"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. I have to live in Syria and die in Syria." - Bashar al-Assad, 2012.
In December 2010, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor's self-immolation triggered protests that spread from his hometown in Sidi Bouzid to cities across the country. The next month, on January 14, the country's autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country. This would be the start of what became known as the "Arab Spring", which ultimately saw anti-government protests responded to with violence, reform, or both in countries across the Middle East. In Syria, the protests that began as early as January 2011 and increased in intensity the following March devolved into a complex armed conflict that involves multiple armed groups and wages to this day. Like the other dictators, Bashar al-Assad faced popular demonstrations against his regime at the height of the Arab Spring, but he steadfastly refused to step down from power, and the protests against him and his government quickly turned violent, which eventually enveloped Syria in a civil war that has already killed over 400,000, created over four-million refugees, and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
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