Methodology

MAP LAYOUT

All screenshots are taken from a single, all-encompassing map of Syria, which can be viewed in its entirety by clicking the “????? | Syria” tab at the top of the page. Satellite imagery – without place-name labels – serves as the background or ‘base map’, and a set of color-coded polygon overlays divides the territory into meaningfully-sized zones. Administratively, Syria is divided into roughly 281 subdistricts.

The zones presented in this map represent Syria’s 281 subdistricts

These are viewed best on the “????? | Syria” and “????? | Districts” pages. Though some subdistricts are split into multiple zones, no zone is split across multiple subdistricts. This is especially true in governorate centers. Each subdistrict belongs to one of 65 districts, and each district to one of 14 governorates; one subdistrict in each governorate acts as the ‘central subdistrict’ and hosts the ‘governorate capital city.’

In this map, 10 of Syria’s 14 central subdistricts are broken down even further, to between 12 and 90 distinct neighborhoods within city limits, and two or more northern, southern, eastern, and/or western ‘fronts’ outside city limits.

Subdistricts covering large amounts of territory are also split into multiple zones, for one of two reasons. Large subdistricts with an even population distribution are divided into zones whose population groupings consistently produce differing statuses. The western portion of a subdistrict containing a major highway, for example, might be reliably controlled by the government while the rural, eastern half’s villages serve as long-standing, committed HQs to small rebel outfits; when these locations do not become mutual targets, the subdistrict does not really qualify as ‘contested’ through-and-through, and so it is better to divide it into multiple zones. Large subdistricts with uneven population distributions are also divided into zones. Most often, the result is one small zone encompassing the subdistrict’s central city and villages in its relative vicinity, and a second, larger zone that is mostly uninhabited; occasionally, a third zone is necessary to indicate an area of particular strategic importance, such as a major military base or airport, or energy or transportation infrastructure.

 

MAP KEY EXPLANATION: WHAT’S IN A COLOR?

All zone color-codes either indicate an intensity of conflict or general religio-political leaning of the group currently exercising control.

Light red indicates minor conflict, a medium red indicates moderate conflict, and a deep red indicates major conflict.

A red zone indicates conflict, and the different shades of red indicate the varying severities of conflict.

Generally, yellow indicates government control, green indicates Kurdish control, and blue indicates opposition control.

All other colors indicate control, meaning the group is facing insignificant political opposition from locals, and experiencing only a few, small scale attacks from military/armed opponents. Different shades of control color-codes do not, however, indicate a weaker or stronger degree of control in the way that different shades of red indicated weaker or stronger degrees of conflict.

Light blue indicates a secular-nationalist group, medium blue indicates secular-Islamist coordination or unaffiliated rebels, dark blue indicates moderate Islamist rebels, and the darkest blue indicates extreme Islamist (but still nationalist) rebels.

Because there are multiple competing ideological movements among the opposition, each containing multiple distinct, even if allied, groups, it would be unhelpful for each group to have a unique color-code in this map. Instead, allied and like-minded groups share a color-code under one of several broad categories defined by characteristics such as religiosity, secularism, sect, political affiliation, stated objective of engaging in armed opposition, etc. Opposition groups fall under one of four categories spanning the spectrum of nationalist to religious extremist; the primary examples in each of these four groups, respectively, are the Free Syrian Army, unaffiliated rebels, the Islamic Front, and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Black indicates control by ISIL.

Continuing the rationale of darker shades for more religiously extreme outfits, the next group in this list would be the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS), which, in the opinion of this website, exemplifies a 100 percent Islamic extremist, 0 percent Syrian-nationalist ideology.

A lack of a color-code indicates a lack of conflict, control, and/or data/reporting.

If a zone representing a neighborhood has no color indicator, the status is unclear due to a lack of data/reporting. If a zone does not represent a neighborhood (i.e., it represents a non-city portion or the whole of a subdistrict), it could also mean that the population density is not high enough to warrant a meaningful classification for the territory covered in that zone.

For a breakdown of what how these classifications are determined, read the next section on “Event Classification.”

 

EVENT CLASSIFICATION: WHAT’S IN A NAME?

