The Syrian conflict has now lasted longer than World War II. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research estimated that as of February 2016, at least 470,000 people have died and 45% of the population has been displaced.
The brutality of the conflict has shocked the world. This has included the widespread use of sieges, indiscriminate aerial attacks, the use of banned and chemical weapons in civilian areas, and mass detention and torture of opponents by the Assad regime. The devastating brutality of ISIS, including its mass executions, has made headlines across the world. A UN-backed panel has said that both the regime and ISIS have committed crimes against humanity. The interventions of outside powers – including Iran, Turkey, the Gulf States, Russia and the United States – has only complicated the conflict and made a resolution seem more distant.
In the face of such onslaught, there has been one consistent glimmer of hope: the persistence and bravery of civil society activists and volunteers, working in the most dangerous circumstances imaginable.
Prior to 2011, Syrian civil society had been tightly controlled under the rule of Bashar Al Assad and his late father Hafez. The wave of protests across the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring included the flowering of a large number of Syrian civil society groups motivated by a desire for greater social and political rights. These ideals remain the driving motivation for many civil society groups, even if the descent into conflict has led to the marginalisation of nonviolent activists, as armed actors have taken centre stage.
Last updated: July 2016