern border. It fears Iran's spreading influence and in particular its support of Hezbollah a Lebanese group formed to fight Israeli occupation.

So to sum up: Assad and his allies fight rebels in the northwest. The Kurds were fighting IS further east but now are overrun with Turkish forces.

And down south Israel launches its own attacks. But there's another question to ask. What now? Eyes must be on Idlib the final rebel stronghold.

Amid Assad's attempts to liberate the region almost a million have been displaced since December alone. It's the biggest Exodus the war has ever seen. Displacement camps are overflowing. Children have died from the cold and even aid workers have become displaced. The UN is urgently cooling for donations. 

Turkey is very involved and has helped rebels to beat back the Syrian army.

On the 5th of March 2020 president, Erdogan and Putin agreed on a ceasefire though it is not the first of its kind. 

When Turkey invaded its Kurdish neighbors Amnesty recorded multiple war crimes committed against civilians. Up to 300000 people have been displaced.

Turkey wants to establish a 300-mile safe zone across its border not only to protect it from the Kurdish attack but also to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrians it currently plays host to.

This has been criticized as an attempt to ethnically alter the region while forcibly returning refugees to an unsafe country. 

And finally the Diaspora.

Besides the six million Syrians internally displaced. 6 million more have fled abroad. But borders are tightening and finding refuge is increasingly hard.

With no visible end to Assad's reign, it's perilous to return home. For many, there is no country in which they can legally and safely exist.

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