Timeline: What is Happening in Syria and Why?

Written by Andrew Chiricosta, Director of Marketing, Call of Hope

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            A protest against Syrian president Assad 7 years ago has led to hundreds of thousands dead, millions of refugees, and several proxy wars. How did this war start, and is there any end in sight?

These days, it seems you can’t go very long without coming upon a news update from the refugee crisis in the Middle East, or the Syrian Civil War that created it. Since the beginning, The Syrian War has evolved from minor protests into one of the major news stories of this decade. The bloody conflict has lead to the death of over 250,000 people and it has displaced 11 million people from the nation of Syria. With all of the headlines that are circling around, it is easy to become overloaded with information and lose perspective on what has been occurring in the Middle East.  From the inception of the conflict, Call of Hope’s Frontline Workers have been providing aid to Syrian refugees, evangelizing Muslim seekers, and helping persecuted Christians.  Hear the story of how the Syrian Civil War has unfolded and the impact it is having on the entire world. 

Before the Conflict

             In order to truly understand the root of the Syrian Civil War, it is important to be aware of Islamic history. Much of the violence in The Middle East stems from the divide between the two major denominations of Islam: Shia and Sunni. The major difference between the two sects originates from whom they believe to be the successor of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Over time the distinction between the two groups has grown to include theological disagreements and differences in religious practices. Geographically, the Shia Muslims are concentrated in areas such as Iran, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, and Iraq.

The Syrian Civil war is complicated even further with the Alawites, a small sect similar to Shia, which includes Bashar Al-Hassad, president of Syria. Many parties have become involved in the war based on the political and religious implications of Assad remaining in power in Syria.  For Sunni’s, Assad’s removal would mean a great religious victory for their sect, but this shift in power would be against the interests of neighboring Iran and the forces of Hezbollah, both of which are Shia. The underlining reason for the Syrian conflict cannot be blamed on a singlar cause, but the foundational elements of the animosity can be traced to the historic hatred between Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. 

March 2011 – Protests turn violent

            In early 2011, Syrian teenagers demonstrated their discontent with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Hassad by spray painting revolutionary slogans at a school in the Syrian city of Deraa. Security forces fired their weapons on the demonstrators, killing and wounding several; this is the act that sparked riots in the streets across the nation. As protesters grew in number, demonstrations quickly turned violent. Syrian police began to use force to quell the rebellion killing thousands of Syrian protestors; these acts of violence only led to an increase in demonstrators, now with an even stronger conviction for their cause. In order to fight back, rebels took up arms and the conflict escalated into a full-scale civil war between rebel forces, calling for Assad’s resignation, and the Syrian Army.

August 2013 – Chemical Weapons Attacks

            The war became even deadlier in Syria, as the fighting continued between opposing forces. The conflict escaladed to include chemical warfare, drawing intense criticism from outside nations. Many believe that the Syrian government was the guilty party in use of chemical weapons, but Syrian officials vehemently denied these accusations.

            Due to the use of chemical weapons, the U.S., U.K. and France all considered involvement in the War to stop these war crimes, but they hesitated due to the implications of a conflict with Russia (an ally of the Syrian government). In October of 2013, agreements were reached to destroy chemical weapons in Syria, but this did not even put a dent in stopping the violence in the region. With the rising number of casualties on both sides, as well as thousands of civilian deaths, Syrian natives began to flee the conflict in droves seeking shelter and hope as refugees in neighboring countries. 

February 2014 – ISIS takes ground in Syria

            In 2014, the jihadist terrorist group known as, the Islamic State, or ISIS, spread from Iraq into Syria and began to take significant ground. These Muslim extremists, born out of an Al-Qaeda remnant, began systematically killing any who disagreed with their viewpoints, specifically targeting westerners and Shiite Muslims. One of the reasons for the ISIS migration into Syria is the intense hatred for Al-Hassad, president of Syria, and the opportunity ISIS saw to capitalize on the chaos of the nation. ISIS began to terrorize the region, violently murdering anyone who stood in their way, and documenting it for use in ISIS propaganda. Left unchecked, ISIS began to grow in power and in the scope of their mission, becoming a very serious threat to Shiite Muslims, Christians, Israelis, and all who refused to join their brand of Islam.

September 2014 – U.S. Begins Launching Airstrikes on ISIS

            The United States began launching airstrikes in and around Syrian targeting the jihadist extremist group ISIS. The strikes were designed to prevent ISIS from taking additional ground and to ultimately destroy this fighting force that is responsible for thousands of gruesome deaths in the region. With Russia backing Assad in Syria, the U.S. government chose not to get involved in the conflict between rebels and Syrian officials. Choosing instead to target ISIS fighters exclusively in an attempt to stop the force of evil. 


August 2015 – Refugee Crisis Intensifies

Frontline workers are meeting the needs of refugees both physically and spiritually.

            Fleeing for their lives, millions have left the deteriorating Syrian cities and escaped into the surrounding nations. Recently, the migration of refugees has begun to include European nations and even the United States. Despite the intensified Migration into Europe, the majority of refugees remain in designated camps in nations adjacent to Syria. Within these camps, Call of Hope has had the privilege to spread the Good News of Christ and to provide life saving food and aid. 

As of August 2015, over 4 million registered refugees (and many more unregistered) have fled the conflict into neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. In these nations, refugee camps have been established, but the conditions are horrifying. Homes are made of makeshift materials, food and supplies are scarce, and there is an overwhelming sense of despair among those living in the camps. Many of them have lost loved ones, had their homes and businesses destroyed, and they now live day to day, trying desperately to survive.

As war continues, thousands of children will be raised in refugee camps.

For Christians living in the area, safety is a chief concern due to threats from jihadists and persecution from Muslims in the camps. Since the inception of the crisis, Call of Hope has been actively ministering to refugees, reaching out to Muslim seekers, and encouraging and strengthening Christians in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, where 800.000 of the 2 million refugees in Lebanon have settled. Frontline workers have been on the ground providing food and life saving aid to the refugees; additionally Call of Hope workers have established a school for handicapped refugee children, and a growing church in close proximity to the camps.  

April 2018 - Air Strikes on syria CHemical Weapons

In April,  the biggest military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government by western powers in Syria's civil war occured. 

Armed forces from the UK, the US and France fired missiles to destroy what they say are chemical weapons factories in Syria.

The air strikes were in response to a suspected chemical attack in an area called Douma, which shocked a lot of people.

Present and Future – No Clear End in Sight

Neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where 92% of Syrian refugees now live, have struggled to cope with one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history. Within Syria, cities have been entirely leveled to the ground. Despite peace talks, the violence has continued in the country. Recent bombings in Afrin, near the Turkey-Syria border, have displaced thousands of new refugees. We recently heard news from our Frontline Workers that many of these desperate Syrians have made their way to Lebanon. They come with nothing but the clothes on their back. Alone and afraid, they don't know where to turn.    

The civil war in Syria is locked in a stalemate with no end in sight, neither the rebels nor the Syrian Government are gaining significant traction as the fighting continues. The situation has been complicated further with the involvement of ISIS, the United States, Great Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and Russia (which supports the Syrian government). As the violence wages on in Syria and refugees flee for their lives, please remember this region of the world in prayer. Please also pray for Christians who are being persecuted in the region and if you would like to help make a difference, please share this post or consider giving a gift online today. 

Thanks to the generosity of many who support the work of Call of Hope, Syrian refugees are able to receive food, aid, and the message of hope in Jesus Christ.