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

Event Extra: Syria’s Brutal Civil War and the Elusive Quest for Justice

Event Extra: Syria’s Brutal Civil War and the Elusive Quest for Justice

Monday, November 21, 2022

By: Adam Gallagher

In 2016, the U.N. General Assembly established the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM), after vetoes in the U.N. Security Council prevented referral of the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court. IIIM Head Catherine Marchi-Uhel discusses the obstacles to this work, the progress made to date and what lessons it can provide for delivering accountability and justice in other conflicts.

Type: Podcast

Justice, Security & Rule of Law

ISIS is a Problem of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

ISIS is a Problem of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Thursday, July 28, 2022

By: Sarhang Hamasaeed

More than three years after its military defeat in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is a downgraded threat thanks to the collective efforts of the U.S.-led global coalition that coalesced to defeat it along with Iraqi and Syrian partners. While the extremist group’s capacity has been drastically reduced and millions of people have returned home, ISIS has managed to continue attacks year after year despite no longer holding territory. Meanwhile, some of the most difficult human legacies — the challenges facing the people the ISIS conflict left behind — are still with us, with no end in sight.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Violent Extremism

Putin and Erdogan in Iran to Discuss Syria’s Future, Ukraine War

Putin and Erdogan in Iran to Discuss Syria’s Future, Ukraine War

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

By: John Drennan;  Sarhang Hamasaeed;  Mona Yacoubian

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran are gathering in Tehran, with Ankara’s threat of a new incursion into northern Syria likely to top the agenda. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has both domestic and strategic reasons for the move, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi want to maintain the status quo in Syria, where both their countries have expended significant resources to prop up the Assad regime. Russia’s war on Ukraine will also feature prominently at the trilateral summit. Iran has offered to provide Moscow with drones and Putin and Erdogan are reportedly set to discuss restarting Ukrainian grain exports in the Black Sea.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionGlobal Policy

Could Syria Have Been Saved by a U.S. Effort to Bring It to Peace with Israel?

Could Syria Have Been Saved by a U.S. Effort to Bring It to Peace with Israel?

Thursday, July 14, 2022

By: Adam Gallagher

Over a decade into Syria’s civil war, it’s hard to fathom the country at peace and integrated with the international community. The Assad regime’s brutal oppression of protests in March 2011 sparked more than 10 years of violence, conflict and tragedy in the country. But in the weeks before, there was quiet hope that a clandestine U.S. effort could broker a land-for-peace deal between Israel and Syria. For Syria, such a peace agreement would have resulted in the lifting of U.S. sanctions and financial assistance, trade and investment from the international community, giving Syrians hope for a better future.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

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