This is a concise overview of the ongoing crisis in Syria from its origins as a series of protests against the Assad regime in concordance with the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia to the present battle in Aleppo.
On January 28 2011 in the north-east Syrian city of Al-Hasakah a man named Hasan Ali Akleh soaked himself with gasoline and set himself alight in a manner reminiscent to how Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi did. Bouazizi's self-imolation is seen by many in retrospect as the spark that ignited the Arab Spring. Similarly Akleh's action was seen as "a protest against the Syrian government," and in a similar way sparked the ongoing Syrian struggle.
A "Day of Rage" was called in early February from social media websites, Syrians were to accordingly take to the streets and hold demonstrations. Security was increased across the country. However plans to arrange this "Day of Rage" ended in failure. Al Jazeera in a report back then described the country as a kingdom of silence, stating that the strict security measures taken in Syria along with the popularity of President Assad was the reason. The same article quoted Assad as stating that his country was "immune" from the kind of democratic insurrections that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt respectively.
Al-Hamidiyah Souq the largest and the central souk (market) in Syria.
However, by February 17 a demonstration in protest of a police beating of a local shop keeper saw to protesters chanting "the Syrian people will not be humiliated." The demonstration resulted in government officials and the country's interior minister dispersing the protesters with the aid of secret police and promising an investigation into that alleged incident of police brutality.
On March 6 young boys were arrested in the city of Daraa for writing the slogan "the people want to overthrow the regime," on walls across the city. The following day 13 political prisoners went on a hunger strike protesting "political detentions and oppression," in their country demanding the implementation of civil and political rights.
Anti regime graffiti being sprayed in the Syrian city of Daraa early on in the Syrian uprising.
Three days later dozens of Syrian Kurds started their own hunger strike in solidarity with these other strikers.
These events led to the "Day of Dignity" where protesters in Damascus demanded the release of political prisoners. Some 35 were arrested. These protests took place alongside similar such demonstrations in cities such as al-Hassake, Daraa, Deir al-Zor and Hama.
Over the next few days the security forces broke up a silent gathering in Marjeh square in Damascus, this protest saw to 150 people holding up pictures of their family and friends who were imprisoned by the regime. Security forces also shot people dead in Daraa. This incident led to thousands taking to the streets calling for democracy. The security crackdown on these protesters led to several more days of protests and even more civilians shot dead by the security forces.
A week into these protests Assad sacked the governor of Daraa. Activists simultaneously claimed that 100 people were killed in the province during these protests. In an incident on the March 23 six people were killed by the security forces in the Omari mosque in Daraa. They went on to open fire on the hundreds of youths who marched in solidarity with the six killed. By the end of the month Assad in a speech blamed foreign conspirators for the unrest in the country.
A week later Mr. Assad issued a decree that granted nationality to thousands of Kurds. Again on April 16 he went on television promising to implement further reforms in an attempt to alleviate the disgruntled populace. He would go on to implement decrees to end nearly half a century of emergency law.
April 22 saw to the bloodiest day in the uprising at that point in time, with a reported 100 people killed by security forces in Daraa.
On April 25 Syrian troops laid siege to Daraa. A siege that went on to last 11 days.
On April 28 footage was released online of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb. Opposition groups alleged he was tortured and killed in custody by the Syrian regime. He subsequently became a symbol for the protesters struggle against the regime and also was symbolic to many of the cruelty of the Syrian state forces.
Over the next fortnight the U.S. imposed sanctions on Syria's intelligence agencies and two relatives of Assad whilst the E.U. put the names of 13 Syrian officials, including Assad's notorious younger brother Maher on its sanctions list.
Maher al-Assad. The notorious younger brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
On June 6 the country's state television claimed that 120 soldiers were killed by "armed gangs." However residents of the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour -- where the soldiers were killed -- stated that the soldiers were murdered by security forces for refusing to fire on the protesters.
On June 12 the armed forces take control of Jisr al-Shughour as thousands of its residents fled into neighbouring Turkey. The next week saw to more than 12,000 people fleeing over the Turkish border.
Assad later claimed in his third speech -- when he once again promised reform -- that he will pursue a national dialogue that will pave the way to a constitution, however he refused to do so amidst the "chaos" in the country.
By the end of June some 500,000 people began a protest in the central city of Hama.
By the end of next July security forces killed 140 people, 100 of them in Hama when the army stormed the city in order to crush the dissenting protesters there. The UN went on to condemn this crackdown. The Arab League the week after condemned the actions of the Syrian government, Saudi Arabia at the same time recalled its ambassador from Damascus. The EU and US on August 18 called for Assad to step down. Assad went on to warn against foreign military intervention in his country stating that "any action against Syria will have greater consequences," for those who carry out such an intervention.
