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Syrian Civil War (2011-onwards) (Syria)

Last modified: 2024-01-20 by ian macdonald
Keywords: syria | civil war |
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[2011/2012 Anti-Assad Revolt (Syria)] image by Eugene Ipavec, 09 May 2007

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In footage of the recent demonstrations against the Assad regime in Syria it appears that in several cases the protesters wave the old [1932-1958] Syrian flag (green-white-black horizontal stripes, with three five-pointed red stars on the white stripe).
Luca Peliti, 10 September 2011

I have seen this too, but only in one news report (so far). The old flag does not appear to have enjoyed the widespread spontaneous acceptance that the royal-era Libyan flag did among anti-Qadaffi protesters.
Eugene Ipavec, 11 September 2011

Today's picture shows deserters from the Syrian army who have joined the opposition; they have an old flag on the wall behind them and are holding what seems to be a handmade version. Wikipedia shows protesters holding what seems to be a sign painted to look like it.
Nachum Lamm, 17 November 2011

In recent television reports showing Syrian dissidents there does seem to be an increasingly large number of old-style Syrian flags, but not consistently so.
Kenneth Fraser, 18 November 2011

Recent news photos consistently show the pro-Assad groups waving the current flag, and the resistance (including the Free Syrian Army) are waving the gree-white-black banner. The old flag seems to be on its way to being the official resistance banner, in the same way the old Libyan flag was adopted by the NTC.
J. Tate, 25 November 2011

In a number of pictures, the stars seem to be upside-down, but that may just be the homemade quality of some of the flags. All Egyptian factions seem to be sticking with the same flag, but we'll see.
Nachum Lamm
, 27 November 2011

On 20 November 2011, members of the "France Syrie Démocratie" association have draped the facade of the Arab World Institute in Paris (France) with a huge "Syrian revolution flag". A video footage of the event can be seen on YouTube. The event's place was not randomly chosen. The Arab World Institute is a foundation established on 14 October 1980 by the governments of France and of 22 Arab countries. To promote the Arab culture in Europe, the Arab World Institute aims at "building bridges between the Arab and European cultures". Designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and built close to the Jussieu University, the Arab World Institute was inaugurated on 30 November 1987 by President François Mitterrand. The Institute, especially under the direction of Dominique Baudis (2007-2011), has often been criticized as a "showroom" conveniently used by the dictators of the region.
Ivan Sache, 29 November 2011

Civil War Actors

The Syrian uprising began in Deera, when 15 teenagers from the same family (Al-Abazeed) were arrested in early March 2011 for writing an anti-regime slogan on the wall of their school. After attempts to negotiate the release of the children were rejected by the local government, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of al-Omari Mosque on March 18, 2011 calling for reforms and end of corruption.
Soon after the gathering increased in size and it is reported that over 3000 people protested on the first day. According to activists, this protest was faced with Syrian security forces opening fire on the protesters killing 3 people. Protests continued daily and on the 20th of March, 7 police men were killed as well as least 4 protesters. During this time the local courthouse, the Ba'ath party headquarters in the city, and the Syriatel building owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Assad, were set on fire. Between 25 April and 5 May 2011, the fourth armoured division of the Syrian Army, led by Maher al-Assad (brother of Bashar), besieged Daraa. Then other cities followed military attacks, like Homs, Hama, Damascus, etc. escalating violence throughout the whole country.
The Free Syrian Army (Arabic: الجيش السوري الحر‎, al-Jaysh as-Sūrī al-Ḥurr, FSA) is a group of defected Syrian Armed Forces officers and soldiers, which was founded after the escalation of violence  afterwards, on, 29 July 2011. It was founded by five (or seven) defected Syrian officers. The group defined "all security forces attacking civilians" as their enemies, and said its goal to be "to bring down the system" or "to bring this regime down".
On September 23, 2011, the Free Syrian Army merged with the Free Officers Movement (Arabic: حركة الضباط الأحرار‎, Ḥarakat aḑ-Ḑubbāṭ al-Aḥrār).
The FSA coordinated with the Syrian National Council starting in December 2011, and supported the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces after the coalition's November 2012 creation. Between July 2012 and July 2013, ill-discipline and infighting weakened FSA, while jihadist groups entered northern Syria and became more effective than FSA. In April 2013, the US promised $123 million aid to rebels, to be funneled through the then leader of the FSA, Salim Idriss. A coalition of moderate Muslim rebel groups fighting under the Supreme Military Council of Syria, which includes the FSA, on 25 September 2014 allied with a predominantly Christian coalition called Syriac Military Council, to unite their fight against the Assad government and ISIS.
The Free Syrian Army has adopted the configuration and tactics of a guerrilla force. There are five deputy chief of staffs who are in charge of five different regions of Syria. The field units are under the direct command of nine regional commanders.
As of January 2012, the army had around 37 named battalion units, 17–23 of which appeared to be engaged in combat.
In October 2013, some 66 units fighting with the FSA in the south seceded to join the new Southern Front

