Civil uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War
|Civil uprising prior to the Syrian Civil War|
Part of Syrian Civil War and the Arab Spring
Demonstration in Homs against Syrian Government (18 April 2011).
|Date||15 March 2011
– 28 July 2011|
(some major protests continued into August)
|Status||Peaceful protests ended and deteriorated into an armed rebellion and later full-scale civil war|
|Death(s)||1,800-2,154 civilians and 406-500 security forces killed (by 17 August)
|Injuries||Thousands of protesters
1,300-1,857 security forces
|Arrested||12,617 (by 28 July)|
The civil uprising prior to the Syrian Civil War was an early stage of protests – with subsequent violent reaction by the Syrian state – lasting from March to 28 July 2011. The uprising, initially demanding democratic reforms, evolved from initially minor protests, beginning as early as January 2011.
The uprising was marked by massive anti-government opposition demonstrations against the Ba'athist government of Bashar al-Assad, meeting with police and military violence, massive arrests and brutal crackdown, resulting in hundreds of casualties and thousands of wounded. In addition, the presence of armed infiltrators has also being well documented, though ignored by major media organizations at the time. These armed groups of men engaged in provoking the security forces into repressing the demonstrations and carried out well executed attacks against Syrian military personel across the country.This gave the regime some credibility to its claims of fighting armed terrorist groups. (See http://www.handsoffsyriasydney.com/articles/daraa-2011-syrias-islamist-insurrection-in-disguise/ for more information.)
Despite Bashar al-Assad's attempts to pacify the protests with massive crackdown and use of censorship on one hand and concessions on the other, by the end of April, it became clear the situation was getting out of his control and the Syrian government deployed numerous troops on the ground.
The civil uprising phase created the platform for emergence of militant opposition movements and massive defections from the Syrian Army, which gradually transformed the conflict from a civil uprising to an armed rebellion, and later a civil war. The rebel Free Syrian Army was created on July 29, 2011.
Before the uprising in Syria began in mid-March 2011, protests were relatively modest, considering the wave of unrest that was spreading across the Arab world. Syria until March 2011 for decades had remained superficially tranquil, largely due to fear among the people of the secret police arresting critical citizens.
Minor protests calling for government reforms began in January, and continued into March. Unrelenting protests were occurring in Cairo against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and in Syria on 3 February via the websites Facebook and Twitter, a "Day of Rage" was called for by activists against the government of Bashar al-Assad to be held on Friday, 4 February. This did not result in protests. Yet it is said that on the night of Mubarak’s February 11 downfall, the graffiti was seen under a Damascus bridge, “Now it’s your turn, doctor”– in reference to President al-Assad, an eye doctor by training.
Civil uprising (January–July 2011)
March 2011 unrest
Major unrest began on 15 March in Damascus and Aleppo, yet in the southern city of Daraa, sometimes called the "Cradle of the Revolution", protests had been triggered on 6 March by the incarceration and torture of 15 young students from prominent families who were arrested for writing anti-government graffiti in the city, reading: "الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام" – ("The people want the fall of the regime") – a trademark slogan of the Arab Spring.
Demonstrators clashed with local police, and confrontations escalated on 18 March after Friday prayers. Security forces attacked protesters gathered at the Omari Mosque using water cannons and tear gas, followed by live fire, killing four.
On 20 March, a mob burned down the Ba'ath Party headquarters and other public buildings. Security forces quickly responded, firing live ammunition at crowds, and attacking the focal points of the demonstrations. The two-day assault resulted in the deaths of fifteen protesters.
Meanwhile, minor protests occurred elsewhere in the country. Protesters demanded the release of political prisoners, the abolition of Syria's 48-year emergency law, more freedoms, and an end to pervasive government corruption. The events led to a "Friday of Dignity" on 18 March, when large-scale protests broke out in several cities, including Banias, Damascus, al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir az-Zor, and Hama. Police responded to the protests with tear gas, water cannons, and beatings. At least 6 people were killed and many others injured.
On 25 March, mass protests spread nationwide, as demonstrators emerged after Friday prayers. Over 100,000 people reportedly marched in Daraa, and at least 20 protesters were reportedly killed by security forces. Protests subsequently spread to other Syrian cities, including Homs, Hama, Baniyas, Jasim, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia. Over 70 protesters in total were reported killed.
