Syria has partitioned into several contending de facto regions and groups during the ongoing Syrian civil war based on ethnic and sectarian lines and groups. Kurds which are the second largest ethno-linguistic group in Syria have become the one of the most advantaged group in this civil war. Kurdish militias have captured most of Kurdish inhabited areas in addition to non/Kurds (Arab, Syriac-Asyrian, Turkoman) majority towns and villages. However it is not enough for expansionist Kurdish nationalists who want to capture all northern part of Syria in which called Rojava by Kurdish nationalists. Especially just after decisive victory against pro-Al-Qaeda Islamist rebellious groups in November 2013, commander of Kurdish militia state that they plan to capture all northern part of Syria. Moreover Salih Muslim, leader of the Kurdish Nationalist Party PYD, declared that they will conduct ethnic cleansing against Arabs who have settled in Rojava. While their main rivals, İslamist rebels, have fought each other, expansionist Kurdish nationalist have not able to expand their territory since November 2013. Main factors for failure of expansionist Kurdish nationalists’ dreams are demography and geography of Kurds. Especially, general and administrative regional Kurdish ratio and size, territorial discontinuity, living in mixed areas, absence of natural border have hindered Kurdish nationalist from expansion and ethnic cleansing. In other words geography and demography of Kurds will be the main factor for Kurds future in Syria which makes aim of this study is to examine Kurdish population based on geographical administrative structure of Syria.
On the other hand, most of reliable data about demography of Syria was produced before the civil war. However civil war has brought about massive human movement in Syria. It has changed ethnic composition of the in some areas and districts. But there is not specific data about this movement which affect ethnic composition. Indeed in this paper rely on pre-war data.
Map I: Kurdish Percentage in Districts of Syria
I-Population and Geographical Administrative Structure of Syria
Population of the Syria was 17.920.810 according to the 2004 census. Ciafactbook estimated that Syrian population has increased 25% percent and has reached 22.457.336. (July 2013 est.) The Population mostly concentrates western and northern part of the country and Euphrates valley. Deserts in southern and eastern parts are scarcely inhabited except for some oasis. Syria is divided into fourteen governorates (muhafazat) which are divided into 107 districts (manatiq) and 2480 subdistricts (nawahi).
Table I: Population and Fertility Rate in Governorates of Syria
|Governorates||Fertility Rate||Population (2004 Census)||Governorates||Fertility Rate||Population (2004 Census)|
Population growth and fertility rate is differentiating in Syria ethnically, geographically. Fertility rate is higher in rural areas and among Bedouin tribes than urban areas. Deir ez-Zor, Daraa, Idlib and Raqqa governorates, with huge Bedouin population, have higher fertility rate than Syrian average. On the other hand main Kurdish inhabited governorates, Al Hasakah and Aleppo, have lower fertility rate than average. Indeed, we can assume that Kurdish population would increase more slowly than Arabs because Kurds are more city dweller than Arabs especially in Al Hasaka governorates which will be discussed at below.
II-Kurdish Population and Administrative Structure of the Syria
While Kurds are the second-largest language group in Syria there is a controversy about their ratio, size, and geographic distribution. Arab sources claim that only 5% of Syrian population is Kurd However some Kurdish nationalists argue that Kurds constitute 20% of Syria. Various proportions are predicted for Kurds. For example McDowall and O’shea predict 8%, Bruinessen predicts 8.5%, Chailand predicts 10%. Vanly, Kurdish writer, stated that Kurds must be at least 7 % of Syrian population.
Geographically Kurdish population mainly lives in three separate and non-contiguous enclaves in northern Syria; namely Afrin, Kobani and Jazerah. Around 30% of the Syrian Kurdish population lives in the Afrin, 10% in Kobani and 40% in Jazerah regions. Roughly distance between Afrin and Kobani enclaves is 140 kilometers and that off between Kobani and Jazerah is 160 kilometers. Strong non-Kurdish ethnic groups populate territories between these regions and especially inside the Jazera regions also.
Mainly Syrian Kurdish population exists in Al-Hasakah and Aleppo provinces and other urban areas like Damascus. Kurdish population is not majority in any governorates in Syria but Kurds have clear majority in Afrin district in Aleppo province and Al Malkiyah district in Al Hasaka Governorates. Moreover strong Kurdish population reside in Ayn-El Arab district in Aleppo governorate and Ras-Al Ayn and Qamishli districts in Al-Hasakah province. In sub-district level Kurds are majority in all sub-districts of Afrin District and Ayn-Al Sub-district of the Ayn-Al Arab district in the Aleppo governorate. In Al Hasakah Governorate, Kurds have clear majority in Amuda, Qahtaniyah, Al-Malikiyah, and Ad-Darbasiyah sub-districts. In sum Kurds have clear majority majority in 2 districts and 12 sub-districts in Syria.
