Syrian civil war enters its ninth year

  • 15 Mar 2019

From bloody repression of protests to several foreign interventions, here are key events in Syria's civil war since the March 2011 non-violent protests against Bashar al Assad's regime.

A Syrian soldier, who has defected to join the Free Syrian Army, holds up his rifle and waves a Syrian independence flag in Saqba, in Damascus suburbs, Syria on January 27, 2012. ( Reuters Archive )

Syria's war began in March 2011 with peaceful Arab Spring protests in the southern province of Daraa against regime leader Bashar al Assad.

A harsh regime crackdown and the rise of an insurgency plunged the country into war.

Assad's forces have made major gains in recent years with help from Russia and Iran, but large parts of the country are still controlled by various militant groups.

Some six million people have fled Syria, and refugees are reluctant to return, fearing violence, conscription or prison.

UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and think tanks are warning that the conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that destabilised Syria's neighbours and also hit Europe, is far from over.

TRT World spoke with Yakzan Shishakly, Director of the Olive Tree Camp, which is the largest internally displaced people's camp in Syria.

Turkey hosts highest number of refugees

According to information compiled by Anadolu Agency, the civilian casualties were recorded in the hundreds of thousands and nearly 5.7 million civilians were forcibly displaced.

According to the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey alone hosts 3.6 million refugees.

Some 946,000 Syrians took refuge in Lebanon, while Jordan hosted 670,000 and Egypt 133,000.

The civil war displaced 6.6 million civilians in the country.

Currently in Syria, 2.98 million civilians live in difficult-to-reach areas or remain under siege.

At least 13,983 dead due to regime torture

In its March 11 report, the Syrian Human Rights Network (SNHR) said that at least 127,916 people are being held in Assad regime jails.

At least 13,983 people died because of the regime's torture, according to the report.

At least 921 civilians, including 398 children and 187 women, died of hunger and lack of medicine during the regime's siege.

The regime has used chemical weapons at least 216 times, it added.

While the US-backed terror group PKK/YPG kidnapped at least 2,705 people, the fate of over 8,000 people held by Daesh is still a mystery.

Territorial dominance

With eight years of war behind, the Assad regime has ruled over about 60 percent of the country with the help of its allies – Russia and Iran.

The area controlled by militant oppositions and anti-regime armed groups shrank to about 10 percent.

The YPG/PYD kept its occupation of 28 percent of the Syrian territory, while the area controlled by the Daesh terror group fell to two percent.

Syria's territorial integrity

Embracing millions of Syrians, Turkey has supported the territorial integrity of Syria since the beginning of the civil war.

Accordingly, Ankara has always opposed the formation of a terror corridor in northern Syria, which would divide and destabilise the country.

With its counterterror operations Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Olive Branch in 2018, Turkey wiped out Daesh from Syria’s north and prevented a YPG/PKK terror corridor from being formed.

Turkey has also led international initiatives to guarantee Syria's territorial integrity.

The biggest emphasis of the meetings between Turkey, Russia and Iran within the framework of the ongoing Astana  process since January 2017 has been Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity.


March 15, 2011: The Syrian civil war begins with peaceful demonstrations against the regime by a group of young people in the southern province of Daraa. The demonstrations quickly spread across the country.

January - February 2012: The conflict between the regime and the opposition intensifies.

April 26, 2011: The Syrian army enters Daraa, where the revolts were ignited.

June 30, 2012: Negotiations for a political transition in Syria starts in Geneva.

July - December 2012: Terror group YPG/PKK takes over the towns of Ayn Al Arab, Afrin and the district of Amude in Hasakah without any clash from the regime.

May 2013: Turkey proposes a three-tier plan to the US consisting of a no-fly zone in Syria, the creation of safe zones for civilians and joint ground operations with the coalition forces.

August 21, 2013: Assad regime massacres more than 1,400 civilians with chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. The US decides against a military intervention and agrees with Russia instead to destroy the regime's chemical weapons.

January 2014: As the regime begins to collapse, Iran begins to bring Shia militias into Syria. Daesh takes Raqqa from the opposition groups.

June 30, 2014: Daesh declares its so-called Caliphate.

September 22, 2014: The US-led coalition launches an air strike on Daesh.

January 26, 2015: YPG/PKK captures Ayn Al Arab from Daesh with the intense aerial support of the US for four months. Thus, an alliance between the US and YPG/PKK begins.

March 2015: The opposition takes control of Idlib, northwestern Syria.

May 21, 2015: Daesh rules over about half of Syria by seizing the city of Palmyra.

September 30, 2015: Russia gets directly involved in the civil war. Aerial support for the regime pushes the opposition into a corner.

December 18, 2015: UN Security Council adopts Resolution 2254. The road map of the political transition is determined.

August 24, 2016: Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army launch the Euphrates Shield Operation.

Some 2,055 sq km of northern Syria is cleared of Daesh.

January 23 - 24, 2017: First Astana meeting is held at the initiative of Russia and Turkey.

February 23 - March 4, 2017: With Astana process, negotiations between the regime and opposition in Geneva begin after year-long hiatus. Nine meetings held throughout the year prove inconclusive.

April 4, 2017: In chemical weapons attack, Syrian regime kills at least 100 civilians in Khan Sheikhun.

October 2017: YPG/PKK removes Daesh from Raqqah and a large part of Deir Ezzor, spreading its presence to about one-third of the country.

November 2017: Regime blockade of Eastern Ghouta regime tightens. Hundreds of thousands of civilians face greatest humanitarian crisis of civil war.

January 2018: Turkey launches Operation Olive Branch against terrorist groups – the YPG/PKK and Daesh.

January 30-31, 2018: National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi, Russia. Decision taken to establish Constitutional Committee for Syria.

March 14 - April 24, 2018: Forced evacuations begin from Eastern Ghouta. Regime takes control of the region.

April 6, 2018: Under new law, regime begins to seize real estate of deported civilians.

May 21, 2018: The capital Damascus comes under full regime control.

July 15-31, 2018: The regime completely captures the southern provinces bordering Jordan and Israel.

September 17, 2018: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sign a memorandum of understanding in Sochi on Idlib to protect the ceasefire. But the regime violations continue. More than 105 civilians are killed, over 300 civilians injured in regime attacks.

December 19, 2018: The US announces it will withdraw its troops from Syria. A safe zone idea and collection of weapons from YPG/PKK are proposed for discussion.

February 15, 2019: The US-led SDF, mainly comprising YPG/PKK terrorists, captures the last Daesh stronghold east of the Euphrates River. Thus, the Daesh presence is confined to the regions under regime siege. 

US President Donald Trump's call on European countries to get back their citizen members of Daesh is largely denied. The fate of Daesh members who are set to be released by terror group YPG/PKK becomes a global agenda.

February - March 2019: Iran-led foreign terrorist groups backing the regime intensify their attacks on the Idlib de-escalation zone.

Militant opposition sources report that Russia supports the strikes.

March 12, 2019: The regime attacks the civilian settlements in Idlib with white phosphorus bomb, which is prohibited for use internationally.