What does it mean for an area to be experiencing ‘minor’ vs. ‘moderate’ conflict? How much actual control does ISIL have over a black area?

The weekly status of a subdistrict is the collective status of multiple weekly statuses of locations within that district; the weekly status of a location is a sum of that location’s daily statuses throughout the week.

There are many steps involved, beginning with a single event in a single location on a single day and ending with many events in multiple locations across seven to eight days, in determining a zone’s color code. Though only the concepts, and not the algebra, behind the classification system are discussed below, all of the event types are assigned numerical values and evaluated according to multiple standardized equations to preserve objectivity and week-to-week consistency.

Minor, moderate, and major conflicts represent the degree to which a group’s control over a zone is challenged, and does not necessarily correlate with the number of casualties.

Since each subdistrict represents a grouping of multiple locations (e.g. small towns, military bases, a subdistrict’s local capital, etc), subdistricts’ color-codes are actually an “average” of these locations’ hypothetical (since they are never actually displayed) color-codes. For each location, a hypothetical color-code is determined by evaluating the sum of the events recorded on separate days of the week; remember, a color-coded zone on a single screenshot indicates that zone’s general status for an entire week. Different types of events are weighted as either minor, moderate, or major conflict to reflect their varying significance.

Minor conflicts are acts of aggression that indicate a lack of ability on the part of the aggressor to carry out a sustained, direct offensive.

Generally, minor conflict is any sort of remote bombing, such as shelling, mortars, car bombs, or other improvised explosives and traps. Even sniper fire, if originating in a different zone than its target, is treated as an instance of minor conflict; sniper fire originating and ‘ending’ in the same zone, however, is treated as moderate conflict, since it implies simultaneous presence of opposing belligerents. Again, many instances of ‘minor conflict’ can be extremely devastating and deliver high casualties, even higher than face-to-face small-arms clashes. They imply, however, that one side does not have a presence within the target location, and so these instances carry less significance when evaluating the degree to which control over a particular zone is contested.

Moderate conflicts are acts of aggression that indicate an ability on the part of the aggressor to carry out a sustained or direct offensive.

Generally, moderate conflict is any instance of combat that has the potential or intent to seize control over a location. Again, many instances of ‘moderate conflict’ result in few casualties, much less than some instances of minor conflict, such as barrel bombing or artillery shelling. They imply, however, that no one side has decisive control over a location, and so instances of moderate conflict carry more significance when evaluating the degree to which control over a particular zone is contested.

The locations’ events are then evaluated to produce an ‘average’ for the week. After adding up the amount of days that are The locations’ ‘week averages’ can be either minor, moderate, or major conflict. The locations’ week averages are then combined to produce a minor-moderate-major classification for the subdistrict as a whole. If no conflict occurred in a subdistrict, and a group is known to control or have recently been in control of that subdistrict, then the subdistrict is ‘awarded’ to that group and indicated by the appropriate color on the map.

A control color-code could indicates a very low level of conflict, and the clear influence of a particular (type of) group in that zone.

Control color-codes are first and foremost an indicator of very low levels of conflict for a particular week.

Since control color-codes function as absolutes (i.e. a group either does or does not control a zone – there is no indication of the degree of control), and any significant conflict (from minor to major) automatically voids any group’s ‘control’ of that zone for that week, a control color-code implies that little or no conflict occurred in that zone.

Control color-codes are determined by evaluating: the victor(s) of recent conflict, the views expressed in demonstrations/protests, and/or a zone’s historical record, politically speaking.

A control color-code does not necessarily indicate a group’s robust, unshakable grip of power in a zone. A light blue color-code does not necessarily mean, for example, that the FSA is even present in that zone, but simply that the people there are ideological supporters of the FSA at the very least.

 

SOURCES

(all sources in Arabic)

Smart News Agency {http://smartnews-agency.com/}
Al-Monitor’s ‘Syria Pulse’ {http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ar/syria-pulse}
CNN Arabic {http://arabic.cnn.com/middle_east}
Syrian Center for Documentation {http://centerfordocumentation.com/news.php?lang=ar}
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights {syriahr.com}
Shaam News Network {http://sham24.tv/}