Approximately 40% percent of the Syrian Kurds live in the Aleppo Governorate which is the most populous governorate in Syria with a population of 4.045.166 (2004 census). Kurdish inhabitants of the governorate are around 15% of the population. The governorate has 32 towns, 1453 villages, and 1296 farms. Kurds mainly live in northern part of the Governorate with majority only Afrin district and Ayn el Arab subdistrict. Also there is a sizable Kurdish population in central Aleppo and other districts. Especially Ashrafiyeh and Sheikh Maqsoud Neighborhoods are inhabited by mostly Kurds.
Table II: Districts Populations of Aleppo Governorate (2004 census)
|Mount Simeon District- Aleppo||2.490.751|
|Al Bab District||292.713|
|Ayn Al-Arab District||192.513|
|Atarib District (Secede From Al Bab in 2008)||–|
|Dayr-Hafir District(Secede From Mount Simeon in 2008)||–|
Afrin, the largest Kurdish inhabited district in Aleppo governorate, is located in northwest of Aleppo city. While Afrin placed in the farthest region from historic Kurdistan, located in Northern Iran and Iraq, it is the oldest Kurdish region in Syria. Afrin has seven subdistricts: Afrin (center), Jindires, Sharran, Mobetan/Maabatli, Rajo, Bulbul and Shaykh al-Hadid.The majority of the inhabitants are Kurds with some Arab population in south and Turkmen population in north and east. Moreover there is some Kurdish-Yazidi live in this district. There are 263 villages and 100 farms in Afrin district.
Another administrative unit in which Kurds are majority in Aleppo governorate is Aynel Arab sub-district of the Aynel Arab district. Syrian regime has Arabized name of the district from Arappinar to Ayn-El Arap. Kurds called city center as a Kobani, which derived from compound of the German company one of which constructed railway in 20th century. According to Kurdish source before the war Ayn-Al Arab has 100 villages, 90% of them are Kurds and 200.000 populations with village population but it has grown substantially with the influx of a large number of refugees fleeing the fighting in the rest of Syria.
Kurds mostly concentrate in Ayn Al-Arab sub-district while Arabs inhabit in surrounded areas. Kurdish Tribes of Kobani are mostly members of Barazi tribal confederation. This fedaration exists in both sides of the Turko-Syrian border and it can be divided into five tribes: Alaedinan, Shedadan, Sheikan, Kitkan, and Pijan. This confederation settled in Kobani area in 19th century. Arabs and other ethnies are majority in other sub-district of Ayn El Arap district. Shuyukh Tahtani is inhabited by mainly Tai Arab tribe and Sarrin is inhabited mostly by Arabs also .
Table III: Sub-districts’ Population of Aynel Arab (2004 Census) and Largest Ethnic Group
|Sub-district Name||Population||Center Population||Largest Ethnic Group|
|Ayn El Arap||81.424||44.821||Kurd|
Al-Hasakah governorate is another main Kurdish inhabited governorate in Syria. Kurdish inhabited areas in the governorate is called Jezerah-Cezire-Cizre region unlike others which have territorial continuity with Kurds of Turkey and Iraq. Kurdish inhabited areas in the province extend from Ra’s-al-‘Ayn city center to Iraqi border and its length is around 220 km and width is 15- 40 ilometers.
Al-Hasakah Governorate is located is in the far north-east corner of Syria. The governorate has 4 districts (Mintaqa’s): (Al-Hasakah, Al-Malikiyah, Al Qamishli, Ra’s al-‘Ayn) and 16 sub-districts (nawahi). Kurds mostly live in northern part of the governorate while Arabs reside in south. Whereas Arab sources claim that Kurds are only 25-30 percent of the governorate population, Kurds argue that they are majority.  On the other hand Assyrians/syriacs, the third biggest group in the governorate, affirm that Kurds consists of %35, % 40 of the governorate. According to the Kurdish sources there are 700 Kurdish inhabited villages whereas Arab sources argue that they are only 500-550 included mixed villages.
There is not agreed percentage about ethnic composition of districts and sub-districts or cities. But there is some information about ethnic composition of settlements in the governorate. Kurds are biggest group in Al-Qamishli, Amudah, Al-Malikiyah, Al-Qahtaniyah, Al-Maabadah cities which have 270.068 populations. On the other hand Arabs are biggest group in others which have 259.646 populations. Thus, we can assume that Kurds are more city dweller than Arabs in this province. Moreover, higher percentage of Arab village figure, illustrated at Table:V, shows that more Arabs are living rural area than Kurds. These figures imply that Kurdish population growth rate lower than Arabs because of their higher urbanization.
