n 2011, a group of boys, none older than 15, sprayed these words on walls in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. The words echoed the sentiments of the Arab Spring. The government arrested and tortured the young men, inspiring thousands of protesters to start marching in the streets on March 15, 2011.
What began as widespread protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime quickly morphed into a complex conflict that spiraled out of any one player’s control. When not at war amongst themselves, various groups of armed militias were pitted against Assad’s government, which was supported by Russia and Iran. The so-called Islamic State also grew increasingly powerful following the start of the Syrian civil war, adding yet another player to the conflict.
Several organizations have tried to document the number, and causes, of deaths in Syria. However, the country is so dangerous that it’s increasingly difficult to identify a reliable count of how many war casualties there have been.
There have been at least 250,000 deaths related to the civil war in Syria, according to the United Nations. Civilians account for nearly half of those deaths, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports. They have been caught in the crossfire between the government and rebels, killed by Syrian, Russian and U.S. airstrikes, exposed to chemical warfare and tortured to death.
The civil war has also been devastating for Syrians who have survived. Half of the country’s pre-war population of 22 million has been displaced since the conflict started five years ago. There are currently around 7.6 million internally displaced persons in Syria, as well as more than 4.8 million Syrians who have fled the country only to become refugees. Five years later, the war carries on with no clear end in sight.