But members of the other minorities are choosing to emigrate, building on their networks of overseas relatives or even to historic homelands. One of the most curious examples of the latter is the Circassians, a small ethnic group of Muslims from the Caucasus who fled the Russian Empire back in the nineteenth century when a Tsarist campaign drove them out of their homelands along the Black Sea. Some 120,000 of them lived in Syria before the war began. Many are now seeking to return to Russia, a prospect not exactly welcomed by the Kremlin, which fears a corresponding rise in separatist nationalism.
It’s a peculiar example of the unpredictable side effects generated by the Syrian catastrophe. As the conflict drags on, its consequences will ripple out through the region in ever more complex and destabilizing ways. By the time it’s over, the ethnic makeup of the Middle East may be unrecognizable.