Civil war has been going on in Syria since 2011, and data
on population size and composition are very uncertain.
According to UN estimates in 2012, Syria's population was
21.9 million, but since then many have fled the country. In
2017, UNHCR estimated that just over 6 million Syrians were
fleeing within the country and 5 million were moving abroad.
More than 90 percent of those who have fled the country have
applied to neighboring countries.
Countryaah data, Syria's population is one of the most complex in the
Middle East. Prior to the civil war, 89 percent were Arabs,
9 percent Kurds, while Armenians (190,000), Assyrians
(700,000), Turkmen (80,000), and Cherries (100,000) made up
3 percent. The Jewish group that has traditionally lived in
Damascus has been reduced to a few individuals; however, a
large group is found in the United States. Most of the
religiously defined groups, where Sunni Muslims are the
largest, have traditionally had a strong internal
organization and limited contact with others.
Like many other countries in the Middle East, Syria is a
product of agreements between European states and the result
has become a far cry from a genuine nation. Today's Syria is
just part of the Syria that many still identify with and
that includes mainly Lebanon but also Palestine and Jordan.
At the outbreak of the civil war, Syria also had a large
refugee population, consisting of Palestinians and in recent
years also by refugees from Iraq. Many of these have applied
to neighboring countries.
The official language, which is spoken by most people, is
Arabic. In the big cities there is a large Armenian-speaking
minority. In the north, along the border with Turkey, are
Kurdish. Of New Aramaic languages, urmic is spoken in the
Hasseke area and tour abdic in some towns and villages at
the border in the north. In Antilibanon, Newwestern Aramaic
is spoken in three villages: Maaloula, Bakha and Gubb Adin.
The majority of Syria's population professes to Sunni
Islam, while a significant minority, about 10 percent, are
Nusayrians (Alawites, Shiite Muslims). The head of state,
President al-Asad, confesses to this religion. In the Golan
mountains, for example, there are druses. Christians make up
about 10 percent: Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrian
Orthodox, Nestorians (belonging to the Eastern Assyrian
Church), Protestants, Roman Catholics, and members of
Unified Churches (Maronites, Greek Catholics, Unified
Armenians, Syrian Catholics and Chaldeans). There are a few
thousand Jews, concentrated in Damascus. Religious
affiliation has legal significance: it determines which
family law should be applied.
On November 1, an opposition group executed a group of
disarmed government soldiers in the city of Saraqeb between
Aleppo and Damascus. The execution was then posted on
Youtube. Amnesty International stated that the video
appeared to show a war crime. In total, 28 government
soldiers were killed in combat or executed in Saraqeb. The
political opposition and the FSA were quick to place the
responsibility on the executions of the Salafist Jabhat
al-Nusra group. In the same days, the United States and
Qatar sought to rein in a new opposition coordination, in
frustration over al-Qaeda's and the Salafists' growing
military and political influence in the country. Qatar's
emir held a Doha summit with this one item on the agenda,
but the immediate consequence was just further division
among the opposition.
In September, Human Rights Watch published a sharp
criticism of the opposition's use of torture and executions:
Syria: End Opposition use of Torture, Executions (September
17, 2012). While the Assad regime, on the one hand, focused
solely on the abuses of the opposition, and the Western
media alone focused on the abuses of the Asad regime, the
international human rights organizations drew a more nuanced
and gruesome picture of the abuses in the country.
For 2 days after November 29, the Syrian Internet was
shut down. In August 2014, Edward Snowden was able to reveal
that it was hackers from the NSA who had disconnected the
net while working to intercept all Syrian Internet
communications. At the end of December, the rebels entered
the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. In
January, Islamist groups led by al-Nusra Taftanaz took over
the air base in Idlib province after several months of
fighting, thereby gaining access to both helicopters and
In February 2013, the FSA in Quasar Hezbollah fired
positions inside Lebanon. It became a turning point for
Hezbollah's participation in the fighting in Syria.
Hezbollah had until then predominantly supported Assad
politically, but now became increasingly militant in the
After several weeks of fighting, in March, rebels entered
Raqqa in the country's eastern part. It was the first
provincial capital that slipped the regime by hands. At the
end of the month, the rebels launched a fierce offensive in
Damascus. Their mortars reached all the way to the Umayyad
square, where the Baath Party, the Air Force's intelligence
service and state TV had their headquarters. The following
day, outside al-Qusayr, a video was recorded with Khaled al
Hamad, commander of the Al Farooq al-Mustakilla Brigade
rebel group while eating heart and living from a killed
government soldier. When the video hit YouTube, it sparked
international resurrection as it illustrated that the
rebels' bestial behavior did not differ from the regime's.
Prime Minister al-Halqi survived a car bomb attack in
Damascus in April 2013. Six people were killed.
In February, the FSA had more actively drawn Hezbollah
into the fighting. In May/June, the government army and
Hezbollah carried out a joint offensive, capturing the
strategically important city of al-Qusayr, which had been in
the hands of the rebels for months.
The Kurdish YPG continued to prosper as the movement,
after ˝ years of fighting in July 2013, finally gained full
control of the larger city of Ras al-Ayn. However, the
conquest increased the Kurds' problems elsewhere. The
Kurdish population of Aleppo was displaced or massacred by
the Islamic militias with the al-Nusra front at the head.
And on August 1, several FSA brigades and Islamic State (IS)
launched a siege of Kobanę. Despite the previous alliance
with the FSA, the FSA and IS were now fighting against the
Kurds. In late September, Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud
Barzani declared that he would intervene in Syria in support
of the YPG. A few days ago, IS responded again by detonating
more bombs in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil.
Following the capture of al-Qusayr in June, the
government army and Hezbollah in Aleppo embarked,
withdrawing the rebel groups. In August, they responded by
launching an offensive in the Latakia province with the
al-Nusra front. The rebels had little support there, as it
was predominantly inhabited by Alawites and Christians. But
the purpose was to bring the war into enemy territory. In a
matter of days, the 2,000 armed rebels had captured 12
villages in the mountainous regions, sending thousands of
Alawites and Christians on the run. In the middle,
government forces recaptured the province. Human Rights
Watch could report that the rebels had killed 190 civilians
during their offensive. Of these, they were 67 pure
executions. The rebels also took 200 hostages -
predominantly women and children. ("You Can Still See Their
Blood". Executions, Indiscriminate Shootings, and Hostage
Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside, Human
Rights Watch, October 2013).