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Situation Report Aleppo — Syria

01 Nov 2012 By Issam Bishara

A. Historic background of the Christian population in Aleppo:

In 1901, the total population of Aleppo was 108,143 and included 76,329 (70.58 percent) Muslims; 24,508 (22.66 percent) Christians, mostly Catholics; and 7,306 (6.76 percent) Jews.

Aleppo’s large Christian population swelled with the influx of Armenian, Assyrian and Syriac Christians during the early 20th century and after the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in Ottoman Turkey. After the arrival of the first groups of Armenian refugees (1915-1922) the population of Aleppo in 1922 counted 156,748: 97,600 (62.26 percent) Muslims; 22,117 (14.11 percent) native Christians, mostly Catholics;6,580 (4.20 percent) Jews; 2,652 (1.70 percent) Europeans; 20,007 (12.76 percent) Armenian refugees; and 7,792 (4.97 percent) from a number of other groups.

With the withdrawal of French troops from the Turkish region of Cilicia in 1923, Aleppo’s Armenian population swelled to 210,000 by 1925. Some 40,000 Armenians found refuge in the city and accounted for more than a quarter of its population.

At present, Aleppo is the most populous city in Syria, with a population of 2,132,100 as indicated in the official census of 2004. More than 250,000 Christians live there, accounting for some 12 percent of the total population. A significant number of the Syrian Christians in Aleppo speak the Armenian language and originated from the city of Urfa in Turkey. The city's Christian community is diverse and includes a significant number of Armenian Apostolic Christians and Greek and Syriac Orthodox communities. There is also a strong presence of Catholics, including Armenian, Chaldean, Latin, Maronite, Melkite Greek and Syriac Catholics.

B. Current situation

The uprising against the Syrian government began on 15 March 2011, with nationwide demonstrations. However, the inhabitants of Syria’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, remained largely uninvolved in the anti-government protests. In fact, the two cities have seen rallies in the tens of thousands in support of Assad and his government.

As the government launched crackdowns and military sieges into restive towns and cities, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion. Opposition forces composed of military defectors and civilian volunteers clashed with security forces across the country. However, Aleppo remained relatively peaceful.

Fighting in Aleppo governorate began on 10 February 2012. Over the next five months, major clashes left large parts of the rural countryside under rebel control, with the capital of the province, Aleppo, still being firmly under government control. However, on 19 July, rebel forces stormed the city and a battle for control of Syria's largest city and economic hub had begun.

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