Ten years ago, in March 2011, in a hope for change and progress in individual and political rights already expressed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya at the time, peaceful protests started taking place in the south of Syria. In a context of economic and environmental crisis (1), disillusion with Bashar al-Assad’s leadership, in place since 2000 after having succeeded his father Hafez, president for the previous thirty years, the protest movement was quick to spread throughout the country.
Non-violent demonstrators were met with guns and tanks.
Six months after the first marches demanding political progress, economic reforms and social change, the situation had turned into a civil war, opposing civilian armed militias to the national army. Voices started raising on the international stage, asking President Bachar al-Assad to put an end to this dangerous escalation of violence. National and international attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict failed one after the other as the country sank into horror and destruction. In 2013, the Syrian power was accused of attacking its own people using chemical weapons. That same year, a new actor emerged, illustrating the diversity and complexity of forces intervening in the conflict – the Islamic State in Irak and the Levant or Islamic State in Irak and Syria.
From mass protests to a civil war, the Syrian conflict had turned global in less than two years, devastating a country and its people.
After receiving hundreds of thousands asylum-seekers and refugees successively fleeing conflicts and violence in Lebanon, Palestine or Irak, Syria started seeing its own population run away. To this day, according to the UN (2), they are 6.6 million Syrians to have left the country, with an additional 6.7 million being displaced within its borders – which correspond to half the entire population. If European countries soon worried about a “Syrian refugee crisis”, the main host countries of those displaced populations remain neighboring Turkey, currently home to 3.6 million of Syrians, Lebanon, Jordan, Irak and Egypt. While some have managed to find asylum abroad, the majority of them are still living in camps, whose precariousness and poverty have increased due to the global pandemic.
For the 13 million Syrians who have not had the possibility or means to flee, Covid-19 is the last challenge of a long list of daily struggles to survive in the ruins of their country (3).
A decade after the beginning of what was briefly called the Syrian Revolution, while the country is still divided and the prey of international interests, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the death toll to reach 388, 652 people.
Ten years have passed, millions are gone. And war remains.
(1) Between 2006 and 2010, Syria went through the most severe drought of its contemporary history. See Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Syrian Civil War”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Jul. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War.
(2) UNHCR, “Syria Refugee Crisis Explained”. 5 Feb. 2021. https://www.unrefugees.org/news/syria-refugee-crisis-explained/#:~:text=More%20than%206.6%20million%20Syrians,%2C%20Jordan%2C%20Iraq%20and%20Egypt
(3) UNICEF, “Syria conflict 10 years on: 90 per cent of children need support as violence, economic crisis and COVID-19 pandemic push families to the brink”. 10 March 2021. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/syria-conflict-10-years-90-cent-children-need-support-violence-economic-crisis-and
An article written by Aude Sathoud, in discussion with Marina Liakis.