In September the EU banned crude oil imports from Syria in protest of the crackdown. The Syrian National Council was formed in Istanbul and has since then represented a united front of oppositional elements against the Syrian government within Syria. By the end of the month Syria was accusing the US of inciting violence against regime forces dubbing this perceived incitement an interference in Syria's domestic affairs.
The United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York
On October 4 the next month Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that condemned the Syrian government for its actions against the opposition.
Assad at the end of the month warned of an "earthquake" if the west intervened, warning that they would be facing "another Afghanistan."
On November 21 the UN General Assembly Human Rights Committee condemned Syria for the crackdown, 122 votes were in favour, 13 against, and 41 abstentions. On November 27 the Arab League agreed to impose economic sanctions on Syria. On December 7 in an interview with ABC Assad denied that under his command troops were killing peaceful demonstrations stating that only a "crazy" leader would kill his own people. By December 19 Syria signed the Arab League peace plan, agreeing to let observers into the country with the aim of bringing an end to the violence.
Another blast followed in January 6 of this year in the al-Midan district in Damascus killing dozens.
Assad claimed on January 10 that he will not stand down and made a vow to restore order within his country by "hitting terrorists with an iron fist."
Burning building in Homs, Syria which is currently being besieged by regime forces.
That month also saw violence in the third largest Syrian city of Homs with Gilles Jacuier a France 2 television journalist being killed in a mortar attack in Homs. The opposition and the government traded blame for who was responsible for the attack -- this would become an ongoing trend following similar incidents in the future.
By the end of January the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in the country due to the "critical" conditions and the rapidly rising violence across the country.
On February 4 Russia and China vetoed another UN Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria. The same day the Syrian Army launched an assault on opposition strongholds in Homs. More explosions rocked Syria's second city Aleppo on February 10, they were aimed at destroying the military intelligence building and security forces headquarters there, the government blamed "terrorists" for these attacks. On February 18 activists alleged that security forces opened fire in Mazzeh, Damascus at a funeral march for previously slain protesters.
On February 22 Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed in shelling in the Bab Amr neighbourhood in Homs.
Marie Colvin official photo
By March 1 opposition forces announce their retreat from Bab Amr in Homs following a month-long assault by regime forces. A week later the UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos visited Damascus for talks with senior officials of the regime. Kofi Annan the UN-Arab League appointed envoy visited Assad a few days later to try and arrange a political solution to bring an end to the violence.
The Syrian regime regained control of the northern city of Idlib following days of clashes with opposition rebels. The day after (March 15) was the first anniversary of the uprising which at that point was beginning to get progressively more bloody. Locked into clashes around the country the Syrian military as we know was prepared for several more months fighting, and were striking the rebels in several different parts of the country. In fact that day after the first anniversary of the uprising (March 16) a mass protest against Assad was held in al-Raqqa. Several people were killed.
27 people were killed the day after that incident in Damascus in explosions that targeted government and military buildings, terrorists were once more blamed for the attack.
On March 21 the UN Security Council adopted a statement that backed the UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for bringing an end to the ongoing violence in Syria. Assad near the end of the month went on a tour of the Bab Amr neighbourhood in Homs which the rebels had been using as a stronghold. He told residents that "life will return to normal in Bab Amr, better than it was before." On March 31 Syria claimed it had defeated those trying to topple the regime, however as we know, shelling of opposition areas and clashes persisted for several more months.
UN File photo
The UN's Kofi Annan
In the midst of this the Saudis began to supply arms to the Syrians rebels under the pretext of stopping massacres underway in Syria. The SNC also announced on April 1 that the opposition will be paid salaries for their actions against the regime, as well as this soldiers who defected from the Syrian Army would also be given money.
By April 10 Syria failed to meet the deadline to withdraw troops from residential areas as was arranged under Mr. Annan's peace plan. By April 12 a UN ceasefire was put into effect. Both the government and opposition reported violations, but the situation on the ground appeared to be relatively calm. By the next day protesters took to the streets across the country taking full advantage of the decline in violence. Over the next week the UN Security Council sent a team of observers to oversee the six-point peace plan and the 14-natio "Friends of Syria," group met in Paris and called on the Syrian government to end all violence immediately and agrees to work to ensure the success of Annan's peace plan. Two days later the UN Security Council passed another resolution authorizing the dispatch of up to 300 observers on to the ground in Syria for three months to observe the conditions on the ground and ensure the criteria outlined by the peace plan is taking effect on the ground, the ceasefire was described as incomplete. On April 25 some 69 people were killed in a rocket attack on a building in Hama. Two days later a suicide bomber struck the al-Midan neighbourhood in Damascus killing 11 and injuring 28 worshippers leaving Friday prayers.
