Thursday, August 16, 2012

Syrian Uprising Map: August 2012 (#6)

There are newer versions of this map available. To see them, view all Syria updates.

Political Geography Now presents the sixth update to our map of rebel control in Syria's civil war. Since last month, battle has erupted in the country's largest city, Kurds have formed a parallel government in northern towns, and more. Read on for a rundown of recent events.

Map of rebel control in Syria's Civil War (Free Syrian Army, Kurdish groups, and others), updated for August 2012
Activity and cities held by rebels and Kurdish groups in Syria, updated August 16, 2012. Map by Evan Centanni, starting from this blank map by German Wikipedia user NordNordWest. License: CC BY-SA
Battles for Damascus & Aleppo
Not long after our last Syria update, the anti-government Free Syrian Army moved into the capital city of Damascus for the first time, taking advantage of the chaos sown by their shocking assassination of the country's defense minister and two other top security officials. But after claiming control of some neighborhoods for several days, the rebels were eventually driven back into the suburbs.

Yet even as fighters were expelled from Damascus, the Free Syrian Army began moving into Aleppo, Syria's largest city. By the end of the month, the previously quiet northern metropolis was facing widespread rebel control in "an arc that [covered] eastern and southwestern districts". Al Bab, one of Aleppo's two largest satellite cities, also fell to rebel forces at the beginning of August.

Flag of Syria under the current government Country Name:  
• Syria (English)
• Sūriyya/Sūryā (Arabic)
Official Name:  
• Syrian Arab Republic (English)
• al-Jumhūriyyah al-‘Arabīyah  as-Sūriyyah (Arabic)
Capital: Damascus
Rebels Capture Border Crossings
Meanwhile, the armed opposition also launched a takeover of several major crossings along the Syrian border. On the northern boundary between Syria and Turkey, rebels took over Bab Al-Hawa crossing in Idlib province and the Bab Al-Salam and Jarabulus crossings in Aleppo province ("bab" means "gate" in Arabic).

On the eastern border with Iraq, an Iraqi official at one point claimed Syrian rebels controlled all border crossings; however, they later appeared to hold only the Al Bukamal (Abu Kamal) crossing in Deir ez-Zor province.

Kurdish Control in North
Also in July, Kurds in the north began taking control of Kurdish-populated areas. Militias serving the allied Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC) have so far seized at least nine towns (full list with sources) and parts of Qamishli, as well as two districts of Aleppo city.

These groups' goal to create a Kurdish autonomous region in the north has alarmed Turkey, which has been fighting Kurdish rebels north of the border for years. So which side of the Syrian civil war are the Kurdish groups on? For now, they oppose the government; but relations with the Arab-dominated Free Syrian Army are tense, and President al-Assad has been accused of intentionally handing over areas to the Kurdish militias in order to keep out Turkey and the other rebels. 

Country in Chaos 
Flag of Syria's Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish group which now controls many Kurd-populated towns in northern Syria
Flag of the PYD, flown in Kurdish-controlled towns (public domain)
Syria's northern Idlib province still forms the core of rebel territory (with northern Aleppo province now added), where anti-Assad groups govern most of the countryside and hold major towns such as Saraqeb, Armanaz, and Ariha. However, Deir ez-Zor in the east is also emerging as a power center for the opposition, which now claims to control 90% of the province, including "at least half" of its main city. 

Meanwhile the Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition umbrella group, has already established unofficial relations with many of the world's countries, and official diplomatic relations with eight of them. Most of those only acknowledge the SNC as "a legitimate representative" of the Syrian people; but the rebels-turned-leaders of Libya go further, recognizing the Syrian opposition group as the country's "sole legitimate government". 

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime has been suspended from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group including most of the world's Muslim countries. In the Muslim world, international opposition to al-Assad's Syrian government has been led by Saudi Arabia (a Sunni-majority country), while support has come mainly from Iran (a Shiite-majority country). Syria's President Bashar al-Assad belongs to a minority Shiite sect (the Alawites), while the majority of Syrians, including most of the rebels, are Sunnis.

Graphic of Syrian flag is in the public domain (source).