The Syrian conflict
for dummies


The Syrian conflict affects us profoundly: the images of destruction, the arrival of refugees, and, more recently, terrorist attacks which are the result of the deterioration of a situation which has been going on for over five years now.

We therefore are in need of understanding.

Journalists and university scholars, connaisseurs of the country, we wish to explore further than media accounts which are sometimes misleading.
We propose here to decipher the conflict, its causes, its phases and its protagonists. In short, to give some clear responses to legitimate questioning.


The need to understand the Syrian conflict is even more imperative since it has extended to Europe and affected us profoundly. The shock of the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, terrorist actions elsewhere and the growing flow of refugees towards Europe, bring us dramatically closer to this distant tragedy.

“Take a moment to learn” is what we propose here. We try to offer some answers, as simplified as possible, without being simplistic, by reviewing the different phases of this conflict which has continuously expanded and intensified over the past five years and by discussing those questions frequently asked (FAQ) on the causes, the nature, the actors, the stakes and the possible outcomes.

“Recall, explain, and decipher” the facts, the dimensions and the stakes involved in the events which have occurred over the past five years in and around Syria is the object of our initiative. To do so we have referred to dates, figures and information which have been verified and compared with many of the most reliable sources. We have grouped the questions by themes in order to facilitate the account of the events and their clarification.

Who are we? Syrian, French and Franco-Syrian journalists and university scholars who have closely followed the events in Syria and the region for many years. Without pretending to be neutral, we privilege an objective approach to the realities of the situation and we assume with lucidity our support of democracy for all Syrians.

I. From revolution to civil war

We speak today of a civil war. But the Syrian crisis began by a peaceful revolution, that of a people resisting authoritarianism. To understand it, one must be able to imagine what it was like to live in Syria under the regime of Bachar Al-Assad. How did the first demonstrations begin, and how did the situation evolve?

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II. From civil war to regional confrontation

In addition to the Initial and legitimate demands of the Syrian people, the conflict has taken on a regional dimension and is dragging on in time. Neighboring countries, more and more implicated in the conflict, each seek to benefit from its outcome. Syria is progressively being torn apart by foreign rivalries being disputed by proxy on its territory.

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III. From regional confrontation to international conflict

Superimposed on these regional power relations are the agendas of the different world powers which amplify the complexity of the crisis. The United States and Russia each seem to support certain parties, but with unequal determination. Europe, more directly implicated in the crisis, seems absent. How can one negotiate under these circumstances?

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IV. What has become of Syria and the Syrian people?

In March 2015, Ban Ki-Moon declared with regard to the Syrian situation: “It is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. […] The country has lost nearly four decades of human development.” How do the Syrians manage to survive and what has become of their country?

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V. The Future

Today, many commentators and politiciens consider the fight against terrorism, by which France has been hard hit, to be the priority. Combatting terrorism is of course essential, but it cannot be effective without seeking at the same time a solution to the profound causes of the Syrian crisis.

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VI. Conclusion

The conflict has been going on for five years now. A just solution with a diplomatic scenario stipulating the end of combat and a political solution to the conflict seems increasingly remote.

The negotiations engaged in Geneva by UN mediator Steffan de Mistura have not permitted any advancements. The last round in April 2016 was cut short as the opposition, represented by the High Negotiation Committee, found it impossible to remain at the table while the regime of Al-Assad continued to bomb civilians when a cessation of hostilities had been decided in order to give a chance to the negotiation process. Both Moscow and Washington had seemed favorable to such a process in response to the growing force of Daech, but nothing came of this.

One thing became increasingly evident: no actor was in a position to win on a military level which imposed the necessity to carry on a dialogue with all the actors – international et regional – present on the territory : Russia, the United States, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

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