Syrien The World Factbook 2021. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2021. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/
The Syrian conflict began in 2011 after the Arab Spring sparked peaceful pro-democracy protests in the Middle East and North Africa. The government responded to the peaceful protests with violence, killings and arbitrary detentions of civilians. Thousands of ordinary Syrians took to the streets to protest against the regime and violence continued, leading to an all-out civil war that is ongoing with no end in sight.
Syria, a country in the Middle East, is about the size of Oklahoma and has more than four times the population. Its capital is Damascus. The country borders Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon.
In 2006, Syria experienced its worst drought on record. shepherds innin the east of the country, 85% of their livestock lost and 75% of farmers suffered a total crop loss. One expert called it "the worst long-term drought and severe crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago."food pricesshot upand people starved. Nearly 2 million Syrians who depended on agriculture for food or income lost their livelihoodss.Over 1.5 millionpeoplehad to leave their homeland and move to the cities in search of work.Syria's major cities have already been hit by overcrowdingpreviouslyInflux of 1.5 million Iraqi refugeesand a population that grew nearly 40% from 2000 to 2015.
In 2011, the Arab Spring broke out in the Middle East and North Africa. The "Arab Spring" refers to pro-democracy uprisings that began in Tunisia and quickly spread to Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain.
In March 2011, the Arab Spring reached Syria. Fifteen school children who wrote anti-government graffiti were arrested and tortured. Locals took to the streets to protest, demanding the release of the children, as well as democracy and more freedom for the people. The government opened fire on the demonstrators, killing four people. The next day, government forces shot at mourners at the youth funerals, killing one more. Citizens continued to protest against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Security forces cracked down on demonstrations, killing at least 100 people. By the end of March, the protests had spread to other cities, and Syrian security forces carried out raids in Homs, Damascus, Daraa and other cities to quell the protests. People wanted democracy and they wanted food. Food prices were still rising and people were still hungry. The government continued to respond with violence. They shot unarmed civilians, conducted door-to-door arrest campaigns, and targeted medical workers who were helping the wounded.
Citizens began to arm themselves, and rebel brigades soon formed to fight the government for control of the cities. Fighting reached Damascus and Aleppo in 2012. In December 2012, the Assad regime carried out the first of many chemical weapons attacks, killing women and children and sparking international condemnation. In August of the following year, a Syrian chemical weapons attack claimed the lives of 1,700 civilians.  The act crossed what President Obama described as a "red line." In response to the chemical weapons attack, President Obama signed a tripartite deal with Russia in September 2013, in which Syria committed to removing or destroying its chemical stockpiles by the following year.
As of June 2013, 90,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.
The government hasusedFassbombes on cities,targeted hospitals, arrested and tortured civilians and used rape and starvation as weaponssof the war.Fwater, medication and electricityare blocked, Leaving Citizens are starving andDie.Almost 3 million Syrians are currently in inaccessible and besieged areas.
Syria during the civil war
Hospitals have been targeted since the beginning of the war. Since 2011, there have been over 450 attacks on Syrian hospitals and over 800 medical workers killed. So many doctors have been killed or have fled that veterinarians and dentists are often forced to perform surgeries. Organizations like the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) have built underground hospitals to provide services despite the bombing. SAMS has spent more than $3.5 million on underground cave hospitals. In six years of war, the organization's staff delivered 100,000 babies and supported nearly 400,000 operations.
An estimated half a million people have been killed since the war began; around 6.7 million refugees have fled their homes to other countries; and 6.2 million people are internally displaced within Syria. Half of those affected are children. Almost one in four displaced people on the planet is a Syrian. This is the largest refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II. Syrians remain the largest displaced population in the world, with 13 million people forced to flee their homes at the end of 2018, more than half of the Syrian population.
