As Syrians mark the fifth anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, here are some of the key events in the conflict:
- March 2011: Protests erupt in the city of Daraa over security forces’ detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of their school. On March 15, a protest is held in Damascus’ Old City. On March 18, security forces open fire on a protest in Daraa, killing four people in what activists regard as the first deaths of the uprising. Demonstrations spread, as does the crackdown by Assad’s forces.
- April 2011: Security forces raid a sit-in in Syria’s third-largest city, Homs, where thousands of people tried to create the mood of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests against Egypt’s autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
- June 2011: Police and soldiers in Jisr al-Shughour in northeastern Syria join protesters they were ordered to shoot, and the uprising claims control of a town for the first time. Elite government troops, tanks and helicopters retake the town within days.
- August 2011: President Barack Obama calls on Assad to resign and orders Syrian government assets frozen.
- July 2012: A bombing at the Syrian national security building in Damascus during a high-level government crisis meeting kills four top officials, including Assad’s brother-in-law and the defense minister.
- Summer 2012: Fighting spreads to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its former commercial capital.
- August 2012: Kofi Annan quits as U.N.-Arab League envoy after his attempts to broker a cease-fire failed. Obama says the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” that would change his thinking about military action.
- March 2013: After advancing in the north, rebel forces capture Raqqa, a city of 500,000 people on the Euphrates River and the first major population center controlled by the opposition.
- May-June 2013: Backed by thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, Assad’s forces re-capture the strategic town of Qusair from rebels, near the border with Lebanon.
- August-September 2013: A chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs kills hundreds. Obama, blaming Assad’s government, says the U.S. has a responsibility to respond and puts it up to a vote in Congress. Russia proposes instead that Syria give up its chemical weapons, averting military strikes.
- October 2013: Syria destroys its chemical weapons production equipment. The number of Syrian refugees registered with the U.N. tops 2 million.
- January 2014: Infighting among rebels spreads, pitting a variety of Islamic groups and moderate factions against the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
- February 2014: Two rounds of peace talks led by U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva end without a breakthrough.
- May 9: Rebels withdraw from the old quarter of the central city of Homs in a significant symbolic victory for the government.
- May 13: Brahimi resigns as U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, marking a second failure by the United Nations and Arab League to end the civil war.
- June 3: Syrians in government areas vote in presidential elections. Assad, one of three candidates, overwhelmingly wins with 88.7 percent.
- June: The Islamic State (ISIS), as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is now known, seizes large parts of northern and western Iraq. In control of around a third of Syria and Iraq, it declares a self-styled Islamic caliphate.
- July 3: ISIS takes control of Syria’s largest oil field, al-Omar, after fierce battles with the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria.
- Aug. 19: ISIS militants release video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley, the first of five Westerners to be beheaded by ISIS.
- Mid-September: ISIS begins offensive to take Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, on the Turkish border.
- Sept. 23: U.S.-led coalition begins airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria.
- January 2015: U.N. estimates Syria’s conflict has killed at least 220,000 people and uprooted nearly a third of the prewar population of 23 million from their homes.
- Jan. 26: With the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, Kurdish fighters take control of Kobani.
- Feb. 3: ISIS releases a video of captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned to death in a cage.
- March 28: The northwestern city of Idlib falls to Islamist groups led by the Nusra Front.
- May 6: President Bashar Assad acknowledges serious setbacks for his military.
- Sept. 30: Russia begins launching airstrikes in Syria in support of Assad’s forces.
- Nov. 14: Seventeen nations meeting in Vienna adopt a timeline for a transition plan in Syria that includes a new constitution as well as U.N.-administered parliamentary and presidential elections within 18 months.
- Dec. 18: The U.N. Security Council adopts resolution 2254 endorsing the Vienna road map for a transitional period in Syria.
- Feb. 3: Indirect peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva collapse a few days after starting, over a Russian-backed Syrian army offensive in Aleppo.
- Feb. 22: The U.S. and Russia announced a partial cease-fire in Syria will start on Feb. 27.
- March 9: The U.N.’s Syria envoy says indirect peace talks will resume in Geneva on March 14.
A Look at the Cost of 5 Years of Conflict in Syria
As the war in Syria enters its sixth year with no clear end in sight, here is a glance on what has been the cost of the war:
Dead and Injured: There are no reliably precise statistics on the number of people killed in Syria’s war due to an inability to monitor on the ground. According to the U.N., over 250,000 people have been killed and well over a million wounded. But officials acknowledge that figure has not been updated in months. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group that monitors the war, puts the death toll at more than 270,000, while a recent report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, an independent think tank, said 470,000 deaths have been caused by the conflict, either directly or indirectly.
The Displace: Almost half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million has been displaced by the war. The U.N. refugee agency says there are 6.5 million displaced within Syria and 4.8 million refugees outside Syria. Much of the remaining population is in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The refugees have mostly fled to neighboring countries—Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq—and have flooded Europe, where most arrive after a treacherous sea journey from Turkey.
The Cities: Historic Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial center, has been devastated. Its ancient souks and the famed Umayyad Mosque complex have been trashed, its 11th century minaret toppled. Homs city, Syria’s third largest, lies in ruins, entire blocks reduced to rubble or uninhabitable husks of housing. Rebel-held towns around the capital Damascus such as Jobar, Douma and Harasta are now a vista of collapsed buildings and rubble. A preliminary World Bank-led assessment in six cities in Syria—Aleppo, Daraa, Hama, Homs, Idlib, and Latakia—released in January showed an estimated $3.6-4.5 billion in damage as of the end of 2014.
Lost Heritage: Almost all of Syria’s UNESCO World Heritage sites have been either damaged or destroyed, including Aleppo in the north, the ancient town of Bosra in the south, the Crac des Chevaliers—one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world—and the Palmyra archaeological site. Some have been damaged by fighting and shelling, others intentionally blown up or pillaged. The Islamic State group, which took control of Palmyra last year, destroyed many of its Roman-era relics, including the 2000-year-old Temple of Bel and the iconic Arch of Triumph. Numerous archaeological sites in Syria are being systematically targeted for excavation by criminals and armed groups. These include the Apamea archaeological site in Hama, the Tell Merdikh archaeological site in the Idlib region, and the Dura-Europos and Mari sites in Deir el-Zour.
Economy: There is no accurate estimate for the economic cost of the ongoing war. A recent report by the charity group World Vision and the consultant group Frontier Economics estimated that the conflict has so far cost Syria $275 billion in lost growth opportunities—150 times more than pre-war Syria’s health budget. If the conflict ends in 2020, the cost of the conflict will grow to $1.3 trillion, it estimated. A World Bank report estimates the damage to the capital stock in Syria as of mid-2014 to be $70-80 billion. The situation has deteriorated greatly since then.
The Costs to Others: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq have borne the brunt of the economic impact of the war. Already in fragile situations, many of them are facing tremendous budgetary pressure. The World Bank estimates, for instance, that the influx of more than 630,000 Syrian refugees has cost Jordan over $2.5 billion a year. This amounts to 6 percent of GDP and one-fourth of government’s annual revenue. Cash-strapped Lebanon is also stretched to a breaking point and Turkey says it can no longer afford to take in refugees.