Making sense of Syria, right now.
[Subject to change without notice.]
The former state of Syria consists of Damascus plus some Russian bases, surely Russian-controlled, near the ruins of the former city of Aleppo. This Damascus entity is sorta non-sectarian and certainly not planning to conquer any other state (except perhaps, in its dreams, the Islamic State, which is not quite a state). The Islamic State, which controls a lot of sand that belonged to the former Syrian state (as defined by European colonialists a century ago) certainly is planning to conquer other states. CLUE: that makes them a threat. Northeast of the Damascus entity is Rojava, an idea that seems to be getting real.
Rojava crouches in a corner, surrounded by Turkey, the Damascus entity, and the Islamic State. This would be a curious place for anything, but it may work since the military force of Rojava allegedly sends targeting information to the Russian air force and is hosting U.S. forces at new air bases not controlled by the U.S. With the backing of both wannabe superpowers, how can Rojava lose?
Thus, Rojava constitutes a relatively non-sectarian, non-crusading but certainly nationalistic entity that does not sound threatening at all but constitutes a wall separating avowed Salafi jihadi Islamic State from increasingly militant Sunni Turkey and rampaging Sunni Salafi but technically not jihadi (in the violent sense) Saudi Arabia, wrecking whatever joint Sunni Crusading Dreams the others may entertain. Threatening or not, Rojava is valuable to both wannabe superpowers for precisely that reason and has a very big target painted on its head.
Overlaid on all this are two large conceptual entities: the Russian Mideast zone of influence and the Iranian Mideast zone of influence, neatly co-terminous at the moment but both semi-independently fluid, plus a smaller Lebanese Hezbollah zone of influence that is just at the moment shrinking a bit inside Lebanon but doing quite well inside the Damascus entity. Right now, none of the seeming contradictions in this paragraph are actual contradictions, but all have the potential to become so very quickly.
Oh, yes, then there are some five million former residents of the former state of Syria who might wish to return home and, well, participate in the political process, as the saying goes.
So, there you have it: a verbal description of a snapshot in time of a 3-D (recall the overlays!) depiction of the highly complex, self-organizing, rapidly adapting situation in the middle of the Middle East.