Now in its 10th year, the Syrian conflict has led to more than 500,000 deaths and displaced an estimated 13 million—over half of Syria’s pre-war population. Over 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 5.6 million are refugees, predominantly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

The war began after the Syrian regime cracked down against peaceful civilian protestors, quickly evolving into a more complex conflict. Various factions—the Syrian regime, Syrian rebels, the self-styled Islamic State, al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations, Kurdish-led organizations, and foreign militias including Hezbollah—have engaged in a costly contest for control. Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the United States have also intervened. Most recently, the emergence of COVID-19 poses great risk both for an ISIS resurgence and for conflict-affected refugee and displaced communities, and threatens to exacerbate the country’s existing health, economic, political, and security crises.

USIP’s Work

work in Syria by the numbers

The U.S. Institute of Peace has been working in Syria since the war began in 2011. We have supported local leaders, Syrian and international NGOs, and civil society as they cope with the consequences of conflict. Working with a local Syrian partner, USIP undertakes local-level, outcome-oriented dialogues in northeast Syria. These dialogues focus on facilitating the return of internally displaced persons to their home communities—yielding important successes—as well as helping to promote peace and shift thinking in local communities toward nonviolent means and the pursuit of compromise. USIP also works to increase the knowledge and skills of local leaders who are trying to resolve conflicts in their communities nonviolently.

Since the Turkish incursion in 2019, and more recently with the COVID-19 global health pandemic, in-person dialogue activities in northeast Syria are not possible due to security and health risks. However, USIP continues to support its local partners to conduct conflict analysis, build their capacity for peacebuilding, and monitor outcomes of dialogues to date.

Resolving Conflicts in Communities

Since 2015, USIP has helped Syrian leaders resolve conflicts in their communities. In 2015, USIP and our Syrian partner convened 14 leaders—representing religious, tribal, and civic segments of society—for talks on tensions in the al-Qahtaniya area of northeast Syria. Although Kurdish-led forces had cleared al-Qahtaniya of ISIS, more than 100 families—mostly Kurds not aligned with the dominant political parties—were still unable to return home. After six months of USIP-supported dialogues, meetings, and informal discussions, more than 100 families returned home and a key local road reopened, linking Arab villagers to the al-Qahtaniya town center in al-Hasakah province.

Building upon our al-Qahtaniya work, USIP and our Syrian partner continued local-level, outcome-oriented dialogues in other diverse towns and villages in al-Hasakah. By providing strategic support and targeted trainings, USIP has strengthened the ability of its partner organization to work with local leaders in northeast Syria to reduce barriers to the return of displaced people, address tensions triggered by the conflict, and identify and solve problems shared by different segments of society. Since 2017, USIP has:

  • Helped local leaders adopt agreements to facilitate the return of 684 families to their places of origin in the town of Tal Hamis.
  • Coordinated traditional reconciliation on a case-by-case basis between displaced families and people in their home communities with concerns about suspected ISIS ties, resulting in the so-far sustainable return of 34 families to their home communities in the towns of Tal Hamis and Tal Brak.
  • Brought 600 people together for a coexistence fair, providing opportunities to build trust and create momentum for community groups.
al-Hasakah province dialogues by the numbers

Informing Policy through Convenings, Conflict Analysis, and Expert Engagement

USIP convenes U.S. government and nongovernment stakeholders to address various aspects of Syria’s complex conflict. In 2018, USIP was mandated by Congress to facilitate the bipartisan Syria Study Group, which was established to develop a forward-looking military and diplomatic strategy for Syria. The Group’s Final Report represented a bipartisan consensus on U.S. policy on the Syrian conflict. USIP has also brought together government and nongovernment actors to address the complex challenges embedded in Syria’s Al Hol displacement camp. We inform policymakers and legislators in Washington through private briefings, conflict analysis, congressional testimony, and private roundtables. USIP informs practitioners and the public through research, media interviews, and public events on Syria and related issues.

Reducing Tensions Between Refugees and Hosts

Neighboring countries struggle to host Syrian refugees. In Jordan and Lebanon, USIP has helped local and international organizations train young Syrians and host communities on how to cultivate cooperative relationships. USIP has also supported education for journalists in Lebanon on conflict-sensitive reporting.

Related Publications

The Best Hope for Sustained De-escalation in Syria

The Best Hope for Sustained De-escalation in Syria

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

By: Mona Yacoubian

As the conflict in Syria approaches its 10th anniversary, a holistic political settlement encompassing the entirety of the country is unlikely in the near to medium term. More than eight years of diplomatic initiatives have yielded only limited results. The two principal tracks—the Geneva and the Astana/Sochi processes—are running up against the complexity of the conflict and an emboldened Assad regime; neither process is sufficient on its own to generate momentum toward a lasting political settlement for the whole of Syria. However, creatively bridging these two processes could bring greater stability to those areas of Syria still beyond the Assad regime’s control, assuaging the suffering of some Syrians, and potentially serving as a building block for a longer-term settlement.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Can Syrians Who Left ISIS Be Reintegrated into Their Communities?

Can Syrians Who Left ISIS Be Reintegrated into Their Communities?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

By: Mona Yacoubian ; Chris Bosley; Leanne Erdberg Steadman

More than a year since the territorial defeat of ISIS, the region is still reeling in the wake of the self-styled caliphate’s destruction. Kurdish authorities operate two dozen detention facilities in northeast Syria holding thousands of former ISIS fighters. On October 5, Kurdish authorities in charge of al-Hol said they would free the 24,000 Syrians in the camp, where conditions have become increasingly unsustainable. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian, Chris Bosley, and Leanne Erdberg Steadman look at what led to the decision to release these Syrians and the challenges ahead for reintegrating them into their communities.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Reconciliation; Violent Extremism

ISIS Determined to Make a Comeback—How Can it Be Stopped?

ISIS Determined to Make a Comeback—How Can it Be Stopped?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

By: Ashish Kumar Sen

The Islamic State (ISIS), which was driven from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq over a year ago, is determined to regain territory in the region. It will take a combination of military and financial pressure, attention to public grievances, and the repatriation and rehabilitation of people who lived or fought with ISIS—as well as those who were subjugated by them—to foil the militant group’s ambitions, according to senior U.S. officials. This already tall ask has been made even more challenging by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Violent Extremism

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