Esteban Rivera, 20 November 2014

As the revolutionary wave commonly referred to as the Arab Spring  began to take shape in early 2011, Syrian protesters began consolidating opposition councils. The Civil uprising began in the city of Deera, capital of the Deera Governorate, in early March, 2011. After the government siege of this city by military means, and other cities as well as mass protests began to take place throughout the country, the first armed groups started to emerge, such as the FSA (Free Syrian Army).
However it should be noted that before this general violence erupted, there was indeed a true political and civil opposition to the Ba'athist regime much long before the protests, into what is called the Syrian
opposition. The Syrian opposition (Arabic: المعارضة السورية‎ - Al-Mu'aradah Al-Suriyah) is an umbrella term for groups and individuals calling for regime change in Syria and who oppose its Ba'athist government. The term "opposition" (Arabic "mu'araDah") is typically used to refer to traditional political actors; that is, groups and individuals who have a history of dissent against the Syrian state, rather than to describe all participants in the uprising against Assad rule in Syria. The first structures to form in the Syrian uprising were local protest-organizing committees. These formed in April, 2011, as protesters graduated from spontaneous protests to protests organized by meetings beforehand.
"The core of the grassroots civil opposition is the youth, mainly from the working and middle-classes, in which women and diverse religious and ethnic groups play active roles. Many of these activists remain non-affiliated to traditional political ideologies but are motivated by concerns for freedom, dignity, social justice and basic human rights."
 The first phase of the Syrian Revolution, from March 2011 until the start of August 2011, was characterized by a consensus for nonviolent struggle among the uprising's participants. Thus the conflict cannot be characterized as a "civil war" until the organization of armed struggle began on the anti-government side. This occurred on 29 July 2011, the date when the FSA announced its formation, allowing the conflict to meet the international political definition of "civil war."
Opposition groups in Syria took a new turn in 2011 during the Syrian Civil War as they united to form the Syrian National Council (SNC), which has received significant international support and recognition as a partner for dialogue. The Syrian National Council has been recognised or supported in some capacity by at least 17 member states of the United Nations, with three of those (France, United Kingdom and the United States being permanent members of the Security Council. A new opposition umbrella group — the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces — was formed in November 2012 and has gained recognition as the "legitimate representative of the Syrian people" by the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG) and as a "representative of aspirations of Syrian people" by the Arab League.
Both the Syrian National Council and the the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces use this flag (as already mention here)

Currently the opposing forces to the Ba'athist government are:

