Citing a pattern of widespread, systematic human rights abuses, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said the Damascus regime may have been guilty of "crimes against humanity."
As the death toll mounted, some activists began arming themselves. The rebels referred to themselves collectively as the Free Syrian Army. Their ranks were bolstered by soldiers and officers who defected from the Syrian military and security forces.
After a year of bloody fighting, rebels succeeded in pushing the Syrian military back from many towns and villages, particularly in the north of the country.
With the exception of Aleppo, which is divided between loyalists and insurgents, the government still maintains its hold on Syria's largest cities. It has resorted increasingly to airstrikes, artillery barrages and surface-to-surface missile attacks to reach rebel-held areas where loyalist ground troops no longer operate.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Maqda, in an interview last month, said the government will win the war.
Al-Maqdad defended the regime's shelling, calling it a reaction to the opposition's violence.
"This is not our option," he said. "This is the option they imposed on us to defend our own people and our own cities. What we are demanding is a stop to all these actions and to come to the table where we discuss all our grievances together."
Meanwhile, the rebels have evolved both militarily and ideologically. They profited from the capture of long stretches of border with neighboring Turkey. Turkey has provided a pipeline for smuggled weapons, ammunition and foreign volunteer fighters.
Changing face of the opposition movement
As the conflict dragged on, hardline Islamist groups have surged to the forefront of the armed rebellion. One group in particular, an Al Qaeda-linked movement labeling itself the Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for devastating car bombs that killed government officials and innocent bystanders in the Syrian capital.
"During the peaceful demonstration days, I was one of the people who did not know who the Nusra Front was," said Abu Mariam. "We had one revolution and one revolutionary flag. But when we started getting weapons, when the Nusra Front came here, divisions started emerging between the people."
Two years in to the revolution, Abu Mariam still lives in his neighborhood of Bustan al Kaser in the divided city of Aleppo. In an increasingly bombed-out city with hardly any electricity or fuel, Abu Mariam and his followers continue to organize protests and struggle to distribute humanitarian assistance to the growing ranks of desperate Syrians.
But it is clear that the truck driver-turned-activist has a hard time recognizing the opposition movement he once embraced.
Twice in four weeks, Abu Mariam said he had been beaten by anti-government rebels.
Last February, fighters from an Islamist court led by the Nusra Front briefly detained Abu Mariam.
"The Sharia Authority of the Nusra Front and other Islamist brigades...accused me of protesting against the caliphate," Abu Mariam said, during a short phone interview after his release last February.
"They flogged me 10 times."
A photo posted by Abu Mariam on Facebook showed his back covered with angry red welts.
Then, in early March, Abu Mariam said fighters once again beat him. This time, he said they were from a rebel brigade called Liwa al Fatah.
Abu Mariam said the incident occurred when he tried to stop gunmen from breaking into a neighborhood store. A video taken in a hospital showed the activist being treated for a broken hand and a deep gash in the back of his head. Liwa al Fatah posted an online statement denying responsibility for the beating.
"I am terribly afraid, especially for after the fall of the regime," Abu Mariam said last week in an interview with CNN.
"Unfortunately, the regime is spreading sectarianism and some rebel battalions are adopting this as well...unfortunately, there are rebels calling for the mass killing of Alawites," he added, referring to the minority religious sect of the Syrian president.
'I want to rebuild Syria'
Media Daghestany is far more optimistic.
"Of course I am proud of the revolution," she said.