Even before the uprising began, the Syrian government had made numerous arrests of political dissidents and human rights campaigners, many of whom were labeled "terrorists" by the Assad government. In early February 2011, authorities arrested several activists, including political leaders Ghassan al-Najar, Abbas Abbas, and Adnan Mustafa.
Police and security forces responded to the protests violently, not only using water cannons and tear gas, but also beating protesters and firing live ammunition.
As the uprising began, the Syrian government waged a campaign of arrests that captured tens of thousands of people, according to lawyers and activists in Syria and human rights groups. In response to the uprising, Syrian law had been changed to allow the police and any of the nation's 18 security forces to detain a suspect for eight days without a warrant. Arrests focused on two groups: political activists, and men and boys from the towns that the Syrian Army would start to besiege in April. Many of those detained experienced ill-treatment. Many detainees were cramped in tight rooms and were given limited resources, and some were beaten, electrically jolted, or debilitated. At least 27 torture centers run by Syrian intelligence agencies were revealed by Human Rights Watch on 3 July 2012.
President Assad characterized the opposition as armed terrorist groups with Islamist "takfiri" extremist motives, portraying himself as the last guarantee for a secular form of government. Early in the month of April, a large deployment of security forces prevented tent encampments in Latakia. Blockades were set up in several cities to prevent the movement of protests. Despite the crackdown, widespread protests continued throughout the month in Daraa, Baniyas, Al-Qamishli, Homs, Douma and Harasta.
During March and April, the Syrian government, hoping to alleviate the unrest, offered political reforms and policy changes. Authorities shortened mandatory army conscription, and in an apparent attempt to reduce corruption, fired the governor of Daraa. The government announced it would release political prisoners, cut taxes, raise the salaries of public sector workers, provide more press freedoms, and increase job opportunities. Many of these announced reforms were never implemented.
The government, dominated by the Alawite sect, made some concessions to the majority Sunni and some minority populations. Authorities reversed a ban that restricted teachers from wearing the niqab, and closed the country's only casino. The government also granted citizenship to thousands of Syrian Kurds previously labeled "foreigners". Following Bahrain's example, the Syrian government held a two-day national dialogue in July, in attempt to alleviate the crisis. The dialogue was a chance to discuss the democratic reforms and other issues, however many of the opposition leaders and protest leaders refused to attend citing that continuing crackdown on protesters in streets.
A popular demand from protesters was an end of the nation's state of emergency, which had been in effect for nearly 50 years. The emergency law had been used to justify arbitrary arrests and detention, and to ban political opposition. After weeks of debate, Assad signed the decree on 21 April, lifting Syria's state of emergency. However, anti-government protests continued into April, with activists unsatisfied with what they considered vague promises of reform from Assad.
During the course of the civil war, there have been some political changes towards the electoral process and the constitution.
As the unrest continued, the Syrian government began launching major military operations to suppress resistance, signaling a new phase in the uprising. On 25 April, Daraa, which had become a focal point of the uprising, was one of the first cities to be besieged by the Syrian Army. An estimated hundreds to 6,000 soldiers were deployed, firing live ammunition at demonstrators and searching house to house for protestors, arresting hundreds. Tanks were used for the first time against demonstrators, and snipers took positions on rooftops. Mosques used as headquarters for demonstrators and organizers were especially targeted. Security forces began shutting off water, power and phone lines, and confiscating flour and food. Clashes between the army and opposition forces, which included armed protestors and defected soldiers, led to the death of hundreds. By 5 May, most of the protests had been suppressed, and the military began pulling out of Daraa, with some troops remaining to keep the situation under control.
During the crackdown in Daraa, the Syrian Army also besieged and blockaded several towns around Damascus. Throughout May, situations similar to those that occurred in Daraa were reported in other besieged towns and cities, such as Baniyas, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia, and several other towns. After the end of each siege, violent suppression of sporadic protests continued throughout the following months. By 24 May, the names of 1,062 people killed in the uprising since mid-March had been documented by the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
As the uprising progressed, opposition fighters became better equipped and more organized. Until September 2011, about two senior military or security officers defected to the opposition. Some analysts stated that these defections were signs of Assad's weakening inner circle.
