What's Happening in Syria?

Headlines of political unrest have long been in the news since 2011, but what really do most of us know about Syria?  The more you learn about Syria’s tumultuous history and rich ethnic and religious components, the less a straightforward solution for peace in this conflict riddled region seems feasible.

Syria is diverse in both its geography and ethnic background.  From its lush rolling fields, to its towering mountainous regions and parched deserts, Syria is home to an array of different topographies along with animal and plant life.  In addition, many ethnic and religious groups call this country home, including “Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druzie, Alawite Shia and Arab Sunnis." 

Although Syria’s French independence in 1946 was a huge milestone for the increasing independence of this country, with it brought along conflict between the many groups that inhabit it, each with their own goals, dreams, and parameters for how Syria should be governed. When the Arab Spring spread throughout the Middle East with its impassioned populism, the peak of Syria’s modern unrest came to full fruition in 2011 with the rebellion of its people against the Alawite elite and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

To learn more about the modern background of this conflict, check out the simplified timeline below.  Also, keep in mind that these macro interactions have real life, micro consequences. Consider donating to the millions of Syrian refugees who have lost everything fleeing the conflict caused by these events in fundraisers organized by our very own Colgate students: 




  • Syria changes hands multiple times and goes through much political unrest
  • Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Lebanon, and Israel all interact with Syria, instigating high tensions
  • Former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad rises to power in 1970 by overthrowing previous president Nur al-Din al-Atasi, throwing political dissenters into prison 
  • More info available at (BBC, 2017)
  • In 2000, upon President Assad’s death, his son Bashar succeeds him

2002-2005—Tensions rise with U.S.

  • U.S. declares Syria as part of the “axis of evil”, tightens sanctions against them as they continue to develop rumored weapons of mass destruction

2007- 2008—Tensions rise with Israel, tensions ease with Western Europe, Lebanon

  • Israel carries out nuclear strike against Syrian nuclear facilities in Northern Syria
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy meets with Syrian leaders, ends policy of the west isolating Syria
  • Lebanon and Syria establish diplomatic relations

2009-2010—U.S. increases trade, then renews sanctions against Syria

  • U.S. Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman meets in Damascus, gesture launches stocks in Syria’s stock exchange
  • U.S. then renews sanctions in 2010, as they claim Syria supports terrorist groups, is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, and violated U.N. resolutions by providing missiles to Lebanon

2011—Uprising of Syrian People

  • Syrian security forces shoot and kill protesters in the Syrian city of Damaa, who were protesting the release of Syria’s political prisoners; violent unrest ensues
  • President Assad tries to ease tensions by releasing some of these prisoners
  • U.S. and European Union tighten sanctions upon army tanks entering Syrian cities and subduing anti-regime protests with force

2011-2012—Oppositional rising against Assad regime

  • Assad continues to try to crush uprisings, attempting to restore order in Hama with many civilian casualties
  • In 2011, Arab League votes to suspend Syria and impose sanctions following violent quelling of protests

2012—Siege of Aleppo

  • Free Syrian Army bombs security chiefs in Damascus, declares seizure of Aleppo
  • U.S. President Obama warns that the use of chemical weapons by Syria would be grounds for U.S. intervention
  • Aleppo and other cities continue to weather bombing and fires
  • Opposition to Syrian forces organizes in Qatar, including the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces; the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, and the Gulf states begin to recognize the opposition National Coalition as a legitimate power speaking for the Syrian people

2013 - 2015—Islamist Rise

  • 2013 - UN concludes that chemical weapons were used in Damascus, killing 300 people; do not conclude which group used the chemical weapons
  • UN brokered peace talks between Syrian leaders fails in 2014
  • Islamic State of Iraq and Syrian Militants declare in 2014 that Northern territory around Aleppo and eastern Iraqi province of Diyala is a “caliphate”
  • U.S. and five Arab countries engage in airstrikes against Islamic State

2015 - now—Russian and U.S. Intervention

  • Russia engages in air strikes against what they say is Islamic State, although they are ridiculed saying these attacks target anti-Assad opposition groups
  • Rebels are forced to cede strongholds back to the Syrian government who is using the assistance of Russia and Turkey, including their last urban stronghold of Aleppo
  • Russian, Iran, and Turkey bow to international pressure, agreeing to host talks suggesting a cease-fire between the Syrian government and non-Islamist rebels
  • Upon evidence that Syrian government planes launched a chemical weapons missile attack against their own population, U.S. President Donald Trump orders a missile attack on a Syrian government air base from which the planes carrying chemical weapons originated according to intel