Click to enlarge. Each color represents an ethnic or religious group. (Michael Izady / The Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia University)
Now that the United States is strongly signaling that it will lead some form of limited offshore strikes against Syria in response to suspected chemical weapons attacks on civilians, one point you’re going to hear repeated over and over about the country is that it’s complicated. And that’s no joke, as the above map helps to drive home.
The map, from Columbia University’s really exceptional Gulf/2000 Project, shows the different ethnic and linguistic groups of the Levant, the part of the Middle East that’s dominated by Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Each color represents a different group. As you can see, there are a lot of groups swirled together. There are enclaves, and there is overlap.
Ethnic and linguistic breakdowns are just one part of Syria’s complexity, of course. But they are a really important part. The country’s largest group is shown in yellow, signifying ethnic Arabs who follow Sunni Islam, the largest sect of Islam. Shades of brown indicate ethnic Kurds, long oppressed in Syria, who have taken up arms against the regime. There are also Druze, a religious sect, Arab Christians, ethnic Armenians and others.