The first instance of armed insurrection occurred on 4 June 2011 in Jisr ash-Shugur, a city near the Turkish border in Idlib province. Angry protesters set fire to a building where security forces had fired on a funeral demonstration. Eight security officers died in the fire as demonstrators took control of a police station, seizing weapons. Clashes between protesters and security forces continued in the following days. Some security officers defected after secret police and intelligence agents executed soldiers who refused to shoot civilians. On 6 June, Sunni militiamen and army defectors ambushed a group of security forces heading to the city which was met by a large government counterattack. Fearing a massacre, insurgents and defectors, along with 10,000 residents, fled across the Turkish border.
In June and July 2011, protests continued as government forces expanded operations, repeatedly firing at protesters, employing tanks against demonstrations, and conducting arrests. The towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, and Maarat al-Numaan were besieged in early June. On 30 June, large protests erupted against the Assad government in Aleppo, Syria's largest city. On 3 July, Syrian tanks were deployed to Hama, two days after the city witnessed the largest demonstration against Bashar al-Assad.
On 29 July, a group of defected officers announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Composed of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel, the rebel army seeks to remove Bashar al-Assad and his government from power.
During the first six months of the uprising, the inhabitants of Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, remained largely uninvolved in the anti-government protests. The two cities' central squares have seen organized rallies of hundreds of thousands in support of president Assad and his government.
Reporting, censoring, propaganda
Reporting on this conflict was difficult and dangerous from the start: journalists were being attacked, detained, reportedly tortured and killed. Technical facilities (internet, telephone etc.) were being sabotaged by the Syrian government. Both sides in this conflict tried to disqualify their opponent by framing or referring to them with negative labels and terms, or by presenting false evidence.
- Consecutive events from 29 July 2011 are to be found in: Syrian civil war#Protests and armed insurgency (July–October 2011)
- Oliver, Christin (26 October 2010). "Corruption Index 2010: The Most Corrupt Countries in the World – Global Development". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
- Zafar, Saad (24 March 2011). "The Assad Poison". allvoices.com. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Bashar Assad Resignation Called For By Syria Sit-In Activists". The Huffington Post. 18 April 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Pro-democracy protests sweep Syria, 22 killed". Reuters. 8 April 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- "Syrian Protestors Want a Regime Change". ABC News. 25 March 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
- "Violence Erupts in Syria; Troops Open Fire on Anti-Protestors". Daily News. 25 March 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
- "Syria To Lift Decades-Old Emergency Law". Al Jazeera English. 19 April 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
- "Syria: 'Armed gangs' killed 120". The Seattle Times. 6 June 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- Oweis, Khaled Yacoub (29 April 2011). "Muslim Brotherhood endorses Syria protests". Reuters. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- "Syria: 'Four Dead' in Rare Demonstrations". The Daily Telegraph. London. 18 March 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- "Syrian general: Hundreds of soldiers, police killed by armed gangs". CNN. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- "Syria opposition reaches out to army". 27 May 2011. Retrieved 27 May 2011.
- Syrian troops detain dozens, 3 killed in north
- "As Syria flares, some U.N.'ers take flight". CNN. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
- "Syria army kills at least 27 in overnight attacks on three main cities". Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Syria: 24 Civilians Killed In Tank Attack". Retrieved 31 July 2011.[dead link]
- "Almost 3,000 missing in Syria crackdown, NGO says". nowlebanon.com. 28 July 2011.
- Fear barrier crumbles in Syrian "kingdom of silence". Reuters, 22 March 2011.
- "'Day of Rage' Protest Urged in Syria". MSNBC. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
- "Fall of Mubarak Shakes Middle East" . . Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2011 — http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703786804576137543866154926
- "Graffiti Wars and Syria’s Spray Man" . . Al Akhbar (Lebanon), October 6, 2011 — http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/999
- "Mid-East unrest: Syrian protests in Damascus and Aleppo". BBC. 15 March 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
- Fahim, Kareem; Saad, Hwaida (9 February 2013). "A Faceless Teenage Refugee Who Helped Ignite Syria's War". The New York Times.
