The Syria Conflict: Explained

Find out what’s happening in Syria, and why that matters today.

Right now, a devastating civil war is going on across the country of Syria. Regardless of if you have  heard about it on the news, in the papers, on the radio, or in conversations; you should know why it’s happening and how it is affecting the world today.

The Backstory

Map of Syria (Source: PBS Newshour)
  • The Syrian Arab Republic (full name) is a country located in the Middle East near Turkey, Iraq, and the Mediterranean Sea. Its population is about 21 million people, just a bit larger than New York State.
  • It is a republic with an authoritarian regime. This means that power is meant to be held by the people and their elected representatives, but requires absolute obedience to an authority.
  • Syria is run by President Bashar-al-Assad and the minority Muslim sect of the Alawites, who make up 11.8% of the population. The majority of the population are  Sunni Muslim Arabs, who make up 59.1%. These two groups have conflicting religious views, and often clash.
  • Several other minority groups with contrasting beliefs exist in Syria, such as the Levantines and the Kurds.

The Start of the Conflict

The uprising began in Spring 2011, when peaceful protests of the authoritarian rule were met with a violence from the government of Bashar-al-Assad. This broke open the tension between the already conflicting sects of Alawites and Sunni Muslims, and led to a brutal civil war. By December 2011, 5,000 had died in the Syrian conflict, mostly of which were civilians.


The Assad regime continued to punish pro-democracy protests, the backlashes getting increasingly more violent. The rebels were put in jail. When the protesting continued, there were killings. The protesting became more violent, and the rebels were tortured. More rebel groups emerged that are also against the Assad regime, but not all agree on what form of government should replace the authoritarian republic. This made the conflict even harder to solve.

Destroyed hospital in Aleppo after airstrikes targeted the area. (Source: NBC news)

The violence came in many forms. In 2012,  a series of bombings occurred in Syria’s main cities that caused scores of lives to be lost. The UN accused security forces violating humanitarian international law through massacres of anti-government demonstrators. On August 21, 2013, evidence emerged of a chemical attack on Damascus suburbs, where a significant population opposed the Syrian government. This was by far the most deadliest of conflicts, killing 1,429 people.

By August 2013, over 2 million Syrians fled to surrounding countries, half of these refugees being children. Three-quarters of child refugees are under 11. Inside Syria, 4.25 million people left their homes, forced or otherwise, in search of refuge. Syria is now the world’s second-largest producer of refugees, behind Afghanistan.

The current death toll is now more than 100,000 people, according to United Nations. The number of people who have lost their homes or been forced to flee has reached 6.2 million.

International Response

In August 2012, President Obama established a “red line,” saying that if the Syrian government dispatched chemical weapons on its people, then the US may have to intervene. When evidence emerged in August 2013 that this was the case, Obama decided to take military action against Syria in response to the chemical attack in order to defend Syria’s citizens, but will seek authorization from Congress for the use of force.

Syria’s allies, Russia and China, oppose taking action against Syria. This makes it unlikely that the US will receive backing from the UN. Only France and the Arab league fully support intervention on the violence.

Syrian refugees at the Reyhanli Refugee Camp in Antakya, Turkey. (Source: The Telegraph)

Learn more:

The following sources (along with the ones linked to) were used in the writing of this article:

Syria in Five Minutes- Vlogbrothers

BBC News – Syria: The Story of the Conflict

PBS Newshour- Your Cheat Sheet to the Syrian Conflict

Politico-Syrian uprising timeline

Take Action!

  • Help Syrian refugees by donating to the UN Refugee Agency.
  • Support Save the Children’s effort to help the children who were victims of this crisis.
  • Help Doctors Without Borders provide medical supplies for the hospitals and clinics at refugee camps.
  • Let us know what you think! Write response to this conflict, and we may publish it to Our Voices.
  • Comment below to let us know how you reacted to this article.