A week into May there were parliamentary elections, dismissed by the opposition as a sham the government claimed that there was a large voter turnout. On May 9 a roadside bomb explodes near a convoy escorting UN observers entering the city of Daraa wounding six members of their troop escort. The next day the interior ministry claims some 55 people were killed and 372 injured by explosions near an intelligence complex in Damascus.
Dead bodies wrapped after the Houla massacre in Syria
Two weeks later scores were killed in the town of Houla. UN observers who visited the massacre site reported that 92 were killed including more than thirty children. Shabiha the notorious loyalists thugs were blamed for the killings and later for killings the following June 6 in the village of al-Qubayr.
Six days later the head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations stated that the situation in Syria amounts to a full-scale civil war.
Not long after that a Syrian Air Force MiG-21 pilot broke off course during a training exercise and defected to Jordan where he was given political asylum. A day later in a highly controversial incident that strained Syrian-Turkish relations the Syria's air defence shot down a Turkish Air Force RF-4E jet. Both disputed the circumstances of the downing, with Syria claiming it was violating its air space and Turkey claiming its aircraft was operating over international waters and that the shoot-down therefore constituted an "act of aggression."
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
A week afterwords a Syrian general along with two colonels and about 30 soldiers defected to Turkey. They joined some 33,000 other Syrian civilians who had fled since the violence had began in March 2011.
Assad declared that the country was at war. June 2012 closed with world leaders meeting in Geneva agreeing that a transitional government should be formed in Syria, however there were different perceptions and ideas about the role Assad would play in such a transitional government with Russia strongly opposed to any action taken by the international community that would force a solution upon Syria.
On July 6 Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, a Sunni who used to have a high rank within the regime, headed a unit of the country's Republican Guard and whose family was a long time ally and associate of the Assad's defected. Five days later Nawaf al-Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq defected and joined the opposition.
On July 12 there was a reported massacre at the village of Tremseh, U.N. observers state that the attack left some 100-200 people dead.
On July 18 Defence Minister General Rajha and his deputy, Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat were among those who perished in an explosion which tore through the National Security building in Damascus.
July has seen to violence deteriorate, a hundred people dying a day is now a regular occurrence. Following the bombing that killed the Syrian officials fears were raised that the regime may use its stock of chemical weapons if it felt threatened, however the Syrian government has made clear it will only use its chemicals in the event of an attack by external forces.
China and Russia for a third time have vetoed a Security Council resolution that if passed would put sanctions against Syria if its forces again refused to withdraw from the country's population centers.
The FSA moved on to capture several neighbourhoods in Aleppo for the first time (along with Syrian border territory with Iraq and Turkey) securing swaths of the country's largest city. The rebels also mounted an offensive operation against Damascus that they called 'Damascus Volcano.' Syrian forces used heavy weaponry and helicopter gunships to attack the rebel positions, Alex Thomson a journalist who was in the Midan suburb in Damascus describes a "familiar pattern" he saw "of heavy shelling followed by [pro Assad] militia going house to house looting and massacring."
From the AFP: An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on July 10, 2012 allegedly shows a tank from forces loyal to the Syrian government being hit by a projectile in the town of Izaz, on the Turkish-Syrian border.
That was the methods the regime used to regain control of Damascus and break the backbone of the rebel offensive there. It is now setting in to defeat the rebels in Aleppo to the north where they are bombarding the commercial hub of the country with jet fighters and gunships. Columns of tanks have entered neighbourhoods that were previously bombarded from the air only to be attacked by FSA men with RPG's. The tanks for the moment have been withdrawn and the bombardment of these neighbourhoods continues.
The latest from Aleppo is that some 200,000 people have fled the intense fighting there following a week of ground assaults, shelling and jet fighter sorties. Residents there are suffering from food shortages and power cuts. The rebels are outgunned but are reportedly fighting an effective guerilla war in the streets of the city.
The uprising has so far left an estimated 20,000 people dead in total.
A look back at the origins of this war and the manner in which it is violently deteriorating leaves one to cynically ponder what the future of Syria will be. Once this war eventually ends and the dust clears, what will be left of Syria?
And what will be left of the populations of major cities like Damascus, Aleppo and Homs whose residents are continuing to suffer the abject effects of this horrific and ongoing conflict that has violently engulfed the Syrian nation?