How Bashar Assad rose from a comfortable childhood to become one of the deadliest world leaders in modern history

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Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks to French journalists in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on January 9, 2017.
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SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been widely accused of war crimes for the mass torture and killings carried out by his military throughout more than six years of civil war.

Assad has managed to cling to power thanks to a brutal scorched earth campaign on Syrian rebel groups and civilians, with the help of Russian warplanes and Iranian proxy militias.

The embattled president’s rise to power was initially met with optimism in the west, where it was believed the younger Assad would not rule with as heavy a hand as his father. But when protests inspired by the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, Assad responded with force.

Here is a look at Assad’s rise and continued stronghold on Syria, which has been gripped by one of the most catastrophic conflicts in decades.


Born on September 11, 1965, Bashar Assad is the third child of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad and his wife Anisa.

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Former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad with his family in the early 1970s.
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Wikipedia

Source: CNN


As the second son of a president who came to power after a coup, Assad was never expected to take over the presidency from his father.

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Bashar Assad came from a prominent Syrian family.
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YouTube Screenshot (SC Videos)

Source: CNN


Assad received a medical degree from the University of Damascus and moved to study ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital in London.

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Instagram / Syrian Presidency

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica


After his older brother Bassel was killed in a car accident in 1994, Bashar was immediately called back to Syria to be trained as the heir to his father’s presidency.

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Bashar Assad is the second son of late Syrian President Hafez Assad.
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Wikipedia Commons

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica


Between 1994-2000, Assad received training at the Syrian military academy and headed an anticorruption campaign organized by his father.

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Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia’s RIA new agency, in Damascus, Syria in this handout file picture provided by SANA on March 30, 2016.
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Reuters

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica


When Hafez Assad died in 2000, Bashar took his place. Even though the country had an official election, Assad was presented as the only candidate and came away with more than 97 percent of the vote.

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REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Source: Associated Press


The year he became President, Assad married his wife, the London-born Asma Akhras. Between 2000-2011, the couple had three children.

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YouTube/Reporters Without Borders

Source: CNN and AFP


Assad quickly gained a reputation, however, for cracking down on freedom of expression and detaining and torturing his political opponents.

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Flickr/Thierry Ehrmann

Source: Human Rights Watch


As the Arab Spring protests rocked the Middle East in 2011, Syrians came out en masse to protest the detention and torture of three teenagers who had scribbled revolutionary graffiti on the wall of their school.

Source: BBC


Assad responded with force. By the end of 2011, the country had descended into civil war between Assad loyalists and rebel fighters, many of whom had no prior military experience.

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Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad walk past damaged buildings in the government held Sheikh Saeed district of Aleppo, during a media tour,
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Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

Source: BBC


The war has killed more than 400,000 people, destroyed most of the country’s cities and infrastructure, and spawned the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

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Smoke rises as seen from a governement-held area of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.
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Omar Sanadik/Reuters

Source: BBC


Amid the raging civil war, the Assad regime organized a presidential election in 2014 and won by nearly 90 percent of the vote. The election results were widely denounced as a farce.

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Bashar al-Assad (centre) looks on as his wife Asma casts her vote in Syria’s presidential election, at a polling station in Maliki on June 3, 2014.
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Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA)/AFP

Source: The Guardian


Assad was accused of killing more than 1,000 people using sarin gas in the outskirts of Syria’s capital, Damascus, in 2013. The Obama administration brokered a deal with Russia to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, but the regime has been blamed for another sarin attack carried out earlier this month that killed more than 70 people.

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A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria, April 4, 2017.
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REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

Source: Business Insider


As Assad’s government continued to bomb areas with large civilian populations, numerous world leaders and representatives of the UN have accused the Syrian President of war crimes against his own people.

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Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks to French journalists in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on January 9, 2017.
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SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Source: CNN


Russia entered the war on behalf of Assad in September 2015, targeting rebel groups with airstrikes. Many of those groups were backed by Washington, creating a de facto proxy war between Russia, Iran, and Syria, on one side, and the US and its allies on the other.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad enter a hall during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.
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REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Source: Al Jazeera


The prolonged fighting has spawned the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Half of Syria’s pre-war population is now internally displaced or seeking shelter in the US, Europe, or elsewhere in the Middle East — primarily Jordan and Turkey.

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A Syrian refugee gives thanks to God as he arrives in an overcrowded dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey September 23, 2015.
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Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

Source: Unicef


Asma Assad, who was once profiled in Vogue, has quickly lost favor in the international community. A video petition asking her to stop the war has been launched on YouTube.

Source: The Atlantic and YouTube


US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said recently that Assad’s reign in Syria is “coming to an end.” But with Russia and Iran staunchly backing the embattled president, it’s unclear how the west will leverage his ouster.

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Reuters

Source: Business Insider