The Guardian has published a genuinely interesting and informative ‘timeline of Syria’ map to help explain the background of the Syria crisis. However, included on the map is a list of Syria’s ‘ethnic groups’, with shaded areas to denote where these groups form a majority.
These geographical concentrations are presented in quite a crude fashion. Census data is not readily available so I’m not quite sure what sources were used. In particular, there seem to be two glaring inaccuracies that should be noted:
Firstly, the ethnic breakdown of the cities is completely ignored. About half of the Syrian population lives in either Aleppo or Damascus and they are both ethnically diverse. The map implies that Christians, Alawis and Druze are concentrated in just a few geographical areas, but that ignores the very large numbers that reside in these cities which, according to the map, are ‘Sunni-dominated areas.
Secondly, the map’s view of the coastal region as Alawi-dominated is inaccurate. There are large parts that have an Alawi majority and it is where most Alawis live, but many areas have a Sunni majority. Indeed, the area should probably be multi-coloured or grey rather than ‘all orange’. Take the cities along the coast as an example. Tartus is probably the only city where more than 50% of the population are Alawi. In Banyas, Jableh and Lattakia, the Alawis do not make up more than 50% of the population, yet according to the Guardian’s map they do.
In my opinion the western press should be very cautious about how they portray ethnic and sectarian conflict and tensions in Syria (and indeed everywhere). There IS a sectarian component to this conflict, but it is not (yet) the dominate theme and narrative of the uprising, which remains political – against an autocratic regime.
By emphasising the ethnic divisions in Syria (and not even portraying them accurately), coverage such of this (which I’m sure has been done with no such ill intent) is feeding a certain narrative that this is purely a sectarian dispute.
In the end it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.