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Navigating the Impact of Conflict on Syria’s Ethnic, Religious and Tribal Communities

by Dr. Rana Khalaf, Thomas McGee, Dr. Haian Dukhan

How has the Syrian war impacted the country’s ethnic, religious and tribal communities and their efforts towards peace formation?

This report answers this question based on five critical case studies while highlighting constraints and opportunities towards localised solutions for peace formation in support of viable policy recommendations.

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This report questions how the conflict in Syria since 2011 has impacted the country’s ethnic, religious and tribal communities. It highlights the complex, intersecting and dynamic nature of communal identity as it also explores the constraints and opportunities towards localised solutions for peace formation in support of viable policy recommendations. Using a critical case-study approach, the report focuses on five timely and revelatory cases:

Case 1 - Unpacking recent escalations in Deir Ezzor governorate: Arab tribal dynamics and the Kurdish-led Self-Administration (SA)

Case 2 - Demystifying the late (2023) uprising of Sweida’s Druze community

Case 3 - Syrian Christians’ Criss-crossing Sectarianisation and Counter-Sectarianisation

Case 4 - Unpacking the layers of displacement to and from Afrin, Northwest Syria - communal implications of Housing, Land and Property (HLP) issues

Case 5 - Bringing in the “forgotten sect”: Idlib’s Sunnis and its politically-contested education under Haya’t Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), regional and international governance

The research stresses a specific local agency: peace formation. This refers to efforts and processes aimed at forming peace and resolving conflicts from below by mobilising indigenous local and grassroots actors in cultural, social, religious, customary and local governance settings. The cases under review reflect this agency in tribal Sunni Arab leaders’ promotion of non-violence and just solutions to conflict in Deir Ezzor; Druze community members' mobilisation to advance Sweida’s communal cohesion; Christian groups countering of sectarianisation; local Kurds and Arab IDPs' informal promotion of fairer HLP arrangements in Afrin; and Arab Sunni teachers backing of a non-ideologised educational system in Idlib.

Considering the country’s relatively frozen conflict, the report recommends localised interventions in addition to the application of international pressure on the conflict parties to foster peace formation as the most viable option for policymakers. Such interventions should span sustainable political, technical, and financial support to peace formation agents. A reflexive, intersectional, and contextual understanding is necessary to design such support.

For the condensed policy brief version that stems from this report click here.

For the authors’ interview highlighting the main findings of the report click here.

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Anne-Sophie Bauer

Anne-Sophie Bauer

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