Who Are the ‘Syrian People’?

Speaking at the UN Security Council last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, “It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria.” And the day after the Security Council vote with Russia and China vetoing the resolution to adopt the Arab League plan, a frustrated Mrs. Clinton repeated her call to “support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future.”

The problem of Mrs. Clinton and others who express such concern for the ongoing internecine violence in Syria is that they constantly issue pronouncements about the “Syrian people” as if it was a homogeneous national grouping. Her ignorance was further demonstrated when speaking to reporters during a visit Sunday in Bulgaria. She said: “the international community had a duty to halt continuing bloodshed and promote a political transition that would see Mr. Assad step down.” Can she honestly believe Basher al-Assad will simply agree to resign?

If one is to ever develop a coherent and attainable goal-oriented Syrian policy, one first has to understand the various groupings and allegiances at play.

The “Syrian people” is a composite of religious and ethnic groups who historically oppose each other. The dominant group, approximately two thirds of the population are Sunni Muslims; 12 percent are Alawites; 9 percent are Kurds; 10 percent are various Christian sects (Arab Christians, Assyrians and Armenians); and the remainder are a hodgepodge of religio-ethnic groups including Druze, Turkmens and Circassians.

Let’s focus on the Sunni, the Alawites and the Kurds. The Sunni majority includes the Muslim Brotherhood. It is subjugated by the ruling Alawites led by the al-Assad family. The Sunni majority, which lost power in the takeover of Syrian rule by the Alawite-dominated secular nationalist Syrian Baathist Party in a 1963 coup, began to cause increasingly violent unrest led by the Muslim Brotherhood. This later developed into open revolt....

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