The Transformation of Ethnic Conflict and Identity in Syria

Randall Salm

Advisor: John G. Dale, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Lester Kurtz, Amy Best

Research Hall, #302
November 15, 2016, 01:30 PM to 10:30 AM


This dissertation analyzes the transformation and social reproduction of ethnic and religious identity for five Syrian ethnic groups, Sunni Arabs, Alawites, Kurds, Christians and Druze. The study used mixed methods for data collection, including 26 in-depth surveys and 127 surveys of Syrian humanitarian workers living in Turkey conducted in 2015 and 2016. Key findings include commonalities found across all five groups, such as language, names, family, gender inequality, marriage norms, honor, ethnic group salience and segregation, mistrust and fear of other groups, social stratification, and geographical barriers. Unique distinctions for each group are also examined, along with religious features. The two main findings are that ethnic identity depends considerably on opposition to or support for the Assad regime, and minority group fears of Sunni conservatives and extremists. Three theoretical models are developed demonstrating general ethnic identity formation, ethnic identity formation under threats of violence and group extermination, and ethnic identity dynamics for the five groups in this study.