Moreover, over 6 million Syrians qualify as "internally displaced people". There are hardly any young civilians left in Syria: they are either dead, enrolled in the army or militias, or they are hiding to escape forced conscription. According to the UNESCO, only 37% of Syrian children have access to primary education (compared to 91% before 2011). 11% of hospitals were destroyed and 45% damaged. It is estimated that a third of the urban fabric has been destroyed. There is virtually no production facilities left, and most of the strategic resources - hydroelectric dams, hydrocarbon fields, phosphate mines (surrendered to the Russians) - circumvent the control of the Damascus authorities.
Master of the ruins
Politically, Assad is considered to be the winner of the ending civil war. However, a third of Syrian territory remains in the hands of the Turks in the North, of Kurdish militias supported by the Americans in the North-West, and of a last yet very powerful group of jihadists (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS) in Idlib province. On the other hand, the Syrian President is hardly anything more than the proxy of the Iranians and the Russians who, from 2012 for the former and 2015 for the latter, have saved his regime and are painstakingly sustaining it. Shiite militias of all nationalities are crisscrossing the country, and Russian and Iranian officers are infiltrating all chains of command.
The expression "Syria, year zero" can also be used to mean something else. Eight years later, nothing is really settled for the Syrians, nor for the many regional or international players who have turned the Syrian crisis into what can be called a globalized civil war.
In Syria, Russian and Iranian supporters of Bashar al-Assad's regime anticipate that the latter will inevitably be consolidated. They are counting on the population’s weariness to gradually restore order. They note a beginning of a normalization of relations with other Arab countries, with, for instance, the reopening of the United Arab Emirates Embassy, and recent discussions regarding Syria's readmission to the Arab League. The Russians keep telling the Europeans that a positive attitude towards the reconstruction of the country would benefit them if they want to facilitate the return of refugees. According to Moscow’s narrative, there is a risk that Europeans will lose all leverage if they don’t commit on this matter, which would lead their traditional presence in the Levant to be replaced by that of China.