The Syrian Civil War: Causes & Timeline

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson offers a brief but important history of the start of the Syrian Civil War as well as its impact. We go over why it started, how it spread, and how the world has been involved.

The Syrian Civil War

Imagine a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced over 10,000,000 more. Imagine it has caused leading nations to enter the fray, protecting their interests.

Well, this imagning is a reality. The Syrian Civil War, began in 2011 as an uprising against Syria's ruler, President Bashar Al-Assad.

Let's take a look at the causes of this conflict and the impacts on Syria and the world.


To say that there is a clear cause for the war would be misleading, as the causes for the Syrian Civil War are as varied as the sides that are protecting their interests in it, often at the expense of innocent civilians.

But there is agreement that the war started after mass (but peaceful) protests against Syria's ruling government were met, not with reforms, but with a hail of gunfire from government forces.

The protests started in response to the government's detainment of several boys who had drawn anti-government graffiti. Tragically, one of the boys was tortured and killed. This caused a great uproar.

As the government continued to crack down on even more protests, defections from the military contributed to the formation of armed rebel groups whose aim was to topple Assad and his allies. This was the turning point from protests seeking democratic reforms to outright civil war.

Many different factions battled for control and caused the U.S., in its global War on Terror, to support various moderate rebel groups that were seeking to oust Assad and more radical rebel groups at the same time.

The U.S.'s involvement only intensified the Syrian civil war as Assad's allies, especially Russia, saw it fit to step in and save its friend from destruction by radical and U.S.-backed rebel groups.

To emphasize, the slaying of the boy was only the spark that lit the fire. It was one of many causes of the uprisings. Contributory factors were as varied as Assad's repressive treatment of his own people to a drought that plagued the country for years prior. The drought displaced and impoverished many people who, ultimately, were many of the ones to start the protests against the regime.


The impact of the Syrian civil war has been tragic and its reverberations have stretched far beyond the country's borders. Chemical gas attacks have been used against both sides. Entire towns have been completely destroyed. And the mass chaos led ISIS, a brutal terrorist organization, to sweep in to try and fill a power vacuum while imposing its own barbaric codes of conduct on an already destitute people.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and over half of the original population, millions of individuals, had to flee the country. Migrants from Syria desperately sought refuge in Europe, making their way via Turkey and Greece to countries like Germany. The massive influx of refugees caused substantial social and economic tensions that, many believe, led to Germany's longtime leader--Angela Merkel--losing the population's faith.


March 2011: The first mass anti-government demonstrations begin. Government forces open fire in retaliation and kill dozens of people over the course of the month.

July 2011: Army defectors help form one of the first armed resistance groups against the government. Not long after, ISIS enters the fight, complicating matters even more so as to whose allegiances between rebel factions lie where.

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