The Complete History Of Syria in 21 Photos

As the United States and its allies prepare for possible military action in response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons in Syria, the United Nations said almost 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries as part of "the great tragedy of this century, a disgraceful humanitarian calamity."

But what else do we know about Syria before the deadly conflict? Here's a brief history lesson on the country everybody is talking about:

1. 1916: Defeat of the Ottoman Empire

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, diplomats from France and Great Britain drew up an agreement to divide the Middle East into "zones of influence." France took the northern zone, including what is now Syria and Lebanon, while Britain took the southern, which includes Jordan, Palestine, and Iraq. 

2. 1920: Struggle For Self-Rule

After backing Arab self-rule at the Versailles peace conference, an independent Syria was established by Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi, later Faisal I of Syria. 

However, after the Syrian National Congress was established in 1920, the briefly Arab-controlled Syria faltered into conflict once again. After Faisal I's forces were defeated by the French, he fled the country while French troops occupied the country. 

3. 1925-27: Fighting For Independence

Nationalist agitation against French rule developed into a national rebellion that resulted in heavy fighting in cities including Homs, Hama, and Damascus. The uprising, however, was put down by French troops. 

4. 1937: Independent in Theory

The Franco-Syrian Treaty, signed in Paris in 1936, gave Syria partial independence and a promise of the withdrawal of French troops from Syria.

Before any real progress could be made, World War II broke out in 1939, which leaft Syria as a proxy battle area between French troops loyal to the Vichy government allied to Nazi Germany and the Free French Forces allied with Britain. 

Syrians, sided with the Free French Forces and British troops with the hope that the promise of full independece would be fulfilled after the war was over. 

5. 1945-46: A New, Independent Syria

Following World War II, British and Free French Forces occupied Syria in 1941 and General Charles de Gaulle promised to end the French mandate. After national protests in 1945 over the slow progress of French withdrawal, the last French troops left Syria on April 17, 1946, which is now celebrated as the National Independence Day.

6. 1958-63: The United Arab Republic

United under the banner of the United Arab Republic, Syria and Egypt joined together with Egypt's leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. However, much to the dismay of Syria's Ba'ath party, Nasser ordered the dissolution of Syrian political parties. 

Following a military coup in 1961, Syria seceded, a Baathist cabinet was appointed, and Amin al-Hafez became president of Syria in 1963. 

7. 1966-1971: Overthrow and conflict

After only three years under the leadership of Amin al-Hafez, Salah Jadid led an internal coup against the Ba'ath leadership and overthrew the Syrian president. 

Meanwhile, pre-emptive Israeli strikes on Egyptian forces in 1967 resulted in the Six-Day Warin which Syria and Jordan joined Egypt in attacking the Jewish state. Israeli forces, however, seized the Golan Heights from Syria along with the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Sinai Peninsula. 

8. 1965-1970: Rise of Assad

Hafez al-Assad, a high-ranking official of the Ba'ath Party, continued to climb the ranks in office. In 1965, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the air force. In 1966, he became the minister of defence and by 1970, he seized power in an internal Ba'ath Party coup and became the newly elected president of Syria for a seven-year term. 

Although riots broke out after Assad dropped the constitutional requirement that a Syrian president must be a Muslim, his army managed to suppress them. 

The first Assad managed to turn Syria into a powerful state and key player in regional and international politics for the 30 years that he ruled the country. The dictator also kept any potential enemies at bay by creating divisions among those in a position to challenge his authority. 

9. 1973-1985: Conflict with Israel Continues

After going to war with Israel again in 1973, Syria and Egypt failed to retake the Golan Heights lost during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. 

After Menachem Begin came to power in 1977, Israel flexed its muscles by invading Lebanon in 1982. Assad, however, rallied his allies and fought back in what would, according to Syria's point of view, would be his finest hour. The last Israeli tanks finally left Lebanon in 1985. 

10. 1980-1982: Crushing the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood

After a Muslim Brotherhood member attempted to assassinate Assad in 1980, the dictator sent his troops to crush a rebellion by the Islamist group and bomb the city of Hama, killing up to 10,000 people in the process. 

At the same time, Syrian forces were also involved in neighboring Lebanon's civil war as well. 

11. 1994: A Different Heir-Apparent

Groomed to become his father's successor, Bassel al-Assad was very popular in the country. He was idolized by Syrian youth and was sure to become the next president of Syria. 

