The conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year, evolved from a revolutionary uprising against the Assad regime in March 2011, to a country-wide insurgency, pitting regime loyalists against fragmented opposition groups and jihadist militants. In parallel to the escalation of conflict within Syria, external actors have been drawn in – including neighbouring countries and regional powers. We have also seen the return of Great Power politics – with Russia propping up the Syrian regime through its bombing campaign, while the West’s approach of arming the moderate opposition has failed.  

The conflict has precipitated one of the largest and most complex humanitarian disasters since the Second World War. Over 400 000 people have been killed and more than half of the population has been displaced – 6.6 million in Syria and 4.8 million in neighbouring countries. 13.5 million people require humanitarian assistance, including 4.9 million people who are trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. The situation has tested the boundaries of conventional humanitarian action, and revealed some uncomfortable realities about helping civilians in conflict.

This NUPI seminar will look at the Syrian conflict from different angles and perspectives – from geopolitical dynamics to humanitarian consequences and views from Syrians who fled the war. What has been the strategy of Russia and the ‘West’ in Syria? What have been the political challenges of negotiating humanitarian access and protecting civilians? How do Syrians look back on the revolution and consider prospects for peace in the country?