  • National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (see separate page)
  • Muslim Brotherhood (official websites: and  ) is and Islamist party founded in 1930. The brotherhood was behind the Islamic uprising in Syria between 1976 until 1982. The party is banned in Syria and membership became a capital offence in 1980. The current Ba'athist government of Bashar al Assad has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being key players in the Syrian uprising that escalated into a civil war. Other sources have described the group as having "risen from the ashes", "resurrected itself" to be a dominant force in the uprising.
  • Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians or Syrian Coalition of Secular and Democratic Forces (Arabic الائتلاف العلماني الديموقراطي السوري) is the nucleus of a Syrian secular and democratic opposition that appeared during the 2011–2012 Syrian uprising. It was created by the union of a dozen Muslim and Christian, Arab and Kurd parties, who called the minorities of Syria to support the fight against the  regime of Bashar al-Assad. The Coalition has also called for military intervention in Syria, under the form of a no-fly zone, with a safe zone and cities. The president of the coalition is also a member of the Syrian National Council.
  • Damascus Declaration (Arabic: إعلان دمشق‎) was a statement of unity by Syrian opposition figures issued in October 2005 signed by more than 250 opposition figures, criticizing the Syrian government as "authoritarian, totalitarian and cliquish," and called for "peaceful, gradual," reform "founded on accord, and based on dialogue and recognition of the other.
The "five small opposition groups" signing the declaration were:
  • Arab nationalist National Democratic Rally
  • Kurdish Democratic Alliance
  • Committees of Civil Society
  • Kurdish Democratic Front
  • Movement of the Future (the Syrian section).
The Movement for Justice and Development in Syria (MJD) (official website) also subscribes to the Damascus Declaration. In a series of splits 2007-2009, most members left the Damascus Declaration, leaving the MJD and SDPP (Syrian Democratic People's Party) SDPP as the only remaining factions of any consequence, along with a number of independents:
  • SDPP (Syrian Democratic People's Party) which was known until 2005 as the Syrian Communist Party (official website).
  • Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution (SCSR) (Arabic: لمجلس الأعلى للثورة السورية ‎) (official website) is a Syrian opposition group supporting the overthrow of the Bashir al-Assad government
  • Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO), (Syriac: ܡܛܟܣܬܐ ܐܬܘܪܝܬܐ ܕܝܡܩܪܛܝܬܐ; Arabic: المنظمة الآثورية الديمقراطية‎) also known as "Mtakasta/Mtakasto" (the Syrian section), founded in Syria in 1957, is the largest Assyrian political organization in Syria and Europe. The Syrian government has banned it from political life in Syria and restricted its activities in Syria.
  • Syrian Turkmen Assembly, (also called Syrian Turkmen Platform) (Wikipedia article) (official website), is a recently formed Turkmen organisation to form a coalition of Turkmen parties and groups constituted during the second organisation of Syrian Turkmen Platform on 30 March 2013, and that became the joining point of Syrian Turkmen National Bloc and Syrian Democratic Turkmen Movement, which are two different political movements to assume the leadership of Syrian Turkmens. The military wing of the assembly is Syrian Turkmen Brigades (flag), and they are against the partition of Syria after the collapse of Baath regime.
  • Syrian Democratic Turkmen Movement (Wikipedia article) is an opposition party of Syrian Turkmens, which was constituted in Istanbul on 21 March 2012.
  • Syrian Turkmen National Bloc, (Wikipedia article) (also called Syrian Turkmen Bloc) (Arabic: الكتلة الوطنية التركمانية السورية‎) is a political party in Syria, based amongst the Turkmen minority. The party was founded in Istanbul in February 15, 2012 and after its foundation, the party joined the National Change Current (a coalition of smaller opposition parties).
Local Coordination Committees of Syria (Arabic:  لجان التنسيق المحلية في سوريا‎: LCC Syria or LCCs) (official website) are a network of local groups that organise and report on protests as part of the Syrian uprising. It was described as the main organization behind the civil protests when the revolt started in 2011. The network supported civil disobedience and opposed local armed resistance and international military intervention as methods of opposing the Syrian government.
  • FSA (Free Syrian Army) (flag) which at the beginning was the first and most important military force opposing the Ba'athist regime.
  • Islamic opposition groups, which are the following:
  • Hizb ut-Tahrir (Arabic: حزب التحريرḤizb at-Taḥrīr; Party of  Liberation) (official website) (the Syrian section) is an international pan-Islamic political organisation. They are commonly associated with the goal of all Muslim countries unifying as an Islamic state or caliphate ruled by Islamic law (sharia) and with a caliph head of state elected by Muslims.
  • al-Nusra Front is a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon.
  • Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) (Arabic: الجبهة الإسلامية السورية‎ al-Jabhah al-Islāmiyya as-Sūriyyah) was a Salafist umbrella organisation of Islamist rebel groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria during the Syrian civil war formed on December 21, 2012. Its largest group was the Salafist Ahrar ash-Sham, which reportedly "lead" and "dominated" the Front. The group was founded by eleven Islamist rebel groups on 21 December 2012:
  • Ahrar ash-Sham Islamic Movement (which comprises the Ahrar ash-Sham Battalions) (official website)
  • al-Ahrar Battalions
  • al-Haqq Brigade in Homs (or Liwa al-Haqq (Homs)) (official website)
  • al-Iman Fighting Brigades
  • Ansar al-Sham (official website)
  • Al-Fajr Islamic Movement
  • Haqq Battalions Gathering (Hama)
  • Jamaat al-Talia al-Islamiya
  • Jaysh al-Tawhid (or Liwa al-Tawhid, or al-Tawhid Brigade (Arabic: لواء التوحيد‎, English: Unity Brigade))
  • Musab Bin Umair (or Moussaab bin Omeir) Battalion
  • Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib Brigade
Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF) (Arabic: جبهة تحرير سوريا الإسلامية‎, Jabhat Tahrīr Sūriyā al-Islāmiyyah) (official website) (the flag features their logo), was a coalition of Islamist rebel brigades who fought against the Bashar al-Assad government in the Syrian civil war. By late 2012, it was one of the strongest armed coalitions in Syria, representing up to half of Bashar al-Assad's armed opponents. In late November 2013, Suqour al-Sham, Al-Tawhid Brigade and Jaysh al-Islam, the largest and most influential members of the Front, announced that they were joining the Islamic Front. On 25 November 2013, a statement appeared on the SILF website announcing that the group was ceasing all operations. The group did not include the jihadist Al-Nusra Front, and Ahrar ash-Sham withdrew from the group in  protest at the killing of a jihadist leader by one of the other groups. It was composed of the following:
  • Suqour al-Sham Brigade
  • Jaysh al-Islam
  • Al-Tawhid Brigade
  • Farouq Brigades
  • Ansar al-Islam Gathering Council
  • Liwa al-Fath, Battalion of Conquest, (Aleppo)
  • Deir ez-Zor Revolutionary Council
  • Tajamo Ansar al-Islam
  • Amr Ibn al-Aas Brigade
  • al-Naser Salaheddin Brigade
  • Liwa Dawud
  • Hawks Sham brigades
  • Farouq Islamic Brigades
  • Banner of Islam
  • Unification Brigade
  • Deir ez-Zor Revolutionary Council
  • Furqan Brigade (Damascus)
  • Furqan Brigade (Al-Quneitra)
  • Ahrar al-Shamal Brigades (Idlib, Hama)
  • Ebad Idlib al-Rahman Brigades of Maarat al-Naaman
  • Open Brigade (Aleppo)
  • Brigade of Homs (Homs)
  • Mohammed bin Abdullah Brigade (Homs)
  • Return of the Martyr Ahmed Battalion (Homs)
  • National Liberation Movement (Homs)
  • Household Brigade (Hama)
  • Brigades of God (Lattakia)
  • Izz ibn Abd al-Salam Brigades (Lattakia)
  • Council of Banias (Tartous)
  • Tartous Military Council (Tartous)[184]
  • Amr Ibn al-Aas Brigades
  • Fateh Brigades
  • Kurdish Suqour Brigades
  • Iman Brigades
  • Independence Gathering (the SILF then ceased to exist and turned into the Islamic Front with the strongest factions uniting).
Islamic Front (Arabic: ‏الجبهة الإسلامية‎, al-Jabhat al-Islāmiyyah) (official website) was formed on November 22, 2013 as a coalition of major rebel groups in Syria.
The coalition is comprised of:
  • Harakat Ahrar as-Sham
  • Suqur as-Sham
  • Liwa at-Tawhid
  • Jaysh al-Islam
  • Jabhat al-Kurdiyya
  • Liwa al-Haqq
  • Ahrar as-Sham
This new coalition is not to be confused with the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) or the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SLF/SILF). The same day The Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), which was formed in December 2012, was dissolved by Harakat Ahrar as-Sham’s Hassan Abboud in favor of the new Islamic Front. It should also be known that there is an established Kashmiri group with the same name but no affilitation with the Syrian Islamic Front whatsoever.
  • ISIS: ISIS was preceded by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), that was established during October 2006, and comprised of various insurgent groups, most significantly the original Al Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI) organization, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia - led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq, and Jund al-Sahhaba (Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions), which was integrated into the ISI. ISIS members' allegiance was given to the ISI commander and not al-Qaeda central command. The organisation known as the ISIS was formed during April 2013 and has evolved in one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq.
  • Other opposition groups, which are mainly secular groups, and they are:
  • National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCC or NCB, for National Coordination Bureau) (official website) an opposition bloc chaired by Hassan Abdel Azim consisting of about 13 mostly left-leaning political parties and independent political activists, including three Kurdish political parties, and youth activists, operating within Syria and abroad.
  • National Democratic Rally (official website) a banned opposition alliance formed in 1980 comprising five political parties of a secularist, pan-Arabist, Arab nationalist and socialist bent, formed by the Democratic Arab Socialist Union, Syrian Democratic People's Party (official website), Arab Revolutionary Workers Party, Movement of Arab Socialists (or Arab Socialist Movement), Democratic Socialist Arab Ba'ath Party. In 2006, Communist Labour Party joined the coalition. The Rally originally signed the Damascus Declaration, but most members later split from the group. Among the Rally parties, only the SDPP is now active in the SNC, while most others have joined the NCC, a rival opposition alliance.
  • National Salvation Front in Syria (official website)
  • Syriac Union Party (official website)
  • Syria Martyrs' Brigade (or Idlib Martyrs' Brigade or Liwa Shuhada’ Idlib) first operated under the name Syrian Liberation Army, but had renamed itself by June 2012. It is an armed insurgent group fighting against the Syrian government in the Idlib province of Syria.It is a loose coalition of localized forces, mostly composed of armed Syrian civilians who have joined the uprising.
  • Syrian National Democratic Council: formed in Paris on 13 November 2011 during the Syrian civil war by Rifaat al-Assad, uncle of Bashar al-Assad. Rifaat has his own political organisation, the United National Democratic Rally.
  • Syrian Revolution General Commission: Syrian coalition of 40 Syrian opposition groups to unite their efforts during the Syrian civil war that was announced on 19 August 2011 in Istanbul.
There's also Kurd opposition, in the form of:
  • Kurdish Supreme Committee, which is the governing body of Kurdish-held regions in Syria founded by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and Kurdish National Council following cooperation agreement between the two sides, signed on 12 July of 2012, in Erbil under auspice of the Iraqi Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani.
  • Popular Protection Units: Paramilitary fighting against the Syrian government in Syrian Kurdistan. The group was founded by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and Kurdish National Council and is responsible for maintaining order and protecting the lives of residents in Kurdish neighbourhoods.
  • Parliamentary opposition, represented by several factions calling for either a change of direction under Assad, or for the replacement of Assad and the continuation of the Ba'athist government, which are the following:
  • Popular Front for Change and Liberation

