Syria emerged as an independent nation state at the end of the Second World War. From 1516 until 1918 the territory of today’s Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1919 the country was put under the French colonial Mandate for Syria and Lebanon which lasted until independence in 1946. In 1958 Syria went into a brief union with Egypt from which it re-emerged as the Syrian Arab Republic in 1961. Since 1963 the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party has been in power.
Before the civil war, Syria was a home to 22 million people from diverse backgrounds. About 65% of Syrians are Sunni Arabs. Alawi Arabs together with other Muslims amount to 13% of the population. Arab Christians constitute 10 per cent and are mostly Orthodox and Eastern Catholic but also Assyrian, Chaldean and Armenian, including a small Aramaic-speaking community. Kurds, almost all Sunnis, account for another 10 per cent. The remainder are Druze, Ismailis, Shia, and Turkmen.

November 1970
Hafez al-Assad becomes president of the Arab Republic of Syria. He is a member of the Alawite minority and draws on them to support his regime. Little by little, the Alawites gain full control over the army and the internal security forces.
A new constitution allows the president to use the military, the Ba’ath Party and the internal security forces as the foundations of his regime.
1980 and 1982
After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood instigates uprisings in Aleppo, Homs and Hama. These are violently repressed killing tens of thousands of civilians.
The Massacre of Hama. The Muslim Brotherhood launches an uprising against the secular ideology of the Assad regime. The regime reacts by bombing and demolishing much of the Old City and killing up to 20,000 people.
Al-Assad adds a clause to the constitution stating that the president would always be a Muslim. This fails to reassure the Muslim Brotherhood.
June 2000
President Assad dies and is succeeded by his son Bashar.
September 2001
Bashar al-Assad’s government forces arrest MPs and pro-reform activists.
December 2010
Beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, followed in 2011 by Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Bahrain.
March 2011
Bashar al-Assad’s government forces attack protesters demanding the release of political prisoners in the southern city of Daraa. Protests escalate and the regime responds with mass arrests, torture and killings.
May 2011
Army tanks enter Deraa, Banyas, Homs and the suburbs of Damascus to suppress anti-regime protests.
July 2011
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) emerges as the first major rebel group to fight the regime. Comprised largely of defectors from the Syrian armed forces, the FSA’s early successes in seizing military bases and weapons escalates the conflict to a full-scale war.
Refugees begin leaving Syria, initially mostly for Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. By August the first refugees arrive by boat in the European Union.
August 2013
Assad brutalizes the opposition, militants and civilians and launches a Sarin chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta agricultural belt around Damascus. Around 1,400 people are killed. As the regime continues bombing, starving and torturing its citizens, a humanitarian crisis blooms.
June 2014
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants proclaim a ‘caliphate’ in the territory stretching from Aleppo to the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala.
September 2014
The US and five Arab countries began air strikes against the Islamic State around Aleppo and Raqqa.
January 2015
Kurdish forces expel the Islamic State forces from Kobane on the Turkish border after four months of fighting.
February 2015
More than 220,000 people have lost their lives and four times this number have been wounded. More than 150,000 have been incarcerated in Assad’s dungeons and 11,000 have been killed in prisons.
May 2015
Islamic State fighters seize the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria and destroy many monuments that were part of the Pre-Islamic World Heritage site.
July 2015
An estimated 4 million Syrians have fled the country and 7.6 million are internally displaced.
September 2015
Russia launches its first air strikes in Syria.
March 2016
Syrian government retakes Palmyra from Islamic State with Russian air assistance, only to be driven out again in December.
August 2016
Turkish troops cross into Syria to help rebel groups drive back Islamic State militants and Kurdish-led rebels from a section of the two countries' border.
December 2016
Government troops, supported by Russian air power and Iranian-sponsored militias, recapture Aleppo, dispossessing the rebels of their last major urban fortress.
April 2017
US President Donald Trump orders a missile attack on an airbase from which Syrian government planes were thought to have staged a chemical weapons attack on the rebel-seized town of Khan Sheikhoun.
October, November 2017
The Islamic State group is expelled from Raqqa, its de-facto capital in Syria, and Deir al-Zour.
January 2018
Turkey launches an attack on northern Syria to overthrow the Kurdish rebels dominating the area around Afrin.
April 2018
Claims of a new chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta's main town of Douma prompt the US, Britain and France to perform a wave of retributive strikes on Syrian targets.
January – April 2018
The UN reports that more than 920,000 individuals have been newly displaced inside of Syria.
July 2018
The Syrian army recaptures almost all of the south of the country, up to the borders with Jordan and Israeli-held territory.
September – December 2018
Kurdish-led SDF forces launch an attack that diminishes Islamic State territory to a tiny area on the Iraqi border.
October 2019
US withdraws troops from northern Syria, urging Turkey to attack US Kurdish allies in the area. Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dies in an US air raid on his retreat in Idlib Province.
November 2019 – the present
In 2017 the UNHCR estimated the internally displaced population of Syria as 6.2 million and it has increased significantly since then. As of June 2019, 6,253,784 refugees are estimated to have fled Syria. For many a temporary stay in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon has become a journey for a permanent resettlement in Europe, the US and elsewhere.