In 2011, nationwide protests calling for expanded political freedoms and the subsequent military response to these protests sparked the Syrian Civil War, which has dragged on for four and a half years. The conflict, which initially pitted anti-government forces against those loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, has since escalated into a region-wide battlefield ensnaring combatants from across the globe.
The war has taken a cataclysmic toll on the country. In 2014, the World Bank estimated that four in five Syrians were living in poverty, and unemployment has skyrocketed from 15 percent in 2011 to 58 percent at the end of 2014. Furthermore, the United Nations estimates that nearly 4 million refugees have fled the country with another 7.5 million people internally displaced. Worst of all, the U.N. reported this year that at least 220,000 people have perished since the war started. Explore the all-encompassing devastation that the war has wrought in the images below (warning: some images are graphic):
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A protester faces off with riot police near Homs.The Atlantic
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In January 2012, protesters gathered after Friday prayers in Homs. The signs, taken during the initial days of unrest, read: "Your conscience is on trial" and "To the free world; we are waiting for you as we die."The Atlantic
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The northwestern city of Idlib was a locus for resistance during the initial civil uprising. Taken in February 2012, protesters burn an image of Bashar al-Assad.the Guardian
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A demonstrator in Homs throws a canister of tear gas back at government security forces. In December 2011, the Syrian government released the gas against the population.The Atlantic
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In 2012, protesters in Kfar Nebel voice their displeasure at outside powers--specifically Russia and China--who continue to support President Assad.The Atlantic
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Executions have become a regular facet of life under ISIS: as of July 2015, 3,027 people have been executed by ISIS.
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The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant--commonly referred to as ISIS or Daesh--has been the most successful among non-state groups at recruiting fighters. Their videos of gruesome executions have been among their most popular tools at attracting new recruits, especially on social media. In this video, a group of supposed spies for the Syrian regime is bound in a cage and slowly lowered into a pool until they drown.
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Meanwhile, Kurds have used the Syrian and ISIS conflict as a means to seize territory and gain political support. Here, a Kurdish fighter offers her thoughts on fighting ISIS during a campaign in the northern city of Kobani. The full video of the interview is available below the gallery.
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Atrocities and human rights violations have been documented against all sides in the conflict. Above, a man shows scars from torture he reportedly received at a government detention center.The Atlantic
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Abboud, 12, and his brother Deeb, 14, both joined the Free Syrian Army following the death of their two brothers.NBCNews.com
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As manpower has steadily decreased over the war's duration, parties on all sides have enlisted soldiers as young as 11.NBCNews.com
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In March 2012, a father teaches his 11-year-old son how to use a toy rocket launcher. This photograph, taken in Idlib, Syria, would win a Pulitzer Prize.BBC News
Rebels in Aleppo play with a bird they recently discovered in an abandoned apartment. A mannequin in the background acts as a decoy for government snipers.www.reuters.com
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Even among carnage, everyday life still manages to carry on. Here, a fruit vendor offers his goods among the destruction in Aleppo.AFP Photo Department on Twitter
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To stabilize life in conflict zones, civilians have stacked buses to act as makeshift shields against government snipers.Mail Online
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On their way to school, young boys pass by buses stacked on top of each other to prevent sniper fire.Mail Online
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Though tanks are far from ideal in urban combat, the Syrian military has relied heavily on armored vehicles throughout the war. Destroyed tanks are now a regular part of the Syrian landscape.
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After years of intense urban warfare, groups have adapted to make use of their surroundings. Travel systems including building-to-building entrances and underground tunnels. These systems are vital as they allow combatants to freely move without making themselves vulnerable in open areas.www.reuters.com
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Lacking many military supplies at the onset of the civil war, rebel groups were forced to make use of what was available. In 2012, a car in Homs has been converted into an armored vehicle.The Atlantic
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A combatant uses a slingshot to launch a grenade.
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While approximately four million Syrian refugees now live in neighboring countries, over 7.5 million people are estimated to be internally displaced within Syria. Overall, a little over half of the pre-war Syrian population is now considered displaced.
Displaced people have erected makeshift tent villages, as evidenced by this village near the Turkish border.The Atlantic
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A Syrian girl uses a bucket to retrieve water for her family in a Turkish refugee camp. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees estimates that over one million Syrians now reside within Turkey.Telegraph.co.uk
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Two girls poke their heads out of their school in a displaced persons camp in Atmeh, Syria.The Atlantic
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Taken in February 2014, several thousand Syrians wait for food to be distributed by the United Nations in a battered Damascus.All That Is Interesting
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A family of civilians injured during fighting arrives at an Aleppo hospital. Recent reporting from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that over 60,000 civilians have died so far in the conflict.
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A wounded rebel rests in an Aleppo warehouse that has been converted into a field hospital.VICE
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Free Syrian Army fighters in Aleppo relax below their weapons in 2012.The Atlantic
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A Free Syrian Army fighter in Mleiha, near Damascus.
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In the Kurdish People's Protection Units--commonly known as the YPG--between five and ten thousand women actively serve and have been instrumental in battles against ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq.the Guardian
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A sniper from an unidentified rebel group looks out of a sniper's nest in Aleppo.The Times
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In Damascus, necessity proves to be the mother of invention. CNN