Friday 1 November 2019

Largest Ethnic Groups In Syria

Arabs comprise around three-quarters of the Syrian population, while Kurds, Turkmen, and Assyrians are the most significant minorities.

The country of Syria is located in Western Asia in the heart of the Middle East. The country is bordered to the north by Turkey, the south by Jordan, the east by Iraq and to the west by Lebanon and has a coastline with the Mediterranean Sea. The country is noted for its tall mountains, deserts and fertile land as well as the diverse array of ethnic and religious groups due to its central location. Since 2011 the country has been in a multi-sided, bloody and horrific civil war that is still ongoing, as well as having to combat the rise of terrorist group ISIS (Daesh) who has declared a self-proclaimed caliphate and has persecuted and killed religious groups who do not agree with them.

The Six Biggest Ethnic Groups In Syria


Armenians first came to northern Syria in small numbers under the Armenian Empire (331 BC-428 AD). In the first half of the 7th century Armenia was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate (632-661) and Armenians were taken into slavery in Damascus and other areas. In the second half of the 11th century Byzantine ruled Armenia was captured by the Seljuk Empire (1037-1194) and many Armenian fled the country to settle in the region of northern Syria. These Armenians would work with the European Crusaders during the Crusaders until there were greatly diminished following the Mongolian invasion of the region in the middle of the 13th century. Following the decline of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (1198-1375) in the 14th century many Armenians traveled to live in Aleppo where they formed a tightly knit community which continued under the rule of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) after they conquered Syria in 1516. Despite this long history the majority of Armenians in Syria arrived as they were fleeing from the Armenian Genocide (1915-23) or after the French withdrew from Cilicia in 1923, with most settling in Aleppo. Prior to the ongoing Syrian Civil War it was estimated that anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 Armenians lived in Syria, with most living in and around Aleppo. Since the start of the war about 16,000 Syrian Armenians have gone back to Armenia, with others going to Lebanon, Europe or North America.


Circassians first came to Syria following a forced migration from their original homeland in the Caucasus Mountains to the Balkan and Anatolia regions of the Ottoman Empire after Russia defeated them in the Caucasian War (1817-64). It was not until the Ottomans lost the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 that the Circassians moved to Syria in large numbers. They settled around the Golan Heights and Transjordan regions, as well as north of Homs and along the Syrian Desert. In the 1900s the Ottoman government assisted in the resettlement of a number of Circassian's to the northern area of the Euphrates River. Circassians played a important full in founding modern Syria in the fight for independence and have mostly had good relations with the Arabs in Syria due to a shared faith in Sunni Islam. In 1967 after the defeat of Syria in the Six-Day War most of the Circassian population fled the Golan Heights region with most settling in Damascus or Aleppo, although some move to Europe or North America. Before the Syrian Civil War it was estimated that there were about 100,000 Circassians in Syria. Since the war
started some of Syria's ethnic Circassians have left and returned to Russia's Caucasus region, while others have gone to Turkey or Jordan.


Syrian Turkmen first migrated to Syria at the start of the 11th century when the area was ruled by the Selijuk Empire, but most came to Syria after the Ottoman Empire conquered it in 1516. During the over 400 years of Ottoman rule the government encouraged Turkmen and their families to move to the Syrian region from Anatolia. Despite the fall of the Ottoman Empire Turkmen continued to stay in their Syria instead of moving back to Turkey. Today many Turkmen in Syra reside in the Turkmen Mountains in Syria or along the Syrian-Turkish border, although some also like in and around Homs, Damascus and cities in southern Syria near the border with Jordan or Israel. Since the Syrian Civil War broke out Syrian Turkmen have fought against the government and have looked to Turkey for support since Syrian Turkmen have close ties to the country. In December 2012 the Syrian Turkmen Assembly and its military wing of the Syrian Turkmen Brigades formed to protect Turkmen settlements, participate in offensives and to represent them at peace talks.


The Kurdish presence in Syria is known to go back to more than a millennium before the Crusades as the Kurdish Mountains (Kurd-Dagh) on the Syrian-Turkish border has been known to be inhabited by the Kurds for that long. During the Ayyubid Dynasty (1171-1341) the Kurdish regiments that followed Saladin (1137-1193) set up self-ruled areas in Damascus that persist to this day. Under Ottoman rule there were Jurmanji-speaking Kurdish groups that got deported to parts of northern Syria from Anatolia, which is the major reason why modern day northern Syria is dominated by Kurds. In the 1920s more Kurds from Turkey migrated to northern Syria after two failed rebellions. Since Syria gained its independence as a country the Kurds have faced discrimination and harassment from the government and this has led to occasional protests and riots. At the start of the Syrian Civil War the Kurds only protested against the government but in 2012 the two major Kurdish parties formed the Kurdish Supreme Committee to serve as the governing body of Kurdish controlled areas. This act as led to the Kurds rebellion against the Syrian government and having armed clashes with them.


The Yazidi are an ethno-religious group that are indigenous to the northern Mesopotamia region. Yazidi cultural practices are Kurdish, they speak Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) and most countries consider themselves to be Kurds. While all Yazidis are Kurds, not all Kurds are Yazidis since Kurds also practice Sunni Islam, Shia Islam and Kurdish Christianity. Since the 1990s the Kurdish population has decline since many have migrated to Europe.


The Arabs in Syria are the result of the linguistic Arabization and also Islamization that took place in Syria during the first half of the 7th century AD after the Arab conquest of Syria. The native Syrians who were descendants of the ancient Semitic peoples the Arameans and Phoenicians openly welcome the Arabs as liberators. By the time that the Crusades had started around 1100 AD most Syrians had adopted Islam and were culturally and linguistically Arab. The Syrians had mixed with the Arabs over time and had shifted to an Arab racial identify that they have today. In the Syrian Civil War Arabs have fought on all sides of the conflict that they choose depending on their religion, loyalty and other factors.

How Ethnic Groups Are Estimated In Syria?

In Syria, like many countries in the Middle East, ethnicity and religion are intertwined together. However, starting with the 1960 census Syrians were officially stopped from being counted by their religion and in Syrian people have never officially being counted in the census by their ethnic group or language. This idea goes back to before Syria was a country when the idea of Syrian nationalism first arose towards the end of the 19th century. Syrian nationalism advanced the idea of a common Syrian history and nationality, grouping all religions, ethnic groups and languages together in favor of a all encompassing Syrian nationality and as a mostly secular movement.

Largest Ethnic Groups In Syria

Rank Ethnic Group Share of Syrian Population

1 Arabs 74.0%
2 Kurdish and/or Yazidi 9.5%
3 Turkmen 4.5%
4 Assyrian 3.5%
5 Circassian 1.5%
6 Armenian 1.0%
Other Groups of People 6.0%

By Gregory Sousa

•culled from

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