Security Scenarios for Syria in 2021-2022

Security Syria

Security Scenarios for Syria in 2021-2022

By Serhat Erkmen, Nicholas A. Heras, Kirill Semenov


Syria is a geographic entity divided into three main zones of control, each ruled by local actors with the strong and seemingly indefinite support of powerful foreign actors. These three zones are one zone in western, central, and eastern Syria controlled by the Syrian government, a second zone in northwest and northern Syria along the Syrian-Turkish border controlled by the Syrian opposition and supported by Turkey and a third zone in northeast Syria controlled by the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria (AANES) and its military the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - which is supported by the United States and several of its  allies that are part of the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The common perception by observers of the Syrian conflict is that it is frozen; that Syria will be indefinitely divided into these different territorial zones of control.

This assumption obscures the fact though that a significant amount of fluidity on the ground within Syria's three main zones of control is possible. Each of these zones has its own unique characteristics and local customs that must be understood to draw broader assessments on how the wider Syrian conflict might be resolved one day.

The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), convened a select group of Syria experts - Serhat Erkmen from Turkey, Nicholas A. Heras from the United States, and Kirill Semenov from Russia - to analyze the security dynamics in each of the zones and to assess the future scenarios over the next year that could develop in those zones and in the interactions between them.

The ideas expressed are those of the authors not the publisher or the authors' affiliation.

Published in July 2021

All rights reserved to GCSP

Part of the Syria Transition Challenges Project 

Serhat Erkmen’s research focuses primally on Iraq and Syria examining jihadist groups and foreign terrorist fighters. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the International Security and Terrorism Department of the Gendarmerie and Coast Guard Academy in Turkey. Previously, he was research fellow at the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies, senior fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies and head of Middle East and African desk at the 21st Turkey Institute. Dr Erkmen has conducted extensive research in Iraq and Syria on the security situation, regional/local politics and social dynamics under for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other institutions. He received his Ph.D. from the Social Sciences Institute of Ankara University.


Nicholas A. Heras is the Senior Fellow and Program Head for State Resilience and Fragility at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy. Prior to the Newlines Institute, he was the Director of Government Relations and the Middle East Security Program Manager at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). While the Middle East Security Program Manager at ISW, he was responsible for providing strategic oversight and implementing Open-Source Intelligence best practices for a number of portfolios, including the ISIS and Syria portfolios. Heras was the Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a Senior Analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, responsible for research and analysis pertaining to ISIS and Syria among other issues concerning the security of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel/Sahara region. Heras also served as a Research Associate at the U.S. National Defense University where he worked on a project for the U.S. Central Command that included tracking the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah Network that was deployed to Syria, and at the American University Center for Global Peace where he managed research for a project focused on Syria for the U.S. State Department. He has extensive field research experience studying ISIS and Syria on the ground in the Middle East, including in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Syria. Heras has briefed a wide range of stakeholders concerned with ISIS and Syria, including for the U.S. government, U.S. military, U.S. allied governments, international organisations, international non-governmental organisations, and international corporations that conduct business in the Middle East. 


Kirill Semenov is a military affairs expert and political analyst. His research focuses on the conflicts in the Middle East, with a strong emphasis on Syria, Yemen and Libya. He is a non-resident expert of the Russian International Affairs Council and a columnist for Al-Monitor. He is the author of numerous articles in the Russian media, several studies and chapters of books on conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen and the Syrian opposition. He served in the Russian state civil service from 2000 to 2011.