Since independence in 1946, Syria has been roiled by a steady passage of armed revolts and coups, with very few periods of peace and stability, and an equally steady erosion of human rights. In addition to the devastating consequences of political turmoil in Syria and surrounding nations, the country is also stricken by the lingering effects of a savage five-year drought that brought food production to its knees, and drove a generation of farmers into cities seeking an alternative way of making a living.
But Syria’s current civil war, which began as a pro-democracy protest in 2011, overtakes all of these issues in terms of the breadth and depth of misery that has ensued. The toll of deaths and permanent disabilities is numbered in millions. Over half the country’s population has been displaced. Nearly a dozen other countries have been drawn into the conflict, either formally, through the actions of independent militia, or from the violence spilling across borders. Cities have been reduced to rubble; all of Syria’s UNESCO World Heritage sites have been vandalized, a graphic symbol of a country that has been utterly broken.