A recently released report from the Istanbul-based Al Sharq Forum says that the Syrian regime and its allies were the main factors in the mass exodus of the population, while other warring factions also caused the displacement of millions. Explaining that the Sunni Arab majority, which constitutes around 70 percent of the population, is the largest group to be victimized in the war, the report says that there has been ethnic and sectarian cleansing in the country.
In a recent statement on its webpage, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: "There are 6.5 million people, including 2.8 million children, displaced within Syria, the biggest internally displaced population in the world. Since 2011, 50 Syrian families have been displaced every hour of every day. The pace of displacement remains relentless. Well over 1.2 million people have been displaced so far this year, many for the second or third time. "
The Arab uprisings, which euphorically swept across the Middle East and North Africa, attracted Syrians who had lived under the dictatorship of the Assad family since 1970 when Bashar Assad's father Hafiz seized power. Since then, the majority of Syrians were forced to live in a police state that tried to control their every movement, organization and business via a sweeping intelligence service. In March 2011, Syrians grew emboldened enough to raise their voices against the dictatorship. However, the regime's response was not as peaceful as the protests, and the country was subsequently dragged into a deadly civil war after opposition groups took up arms against the government.
Opposition groups have also been divided internally. While moderate opposition groups like the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) struggled for a democratic Syria where all religious and political groups could freely coexist, radical elements like al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, al-Nusra Front, later Tahrir al-Hayat al-Sham, and ultimately Daesh, aimed to establish rule by extremism and their interpretation of religious jurisprudence.
Amid the multi-sided war, including Russia, Iran, the U.S. and their proxies, the largest group to be victimized has been Sunni Arabs who were subjected to state oppression in the pre-war era. "Similarly, under Hafez Assad's rule, the regime established a dual power structure, composed of an inner informal core together with a formal outer governmental structure. The inner core is essentially composed of the state security apparatus, with the main objective of controlling the country's politics, economy, and society," the Al Sharq Forum report said.
The same subjects of oppression have been deeply affected by the war. The report said the numbers indicate that the population growth rate was 2.5 percent prior to the war and declined to 0.3 percent in the last year. The report said that before the war, Sunni Arabs constituted 62 percent of the population, which has since decreased to 60 percent. Meanwhile, Alawites rose to 13.2 percent from 11 percent. Giving the number of displaced Syrians as 14 million, the report said 70 percent of refugees are Sunni and 1 percent is Alawite. "The available statistics reveal that most ethnic and sectarian groups have more or less preserved their share of the national population," the report said, and added that opposition-controlled areas saw unprecedented displacement due to aerial strikes carried out by the regime and Russia.
The report said observations show that the regime engages in collective punishment, ethnic and sectarian cleansing and creating a "useful Syria." "By the beginning of 2013, the forced displacement of civilians was openly being advocated as a tactic with the aim of protecting a 'Useful Syria' with two key objectives at its heart: Consolidating regime control over the region between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast, which are its centers of political strength in the country," it says. For displacement, the report says the regime uses different tactics, which are massacres, aerial bombing, security restrictions and sieges, changing ownership, reconstruction and evacuation.
The report says Daesh terrorism has affected non-Muslims and non-Sunnis as well. Daesh considers non-Muslims and non-Sunnis to be strangers and forced them to leave their homelands while subjugating Sunnis. The report also said the PKK-linked Democratic Union Party (PYD) has attempted ethnic cleansing in certain cities whose populations are not entirely Kurdish. "When faced with resistance, the PYD tends to conduct small-scale ethnic cleansing. Salih Muslim, the leader of the PYD, had previously declared his intention to conduct such campaigns against Arabs. "One day, Arabs who have been brought to Kurdish areas will have to be expelled," Muslim said in an interview with Serek TV in 2013. Local and international human rights nongovernmental organizations estimate that thousands of Arab villagers have been forcibly displaced from Hasaka and Raqqa provinces so far," it says.