Many Americans don’t actually know where Syria is, as the Pew Research Center reported in 2013. Still, the country’s civil war has aided the resurgence of radical Islamic groups and created a controversial refugee crisis. The Syrian conflict can be difficult to understand, so we broke it down for you so you won’t be stuttering like Gary Johnson when Aleppo is brought up.
Syria’s current internal conflicts began after the Arab Spring in 2011, when countries in North Africa and the Middle East began to revolt against the governments in power. Syria began its own peaceful protests against its president, Bashar al-Assad, whose father took over by coup d'etat in 1966. Assad responded by killing and detaining demonstrators, and by July 2011, defectors formed the Free Syrian Army (and other rebel groups) and a civil war in Syria began.
The initial protests began as a result of widespread poverty, lack of freedoms and a severe drought Syria experienced from 2007-2010 which only increased economic and social issues. Although Syria has had times of calm and stability, President Assad has continuously killed and detained those who are against his regime, in addition to doing almost nothing to stop the growth of anti-western terrorist organizations in his country.
Rebel groups began to make headway in 2012 when they bombed three Damascus security points and seized the city of Aleppo. Because of groups such as the Islamic State , both the government and rebel forces must split up their resources between the civil war and fighting radical Islamic groups. Assad has been questioned on who he is really backing, though.
Syria’s current state is a civil war between Assad’s regime, which uses inhumane tactics like chemical weapons to deter its opposition and Islamic militant groups such as the Islamic State, that want to take over Middle Eastern nations and restore traditional Islamic Sharia Law. Since 2016, rebel groups have been spread apart and had to fold to government troops in some areas, so territories like Aleppo are once again under government control or being claimed by the Islamic State.
U.S. sanctions have been imposed on Syria since 1979, with more sanctions added in 2004, and again in 2011. President Assad has refused to give up his position or broker peace talks, so since talks are slow, western countries have supported rebel causes and attempt to fight ISIS, among other groups, all of which cause many of civilian casualties.
Russia has been criticized for its apparent support of Assad’s regime, following attacks supposedly directed at the Islamic State but that actually hit areas where anti-Assad troops are stationed. It also helped Assad reclaim Aleppo from rebel forces in 2016.
In late 2016, Russia, Turkey and Iran have all agreed to enforce a ceasefire between non-Islamic rebels and the government, directing their attention instead towards ISIS. President Donald Trump’s bombing on Syria was said to be a punishment towards Assad after evidence was discovered of chemical weapons used on both rebels and civilians, and the retaliation has been applauded by officials as a smart move.
With no end in sight, Syria has been heavily destroyed and will need decades to rebuild. The Islamic State's involvement only complicates a civil war claiming too many lives already and causing innocent civilians to become refugees and lose their homes. Americans should pay attention to a tragedy that, at its core, is decimating a country and erasing its culture, history and people. This BBC timeline keeps track of current events.