Quick Disclaimer: This study guide is focussed on a current situation hence the updates are currently changing as a result. This is written on the 14th/15th of October and may not be fully up to date, so check with news sources for any recent news.
Syria is located in the Middle East between Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. The country was under the control of the Ottoman Empire until the First World War in which it was taken back by the British and French Empire. The borders were discussed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916 however the borders in this region weren’t recognised until 1920. There was a short-lived Kingdom of Syria formed in 1920 however this was put under a French Mandate until 1936, when a treaty of independence was decided upon. This treaty however never came into force as the French legislature never ratified it and World War 2 then forced this to be delayed. However in 1946 the British then forced the French to the evacuate troops which left Syria under the republic government formed under the French Mandate. Syria has been through multiple coups, the first in the Arab world occurring after the invasion of Palestine in 1948, with more coups occurring in 1949 after suffering a defeat in that war. Another coup occurred in 1954 after the leader abolished the multiparty system, and after the Suez Crisis, Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union and then united with Egypt in 1958 to create the United Arab Republic, separating 3 years later after another coup. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party in 1963 lead another coup from the instability of the last coup 2 years earlier. An intra-party overthrow occurred in 1966 with that leader being deposed in 1970 by Hafez al-Assad. Syria also went to war against Israel twice between 1967 and 1973, followed by an occupation of Lebanon from 1976 until 2005. In the 1970s an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood lead to retaliation from security forces, with civilian casualties caused. Syria also took part in the Gulf War vs Iraq. Hafez al-Assad, in power since 1970, died in 2000 and his son was elected unopposed.
The Kurds are an Iranian ethnic group in an area called Kurdistan, which now spans multiple countries, including Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their population is split between these countries, equalling around 40 million people split across these areas, with nearly half estimated to be in Turkey. There was an idea for a Kurdish state in 1920 however this was never provided for when the Turkish borders were conceived leaving the Kurds with minority status. They do have an autonomous region within Iraq. Kurds make up around 9% of Syria’s population.
The current civil war started in 2011, which sparked from the Arab Spring Protests, which were suppressed, started with multiple sides involved over the 8 years including: The Syrian Government, ISIL, and other militias, some of whom formed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Some also receive foreign support such as the Syrian Government, backed by Iran and Russia, and as mentioned later the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have received support from the USA with troops in cooperation. During the 8 years on conflict up to this year the IS forces were driven back into a small area in the north of Syria. The Syrian government control the southern and western areas of the country, including Damascus, the Kurdish forces now control the north eastern sectors of Syria, with rebels in separated areas in the north and south. Turkish backed Syrian rebels and their military also control a section of the north bordering Turkey.
When the government forces withdrew from the northern areas in 2012, the Kurdish militia then took these areas, fighting against ISIL in 2014. In 2015 the People’s Protection Units (YPG) became part of SDF, who then had support from the US-led coalition. However Turkey had problems with the ties between the YPG and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) who are designated as a terrorist organisation. Turkey for some time has wanted to create a buffer zone, however the USA and Turkey agreed in August that there would be a security mechanism to ensure that YPG fighters would not be on the Syrian side of the border, with the YPG withdrawing weapons and military from there, and the American and Turkish military taking over patrols. However in October, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the cross border operation would be moving forward, followed by Trump saying that the US troops would not support or be involved. Days later on the 9th of October the start of Operation Peace Spring occurred which aimed to create a 20 mile deep zone into the Kurdish territory. Trump’s decision was met with criticism, not only leaving an ally of theirs, but also because the Kurdish were holding IS prisoners, who could escape as the Kurdish move forces north to defend, and also that if there is destabilisation then IS could resurge. This resulted in a deal between the Kurdish forces and the Syrian government for them to move towards the border.