His younger brother, Bashar al-Assad, paled in comparison. However, after Bassel died in a car crash, the young Bashar who was studying to be an optician in London, was called back to Syria as the new heir-apparent. 

12. 2000: A new Assad in power

After Hafez al-Assad died at the age of 69 in 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected president. Although there was no opposing candidate, he a claimed 97% of the vote.

Bashar al-Assad was viewed by the public as a "mommy's boy." He was nicknamed "Beesho" and "baby Bashar." In the two years after his brother's dealth, he was trained in military and political affairs to become more confident, tough, and powerful.  

Following in his father's dictatorial footsteps, Bashar ruled with an iron fist by detaining members of parliment and other pro-reform activists that challenged his authority. After getting another seven-year term in 2007, he released hundreds of political prisoners in the Damascus Spring in an attempt to make overtures to the West.

Amnesty International, however, accused him of torturing political opponents during the same time.

13. 2002: Syria Added to the "Axis of Evil"

In 2002, the United States added Syria to its list of states that comprise an "axis of evil." The U.S. claimed it was deliberately seeking to obtain chemical or biological weapons.

14. 2003: U.S. Threatens Syria With Sanctions

In 2003, the Bush administration threatened diplomatic and economic sanctions against the "rogue nation." It continued to accuse Damascus of developing chemical weapons, harboring Iraqi regime leaders and terrorists, and allowing enemy fighters to cross Syria and strike U.S. forces in Iraq.

15. 2004: Syria Gets Cut Off For Supporting Terrorism

After at least 25 people were killed in clashes between members of the Kurdish minority, police, and Arabs in north-east Syria in March 2004, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the country over what it called "support for terrorism" and the failure to stop militants from entering Iraq. 

16. 2005: Tensions Mount After Hariri's Death

Tensions with the U.S. seemed to escalate in 2005 after the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut. Syria was also urged to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. 

Later that year, exiled former vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam claimed that Syrian leaders threatened Hariri before his assassination. 

17. 2011: Conflict Begins During Arab Spring

Inspired by the Arab Spring movement taking hold of the region, pro-democracy protests broke out across Syria in 2011, which resulted in Syrian forces violently suppressing multiple rallies. 

After protestors in Damascus and Deraa demanded the release of political prisoners. Security forces shot down a number of civilians, which sparked weeks of unrest that slowly moved throughout the country within months.  

By the end of 2011, the Arab League suspended Syria over Assad's violent crackdown on demonstrators and his engagment in a war with rebel forces, loosely led by the Free Syrian Army. The U.S. and European Union also tightened sanctions on the country.

18. 2012: The Violence Escalates

Despite the UN Security Council's strong condemnation of the Syrian government's use of heavy weaponry and militia killing of civilians, the violence continued throughout the year including explosions launched by the Free Syrian Army at military headquarters.

Tensions with Turkey also flared in October after Syrian mortar fire on a Turkish border town killed five civilians. As a result, both countries banned each other's planes from entering their air space. 

In December, the U.S. joined France, Britain, Turkey, and Gulf states in recognizing Syria's opposition National Coalition as a representative force of the Syrian people.  

19. 2013: The Conflict Goes Global

As international donors pledged more than $1.5 billion to help civilians affected by the conflict in Syria, the U.S. and Britain pledged non-military aid to Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, government and rebel forces continued to battle fight for strategic control of cities around the country. 

The conflict turned global after rebels and Western governments accused Assad's forces of crossing the world's "red line" in August by using chemical weapons in a deadly attack that killed more than 300 people near Damascus. The Syrian government, however, denied the allegations.

Although the U.S. and Britain are making moves to take possible military action in Syria, China and Russia are against any attack on the country. 

20. The Syrian Refugee Crisis

The Zaatari refugee camp, about eight miles inside Jordan on the Syria border, is a tent city sprung from the desert. The Zaatri camp is home to roughly 120,000-160,000 refugees fleeing the civil war. It is largely a city of women and children. About 60,000 of the camp’s residents are children. It has become Jordan’s fifth-largest city. 

In the back-and-forth diplomatic and political saga regarding the Syrian civil war, the human element has sometimes been left out. The brewing humanitarian crisis in the region is yet another layer in this mass tragedy which has claimed over 100,000 lives (6,000 of which have been children).

21. The U.S. Readies For War

Will the United States go to war with Syria? The crux of the debate centers on whether the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria has used chemical weapons against the civilian population, and whether the U.S. should act to police Assad by punishing him for using said chemical weapons.