Table IV: Population of Districts and sub-districts of Al Hasakah Governorate (2004 census)
|Districts||District Population||Sub-district||Sub-district Population||Largest Group in sub-district|
|Tel Tamer||50.982||Assyrian-Syriac ?|
Historically nomadic Arab and Kurdish tribes wandered territories of the current Al-Hasakah governorate in the 19th century. Al Hasakah plain, northern lands of the Jazira,before the First World War was largely empty and life there insecure Kurdish pastoralist-nomadic tribes (Kiki and Miran ect.) were occupied during the winter and summer months by certain Bedouin tribes, notably the Shammar, and also the Tayy, driven north by the intense heat of the desert. Nomadic tribes have lost their influence gradually at 20th Century and Al-Hasakah province become more settled and more mixed. After building railway some Kurdish tribes began moving southward off the Anatolian plateau, abandoning their pastoralism in favor of farming. By 1918 Kurds probably slightly outnumbered Arabs in the Jazira. During that time Kurds and Christian groups, Assyrian and Armenian, have continued to settle these fertile lands. Thus Christian and Kurdish proportion increased in the province. However Nomadic Arab tribes changed ethnic balance again. Arab nomadic tribes have chosen sedentary life gradually. They have created village southern part of the province. In addition government transferred Arabs to the region. After the filling of the Tabqa dam in 1975, around 4.000 Arab families of the Walda tribe, whose own lands had been submerged, were settled (and armed) in forty-one of the “model” farms in Jazira, in the very heart of the Kurdish region, as well as in fifteen “model” farms north of Raqqa. Namely %70 of 4.000 Arab families were settled in Al-Hasakah governorate. It has not been reported any other government population transfer in Al Hasakah province.
Tablo V: City Population (More Crowded than 10.000) and The Largest Two Ethnic Group (2004 census) 
|City Name||Population||First Ethnic Group||Second Ethnic Group|
|Al-Hasakah||188.160||Arab||Kurd (Syriac ?)|
|Al-Maabadah||15.759||Kurd||Arab (Syriac ?)|
|Sabaawa Arbain||14.177||Arab||Arab (?)|
Arabs are mostly tribal in the province. Shammar tribe concentrates in the area of Qamishli bordering Turkey from northeast and some of them are in Al-Malikiyah area. Another biggest Arab tribe in the Al Hasakah is Tai (Tay) tribe which mostly settles southern part of the Al Qamishli and surrounded areas with more than 200.000 populations. Settlements Al-Jubur tribe located north and west of Al-Hasaka in addition to Al-Shaddadeh south of Al-Hasaka. Adwan tribe (12.000 population) around west part of Ras-al Ayn, Harb tribe south and east of the Ras-al Ayn have a settlements. While Al-Sharbayn tribe has high population but it is scattered Derik, Qamishli, Al-Hasaka and Ras Al-Ain. There is also some part of Al-Baggare tribe and some other tribes live in the governorate.  These tribes mostly are living in same places where their ancestors have existed one or two century ego.
Map II: Kurdish, Arab and Mixed villages in Al Hasakah governorate
Village figures in Table VI and Map I reveal that Kurdish population mostly concentrates north part of the governorate and Arab village are scattered around south and west part of the governorate. Arab village numbers are % 67.6, Kurdish village % 26.4, Syriac % 3 of the villages of governorate.
Table VI: Numbers of villages in Syria based on Ethnicity
|Districts||Arabs||Kurds||Syriac||Arab-Kurds Mix.||Syriac-Arab Mix.||Kurd-Syriac Mixed||Total|
Kurds are minority in the Ra’s Al- Ayn and Al-Hasakah districts. However Ad-Darbasiyah sub-district is another Kurdish majority administrative unit in the Ra’s Al- Ayn sub district. Kurdish population inhabited mostly eastern part of Ra’s Al- Ayn and there is not significant Kurdish population western part of Ra’s Al-Ayn city itself. Moreover Kurds are small minority in Al- Hasakah district. Approximately less than 15% of the populations are the Kurds.
Al Malkiyah, the highest Kurdish concentrated district in the province, is located northern of the Syria and Al Hasakah governorate. The district has three sub-districts which are Al-Malkiyah, Al-Jawadiyah and Al-Yarubiyah. Kurdish populations mostly inhabit northern part of the district and they are strong majority in the Al-Malkiyah sub-district. Kurdish population ratio gradually decreases southern part of the district and there is not clear majority in the Javadiyah subdistrict. However Kurds are tiny minority in Al-Yarubiyah sub district. Al Malkiya district is also home of the strong Assyrian/Syriac population. While they were majority in district center they lost majority status now because of Kurdish migration to the city center.