Syrians have fled to five main countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The influx of refugees has put enormous pressure on governments without the infrastructure or wealth to support such a large refugee population. Neighboring countries, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, are now preventing Syrians from seeking asylum at their borders. More than a million Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 74 percent of Syrians in Lebanon are illegal and risk imprisonment for being in the country illegally. In 2017, the Lebanese authorities asked the refugees to return to Syria. Some refugees are returning due to tough politics and deteriorating conditions in Lebanon, and cities have forcibly evicted thousands of refugees in mass illegal expulsions, while tens of thousands remain at risk of evictions. As of May 2018, Turkey had registered about 3.6 million refugees, about the population of Los Angeles. Turkey has said it will not open its border to asylum-seekers fleeing hostilities in Syria's north-eastern region, and instead Turkish authorities have opened several displacement camps in areas under their control in Syria. 
Syrian refugees reach Skala Sykamias Lesvos, Greece (Ggia, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
Desperate families have also tried to flee to Europe, risking their lives while crossing the Mediterranean in small, crowded boats.2016,over 360,000 refugeesacross the Mediterranean to Europe.Almost 4,000 people died along the way.
Syrian refugees have also traveled across the Atlantic to the United States and Canada. The Trump administration has capped the number of refugees the US takes in each year. The US took in half as many in 2017 compared to 2016, down from 12,587 to 6,557. Syrian refugees have been hit hard by ongoing restrictions, as the US accepted just 62 Syrian refugees in 2018. 
Life as a refugee is extremely difficult. Most Syrian refugees in neighboring countries live in urban areas.Only8% live in refugee camps.Refugees face great challenges. ThatjlinksAll,andlotsarrived withonly the clothes on the back. Most Syrian refugees are aliveGutbelow the poverty line.Llanguage barriersand the needearn moneyoften prevents escapeKindervonget an education.Child marriages have also increased in refugee communitiesand PTired parents marry off their daughtersaffordfeed the rest of their families.Parents also often believe that their daughters are safer when a husband protects them.
The country's worst drought, rising food prices, a growing population and a desire for democracy led to the Arab Spring, but peaceful protesters were met with violence. The protests continued and the government responded with murder, arbitrary arrests,andtorture. Rebel groupseducated,and the governmentusedBarrel bombs, chemical attacks and hospital bombings to target their own citizensand regain control of the civilian insurgency.
Taking advantage of Syria's instability, the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS) emerged in Syria in 2013 with the aim of establishing a caliphate, or Muslim state, under Islamic law. ISIS quickly took control of the eastern non-government controlled areas and established its own capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa.10]ISIS gained international fame through its violent propaganda videos of public beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions. They are an ultra-radical Sunni Muslim group targeting Shia Muslims, moderate Sunnis and religious minorities such as Yazidi Christians. Although many Westerners think the Syrian conflict is about ISIS, the Syrian government and its allies are responsible for almost all Syrian casualties.
The Kurds are an ethnic minority living in Turkey, Syria and Iraq since ancient Mesopotamia. They have been fighting for an independent state since the region broke up in the 19th century. They want their own state or at least control of their region. The US has supported the Kurdish forces with weapons and training, and the Kurds have been successful in fighting ISIS and Assad in the north.
The two maps below show how control has shifted in Syria. The map on the left is from July 2015 and the map on the right is from April 2020. These maps show how ISIS control (in black) is prevalent in 2015 compared to April 2020 when ISIS is almost gone. Rebel forces (in green) occupied various locations in Syria in 2015 and lost ground in 2019 (in purple on the right image). Kurdish forces (in yellow) remain strong and are taking parts of ISIS control, while Syrian government forces (in red) are increasing majority control.
Despite the Syrian civil uprising, President Assad has stayedin power and is now devastatingthe civilianrebelforces.TThis would not have been possible without the Syrian government's greatest ally, Russia. Syria and Russia have been allies since the Cold War. Russia has a military basesin Syria usold$1.5 billion worth of weaponsto Syriaevery year about 10% ofRussianworldwide arms sales. Above all, Russia's President Vladimir Putin would not abandon his allyan oppositionwith American interests.
