Saturday, April 8, 2017

As the Syrian conflict drags on, Where did it begin, who controls where?

Arabs are the majority in Syria. They represent a mix of a pre-Islamic population with the Arabs of Mecca, Medina and other areas currently known as Saudi Arabia. Arabic tribes had inhabited the area currently known as Syria in the pre-Islamic era too and they had also had some kingdoms in the area.

The Alawites are Arabs belonging to the Shia group of Islam. In his younger years, the Prophet Muhammad undertook journeys to Syria along with his uncle on business. The Shias consider Ali ibn Abi Talid, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad, as being his spiritual successor while the Sunni group of Islam does not.

Alawites make up 11 percent of the population of Syria while the Shias, which includes the Alawites, make up 13 percent. Sunni Arabs make up 60 percent. while the total Sunni population is 74 percent.

Alawite Hafez al-Assad was the President from 1971 to 2000, under a one-party system. Under his rule, the political space was ceded to the Sunnis while the military was controlled by the Alawites. When the French had controlled Syria after World War I, Hafez's father had been a part of an Alawite proposal to be separate from Syria while seeking French protection.

After Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad took over. A civil war started in the country in 2011, with the Sunnis fighting the government.

The country consists of 14 governorates. The As-Suwayda governorate in the south borders Jordan. Daraa is in the south-west corner of the country, also having Jordan to its south. Rif Damashq government forms the south-western corner of the country, and has Lebanon to its west. This governorate is made of the countryside around the capital Damascus. The capital is a separate governorate and sits atop(north of) all the three previous governorates. To the north of Damascus governorate lies the Homs governorate, the largest.

Homs makes up the center of the country and has Damascus to the south-west, Lebanon to the West, Jordan to the south  and Iraq to the south-east. To the north-west of Homs lies Aleppo governorate.

Aleppo and to its west, Idlib and Latakia governorates all have a border with Turkey. To the east of Aleppo are Raqqa and Al-Hasakah also having borders with Turkey. To the south of Raqqa and Al-Hasakah lies Deir-ez-Zor.

Al-Hasakah forms the north-eastern corner of the country while Deir ez-Zor forms the south-eastern corner. While Al-Hasakah has a border with Turkey to its north and Iraq to its east, Deir ez-Zor has Iraq to its east and south.

The Syrian government lost control of the south to the Syrian Opposition grouping. This area includes all areas south of Damascus till the Jordanian border. The same grouping, Syrian Opposition, also controls the north-west of the country in the governorates of Idlib and Aleppo. A portion of the far north-west is held by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The north of the country bordering Turkey is controlled by the grouping called the Syrian Democratic Forces. The center of Homs, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor is controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant or ISIL

The Syrian government controls all territory in the west, bordering Lebanon. The town of Khan Sheikhoun where the chemical attack took place, and to which the U.S responded with aerial strikes is in the north-western corner in the governorate of Idlib. The town lies in the south of the governorate.

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