Map III:Kurdish, Arab and Mixed villages in Al Malkiyah District and close are of the Al-Hasakah City
Al‑Qamishli is the largest Kurdish-majority city in Syria and 70% percent of the populations are Kurds according to the Kurdish sources. However strong Arab minority (est. 25-40% of the city) lives in city and they are main basis of the Assad regime in the city. Moreover there is sizeble christian minority (est. 10% percent) in the city as well. On the other hand rural areas of the city are inhabited by mainly Arab tribes like a Tai tribe. Arabs have strong majority on rural Al Qamishli. Especially strong Tai tribe settles down in villages around city center.
Al-Qamishli has 3 other sub-districts which are Amudah, Tall Hamis and Al-Qahtaniyah. Highest Kurdish concentrated sub-district is Amudah. Al- Qahtaniyah also have Kurdish majority with strong Arab population. Strong Arab presence in the sub-district disturb Kurdish nationalists and PYD raids Arab districts and kidnapped around seventy civilians in Qahtaniyah. Tall Hamis is only the Arab majority sub-district of the district.
Map IV: Kurdish, Arab and Mixed villages in Al-Qamishli District
Result: Realities and Ambitions
Kurdish nationalists have identified Kurdish territories in Syria as Rojava and west Kurdistan. They have drawn ambitious maps. In these maps Kurdish nationalists shows all northern parts of Syria as Rojava. Kurdish nationalists’ demands nearly whole Al Hasakah province, north part of the Rakka province and all northern parts of northern Aleppo governorate. Roughly they have claimed 20-25 % of Syrian territory which are settled by 2,5-6 million people, only 20-35% of them are Kurds. In other words ambitions of Kurdish nationalist are not supported by Kurdish demography.
Second problem for Kurdish nationalist is discontinuity of Kurdish populated territories. Syrian Kurds do not live integrated one area and their territory portioned three parts. As mentioned above Kurds populate in three enclaves: Afrin, Kobani and Jazerah. Roughly distance between Afrin and Kobani enclaves is 140 kilometers and between Kobani and Jazerah 160 kilometers. Moreover distances between these territories mostly are inhabited by settled or semi-settled Arab Bedouin tribes which have higher fertility rate than Kurds. These non-Kurdish inhabited areas hinders Kurdish nationalist from expansionist approach. Because it will create supply problem for expansionist war and maintaining security will be huge problem in these non-Kurdish territories if Kurdish nationalist try to capture all these lands. Namely we can assume that Kurdish nationalist have not enough human and other resources to conquer these areas.
Thirdly there is huge non-Kurd population also lives inside Kurdish enclaves. Especially in Al-Hasakah province there is a huge Assyrian-Syriac and Arab population Moreover these groups have their own militias in some areas. Sometimes Kurdish nationalists also demand these militias because they need supports of local Arab tribes in order to protect their territory against Islamists. These alignments between Kurdish nationalist and local Arabs will restrain Kurdish nationalist from any ethnic cleansing and other extreme activities.
Fourthly, there is large Kurdish population outside the Kurdish enclaves. Despite the fact that Kurdish militias able capture territories and districts in which Kurds makes up at least 30 percent, 55-60 percent of Kurds has lived outside these enclaves. Especially in Aleppo governorate there is a big Kurdish population in the city itself and districts and rural areas. Any outrageous incidents which may conduct by Kurdish nationalists against Arabs may trigger counter attacks against these easy targets. These counter attacks also may cause risk for Kobani region which is the weakest of the three enclaves.
Indeed Kurdish nationalists has recognized this geographical reality and adopted a double-edged policy against other ethnic groups. On the one hand they try to compromise other ethnic groups on the other hand they employ some brutal tactics. At first they have made efforts to win the support of local Arab populations by distinguishing between jihadist and Arab civilians, and by attempting to involve the latter in Kurdish interim governance. On the other hand Kurdish nationalists conduct small scale ethnic cleansing in some areas. At the beginning of the civil war Kurdish nationalist expel tinny Arab population from Ayn-El Arab city and during the civil war they expel Arab villagers from some villages. Even in some areas it is reported that Kurdish militias are employing extreme brutal and repressive tactics against Arabs. For example Kurdish militias are accused for killing Arab civilians, raping women, burning bodies in Tall Brak, release photos of the kidnapped civilians accusations of they are member of the Islamists group.
As a result Kurdish nationalists have not enough population for achieving their nationalistic ambitions. In other words demographic facts have restrained Kurdish nationalists from ultra-nationalistic attitude against other ethnies. Especially ethnic cleansing and expansionist war which are declared by Kurdish nationalist leadership will not conduct in a short term because of geographical and demographic realities of the Kurds.
For the other articles of the writer, pleace click here.
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