Religion in Syria


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.

According to 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.

People in Syria

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.


According to thesciencetutor, 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 heavy weapons.

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 fighting.

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 ½ 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 Kobanê. 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.

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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).

Syria Religion