Other minor parties and political movements that were allowed to be established in 2012 as peaceful and loyal opposition groups, but in recent events have actully shifted towards the opposition itself (A new law on political parties was enacted along with constitutional reforms in 2012, allowing for new parties outside the National Progressive Front and thus officially permitting opposition to the government. New parties were subsequently licensed: the National Development Party, Al-Ansar Party, People's Party, Solidarity Party, Syria the Homeland Party (Souria al-Watan), Democratic Vanguard Party, Syrian Democratic Party, Syrian National Youth Party for Justice and Development, Syrian National Youth Party, and Arab Democratic Solidarity Party. It is thought the new parties would function as "loyal opposition", although those that took part enjoyed little success in the 2012 parliamentary election. Some, such as the National Development Party and Al-Ansar, have subsequently shifted towards an anti- government stance, including talks with groups closer to the SNC).
So, all in all, the Syrian opposition can be classified as the following (and sometimes they have had armed confrontations among some of them.

- Anti Ba'ahtisth political parties and personalities
- Syrian Civilians
- Syrian armed groups (including its political movements)
- Islamists (political and armed groups)
- Kurds (political and armed groups)
- Syriacs (Assyrians) (political and armed groups)
Esteban Rivera, 20 November 2014

Pro-government Forces

National Defence Force is a branch of Syrian Armed Forces, formed after summer 2012 as a part-time volunteer reserve component of the Syrian military, organized by the Syrian government during the Syrian Civil War.

The Syrian Resistance formerly known as the "Popular Front for the Liberation of the Sanjak of Iskandarun"; c. 2015.

Al-Quds Brigade is a predominantly Palestinians in Syria brigade that operates as a part of pro-Syrian government forces in the Syrian Civil War (since 2013).
Esteban Rivera, 23 October 2023

Zainab Brigade
Harakat al-Nujaba (Iraq) - even though this group was established with influence in Iraq as it emerged in 2013 as an offshoot of the Iraqi Shi'ite militia group Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (source: it has taken active action in the Syrian Civil War on the Pro-Government side (source: 
Esteban Rivera, 14 November 2023

Zulfiqar Brigade