The recent struggle for control of the Syrian city of Aleppo has brought renewed attention to the ongoing war crimes that have devastated this Middle East nation. Here are nine things you should know about Aleppo and the Syrian crisis:

1. In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest, and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion that has spread across the country. Although the conflict was originally between factions for and against President Assad, the civil war has broadened into a battle between the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. The conflict has drawn in neighboring countries and world powers and led to the rise of jihadist groups, including Islamic State (ISIS).

2. Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and contains the country’s largest population of Christians. Aleppo is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world behind only Damascus (also in Syria) and Byblos (Lebanon). Prior to the Syrian civil war, Aleppo contained about 10 percent of Syria’s population (roughly 2.3 million people).

3. The battle for Aleppo began in mid-July 2012, when anti-government rebels gained control of several districts within the city. Since then the city has been divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east. Beginning at the end of 2013, the Syrian government began aerial bombing of the eastern sections of the city, a tactic that has caused a humanitarian crisis that has disproportionately affected the city’s children.

4. Syria has a young population (median age is 24.1). While about half of the nearly 5 million refugees who have fled Syria are children, Unicef estimates that about eight million children remain in the country. Save the Children also estimates about 40 percent of the besieged population in eastern Aleppo are children. As Save the Children spokeswoman Carol Anning told the BBC, in war you should expect to see a much higher population of adult males being killed in frontline action. “But what we have seen in Aleppo in the last couple of days is totally indiscriminate bombing from the air,” Anning says. “So children are impacted just as much or more than adults in those situations.”

5. A 2015 report by the UN’s Human Rights Council notes “the conduct of an ever-increasing number of actors is characterized by a complete lack of adherence to the norms of international law.” A prime example is the use of sexual violence against girls and women. The report says, “Women and girls were found to have been raped and sexually assaulted in government detention facilities, in particular in the investigation branches of the Military Intelligence Directorate and prisons administered by the General Security Directorate in Damascus. State officials have perpetrated rape, a crime against humanity.” Rebel groups have also committed similar atrocities, with girls and women kept as slaves and “subject to horrific and repeated sexual violence. Girls and women in ISIS-controlled areas live in fear of forced marriage to the fighters.”

6. Since 2012, the Syrian government has used aerial “barrel bombs” (aka “flying IEDs”)—often dropping them on civilian populations. According to the Weapons Law Encyclopedia, a barrel bomb refers to an improvised container (e.g. an oil drum or gas cylinder) dropped from an aircraft and filled with explosive, incendiary, or other substances and often includes additional materials to increase fragment projection. The UN claims the Assad regime has dropped barrel bombs containing chemical agents, likely chlorine, on “crowded areas, such as bakery lines, transportation hubs, apartment buildings, and markets.” The use of such weapons against civilian populations or containing chemical weapons clearly violates international laws.

7. Throughout the conflict, anti-government forces have relied on a variety of terrorist tactics against civilians. The groups have kidnapped women and children—sometimes holding them hostage for years—to use them for ransom or prisoner exchanges. They have also used suicide and car bombs attacks against civilian and government targets. Rebel groups associated with ISIS have executed civilians who refuse to recognize their self-proclaimed rule, publicly amputated limbs as punishment for theft, and whipped residents for smoking and trading during prayer times.

8. Several countries have used the crisis as a proxy war for their own interest. Iran and Russia have consistently backed President Assad against the rebels. In 2015, the Russian Federation Council authorized the use of military force, which has mostly consisted of air strikes against anti-government forces. (Russia began the aerial attacks in September 2015, but claims they have not bombed Aleppo since October 18 of this year.) As the BBC notes, the Iranian government is also believed to be spending billions of dollars a year to bolster the Syrian government. Lebanon's Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement has also backed the Syrian government by sending fighters to the area. The United States has approximately 200 troops (special operations forces, trainers, advisers, and explosive ordinance disposal teams) in the country to assist U.S.-backed local forces that are driving towards ISIS’s self-declared capital in Raqqa, Syria.

9. The civil war has forced 11 million people—half the country’s pre-crisis population—to flee their homes. About 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country, and 4 million have fled Syria for other countries. The result is one of the largest forced migrations since World War II. Since the conflict began, the United States has accepted nearly 12,000 Syrian refugees, including 10,000 in 2016.


Other articles in this series:

Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State