- Droz-Vincent, Philippe (Winter 2014). ""State of Barbary" (Take Two): From the Arab Spring to the Return of Violence in Syria". Middle East Journal. Middle East Institute. 68 (1) – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (. ))
- "Syria: How it all began". GlobalPost. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
- Middle East unrest: Silence broken in Syria By Lina Sinjab BBC News 19 March 2011 | http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-12794882
- Al Jazeera Arabic قناة الجزيرة (2011-03-23), اقتحام الأمن السوري المسجد العمري في مدينة درعا, retrieved 2016-02-17
- "We’ve Never Seen Such Horror". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
- Holliday, Joseph (December 2011). "The Struggle for Syria in 2011" (PDF). Institute for the Study of War.
- "Officers Fire on Crowd as Syrian Protests Grow". The New York Times. 20 March 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
- Iddon, Paul (30 July). "A recap of the Syrian crisis to date". Digital Journal. Retrieved 3 August 2012. Check date values in:
- Palmer, Will. "Now That We Have Tasted Hope (Excerpt)". McSweeney's.
Demonstrations in Daraa that day reportedly swelled to more than 100,000 people.
- Slackman, Michael (25 March 2011). "Syrian Troops Open Fire on Protesters in Several Cities". New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- "Arrest of leader of the Islamic Democratic movement in Syria". Elaph. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
- "Jailed prominent Syrian opposition for seven and a half years" (in Arabic). free-syria.com. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
- "Syrian authorities detain national identity Adnan Mustafa Abu Ammar" (in Arabic). free-syria.com. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
- "In Syria, Crackdown After Protests". The New York Times. 18 March 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
- "Syrian Arrests Are Said to Have Snared Tens of Thousands". The New York Times. 27 June 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
- "Syria: Torture Centers Revealed". Human Rights Watch. 3 July 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2012.
- "Opposition: 127 dead as Syrian forces target civilians". CNN. 7 April 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
- Oweis, Khaled (22 April 2011). "Almost 90 dead in Syria's bloodiest day of unrest". Reuters. Retrieved 22 April 2011.
- "Syrian mourners call for revolt, forces fire tear gas". Reuters. 19 March 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- "President al-Assad Issues Decree on Discharging Governor of Daraa from His Post". Syrian Arab News Agency. 24 March 2011. Archived from the original on January 17, 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- "In Syrian flashpoint town, more deaths reported". CNN. 25 March 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
- al-Hatem, Fadwa (31 May 2011). "Syrians are tired of Assad's 'reforms'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
- "Syria lifts niqab ban, shuts casino, in nod to Sunnis". Reuters. 6 April 2011.
- "Stateless Kurds in Syria granted citizenship". CNN. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
- Oweis, Khaled Yacoub; Karouny, Mariam; al-Khalidi, Suleiman; Aboudi, Sami (21 April 2011). "Syria's Assad ends state of emergency". Beirut, Amman, Cairo. Reuters. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
- Stack, Liam (1 April 2011). "Syrian Protesters Clash With Security Forces". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
- Shadid, Anthony (25 April 2011). "Syria Escalates Crackdown as Tanks Go to Restive City". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
- "Five dead in 'Day of Defiance'". Retrieved 6 May 2011.[dead link]
- "Civilian killings in Syrian demonstrations rises to 800". Jerusalemn Post. 5 July 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
- "Syrian army tanks 'moving towards Hama'". BBC News. 5 May 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- "Shallow grave yields several bodies in Syrian city marked by unrest". CNN. 16 May 2011. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
- "Syria death toll 'surpasses 1,000'". Al Jazeera. 24 May 2011.
- "Interactive: Tracking Syria's defections". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- Dagher, Sam (6 July 2012). "In Paris, Diplomats Cheer Syria General's Defection". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Syrian forces take over northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan". Haaretz. 17 June 2011.
- "Syria unrest: Protests in Aleppo as troops comb border". BBC News. 30 June 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- "Syria: 'Hundreds of thousands' join anti-Assad protests". BBC. 1 July 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
- "Life in Syria's Capital Remains Barely Touched by Rebellion". The New York Times. 5 September 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- "Syria: What motivates an Assad supporter?". Global Post. 24 June 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012.