The Syrian war has become a proxy war or a war instigated by major powers not directly involved in the fighting. The US supports rebel groups fighting Assad and ISIS, and Russia supports Assad against ISIS, the rebels and therefore civilians. Russia has come under fire for its role in civilian attacks and for supporting a regime that uses chemical and other internationally banned weapons against its own citizens. After a chemical attack in April 2018 that killed 48 people, international criticism was voiced. But Russia and the Syrian government denied involvement and accused the rebels of fabricating an attack despite video evidence.13]
Russia has also prevented UN action to resolve the conflict. Russia has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and thus a right of veto. Russia has vetoed every resolution aimed at resolving the conflict, including resolutions calling for sanctions, ceasefires, investigations into chemical weapons use and a proposal to bring Syrian war crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC). .14]
The Trump administration has taken a tougher approach to the Syrian government's chemical weapons attacks than the previous administration. After a chemical weapons attack in April 2017, the US fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase, but the base was operational again the next day. The April 2018 chemical weapons attack that killed 48 people was met by a coordinated military effort by the US, France and the UK at three chemical weapons sites.[fifteen]
According to the United Nations, half a million people have been killed in Syria since the start of the war. As of January 2019, more than 5.6 million people have fled the country, while over 6 million people are internally displaced. External military interventions, including the supply of arms and military equipment, airstrikes and troops in support of proxies in Syria, threaten to prolong the conflict. Persistent violence and proxy conflicts could also fuel the resurgence of terrorist groups. External actors such as Iran, Israel, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and US-led coalitions are increasingly operating in close proximity to each other, complicating the civil war and likely unintended escalation.
Efforts to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable have already begun. Many European authorities have launched investigations into the war crimes committed in Syria, and Sweden and Germany are the first two countries to convict the perpetrators. However, justice is difficult to obtain. Without access to crime scenes for evidence, authorities have to rely on NGOs, UN agencies, and refugees and asylum-seekers, many of whom fear retaliation against their loved ones in Syria and mistrust government officials because of their experiences in Syria.17]
Based on tens of thousands of photos smuggled out of Syria by a military defector, a case was built against the Assad regime documenting the government's tortures. The photos have supported court cases in Spain, Germany and France. The evidence against the Assad regime, according to former US Ambassador for War Crimes Stephen Rapp, is “massive and overwhelming, far better than in Nuremberg or in The Hague before the Yugoslavia tribunal or when we had in Sierra Leone or the genocide trials against the Rwandan leaders.”
There are also efforts to prosecute violence perpetrated by ISIS. Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has taken legal action against ISIS over its efforts to commit genocide against the Yazidis. Her client Nadia Murad was captured by ISIS in 2014 and escaped three months later after being repeatedly raped. Her mother and six brothers were all killed.Clooney hopes to take the case to the International Criminal Court.
In 2014, the Qatar government approached leading human rights investigators to authenticate photographs taken by a defector from Syria and to determine whether the evidence pointed to international crimes being committed. The defector was given the name Caesar to protect his identity. His journey began in 2011 as a forensic photographer in the Syrian army. His job was to photograph the deceased in a military hospital near Damascus. He became concerned about the deaths as the number steadily increased and the condition of the corpses increasingly suggested torture. He smuggled copies of the photos onto a memory stick, and over the next two years he smuggled out 54,000 photos of 11,000 corpses. 
In 2013 Caesar fled. His mission now is to seek support to save the Syrian people. Various versions of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act have been passed in the US House of Representatives since 2016 with bipartisan support. The Senate-passed National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 included a section titled "Caesar," which was based almost entirely on Caesar's 2014 testimony before Congress, eventually imposing sanctions on Syria. 
On March 11, 2020, Caesar testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the war in Syria. Indiana Senator Toddy Young called on the government to fully implement the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act and on the Turkish government to step in and provide lifesaving and humanitarian assistance. The United States provided an additional $108 million in humanitarian assistance. 
Updated: World Without Genocide, January 2021