The Sunni city of Deraa in southern Syria is where the protests began in March 2011 against the father-to-son tightly-held rule of the Alawite Shia minority President Bashar al-Assad.
People dared to demonstrate, encouraged by the Arab Spring changes afoot in other countries. Then the peaceful protests churned into drawn-out, far-reaching gore.
Assad at first dismissed the protests, saying foreign-backed agitators this way sought to destabilise the country. Here’s what he said in parliament in April three years ago.
“There will always be conspiracy in Syria for as long as it takes its decisions independently and methodically, which does not please others — and for as long as it has enemies. It is entirely to be expected that we are surrounded by conspiracy.”
Ten months into the anti-Assad demonstrations, the regime faced an armed insurrection. Several high-ranking officers in the army ostensibly loyal to the president had defected.
In the capital Damascus, during a rare public appearance, Assad repeated promises he would bring in reforms.
“With one hand moving ahead we will enact reforms, and with the other we will fight terrorism.”
By the end of 2012, he had lost control of swathes of territory to the rebels. He looked virtually defeated.
Yet, in an interview with Russian television, he swore he would not negotiate with his enemies, and would not bow to Western calls he step down.
“I’m not a puppet, I wasn’t made by the West to go to the West or any other country. I’m Syrian. I’m made in Syria and I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”
Enabling him to hang on he had decisive backing from Iran and Russia, supplying him with weapons. Also, Russia and China used their vetoes in the UN Security Council to block punitive sanctions against their ally in Syria.
And he had reinforcements from the Lebanese Hezbollah. This turned the tables. Assad regained the upper hand in June 2013, the Syrian Army and the Lebanese militia retaking the town of al-Qusayr, strategically important lying on a supply route.
The rebels continued to lose.
At the same time jihadists in the field grew stronger.
Assad claimed to stand as a bulwark against these extremists.
Mixing threats with denials, he evaded foreign punitive action for using chemical weapons against civilians in August 2013. He basically just ignored the West.
In three years of violence, 170,000 people were killed.
Millions were displaced and became refugees.