A Valley At War
The Orontes River valley, where Sunnis and Alawites lived in harmony for generations, illustrates Syria's emerging sectarian divide.

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Aziziya

Jabb al-Ahmar

Jawreen

Serjeh

Kansafra

Kafr Nabal

Huweiz

Al Tamana al Ghab

Qabr Fida

Maarat al-Numan

Al-Bara

Qalaat Al-Moudiq

Sqelbiya

Wadi al-Deif

 

Serjeh

Suqur al-Sham, a rebel brigade with Islamist ideology led by Abu Issa, is based here. The group sometimes coordinates with Jamal Maarouf's Martyrs of Syria Brigade, featured in Syria Behind the Lines.

 

Kansafra

Rebels pushed the Syrian army from this Sunni village to the other side of the Orontes River in 2012, but the army routinely fires shells and mortars at the rebel stronghold. Kansafra is the hometown of Ahmad, a rebel soldier featured in Syria Behind the Lines.

kansfara

 

Kafr Nabal

Residents of this town, sometimes called the "conscience of the revolution," have garnered attention for their cheeky protest signs. Often sarcastic and laden with pop culture references, the signs are sometimes written in English and intended for an international audience. More can be found on a town Facebook page.

 

Huweiz

What used to be a fertile ground for farmers is now a virtual no-man's land, just 400 meters from a Syrian Army checkpoint.

 

Al-Tamana
al-Ghab

This Sunni village stands largely empty after residents fled from escalating tensions with fighters in Aziziya, after which pro-government forces took over in 2012. A regime checkpoint directly overlooks the village, as shown in Syria Behind the Lines.

 

Qabr Fida

Most of the residents of this Sunni village have left the area, although it is unclear whether they were displaced violently or fled, according to Syria researcher Patrick Johnson. Today regime soldiers patrol the area, as shown in Syria Behind the Lines.

 

Maarat
al-Numan

Located on the Homs-Aleppo highway, neighborhoods in this Sunni city have been besieged by months of air raids and shelling, and most residents have fled for other areas.

 

al-Bara

Known as one of Syria's "dead cities," al-Bara holds a half dozen ancient churches and monasteries, as well as two pyramidal tombs. Before the war, the town attracted tourists; it now attracts Sunni refugees fleeing more dangerous areas and has been attacked by regime jets, as witnessed by FRONTLINE filmmaker Olly Lambert in 2012.

 

Qalat al-Moudiq

Qalat al-Moudiq was once a Roman temple city called Apamea, and until recent violence, was an important tourist site. Today it is in rebel-held territory, but the regime has dug itself into this castle atop a hill. Its 12-century citadel has been shelled by the regime.

kansfara

 

Aziziya

Almost all of the villagers in Aziziya are Alawite, a religious sect loosely rooted in Shia Islam. In Aziziya, most men are away fighting in President Bashar al-Assad's security forces. With rebel-held Sunni villages just two miles away, Aziziya is protected by government checkpoints, including a platoon featured in the film commanded by Lt. Ali Ghazi.

kansfara

 

Jabb
al-Ahmar

An Alawite town surrounded by Sunni villages, many of its Alawite residents fled in 2012, but have since returned.

 

Jawreen

An Alawite town surrounded by Sunni villages, most residents have fled and the town is reportedly under rebel control today.

 

Sqelbiya

Residents of this Christian town, which rebels say houses Syrian army units, have been pressured to take sides in the conflict. Christians make up 10 percent of Syria's population.

 

Wadi al-Deif

A major launching point for artillery attacks, this Syrian Army base also protects the regime's main supply route from Damascus to Aleppo. Most civilians in nearby cities have fled the area. To date, rebels have been unsuccessful in their attempts to take over the base, as seen in Syria Behind the Lines.

Interactive Map: A Valley At War

by Azmat Khan and Evan Wexler

The Orontes river valley tells the story of Syria.  Here, neighbor is fighting neighbor.

For generations, the Alawites and Sunnis in the valley had lived peacefully, even during the first year of the Syrian uprising. But as the revolution entered its second year, divisions arose.

Today, on one side of the Orontes river, the rebel Free Syrian Army holds Sunni villages whose residents are calling for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad. On the other side, less than a mile away, villagers from Assad’s Alawite minority remain fiercely loyal to the government and gladly host army checkpoints that fire shells and mortars into neighboring Sunni villages. This map tells the story of the people who live and fight on both sides of the frontline, neighbors now divided by religion, ideology and the river that runs between them.

Data on the sectarian makeup of the Orontes River valley was collected by Syria consultant researcher and Harvard graduate student Patrick Johnson through field interviews.

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