Interactive: Tracking Syria’s defections

Visualisation tracking officials who quit Assad’s regime won the 2013 Online Media Awards for best technical innovation.

Interactive Syria tracker defector

Defections rise

When the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March 2011, many analysts believed the regime would remain intact, given the strict loyalty test officials and diplomats have to endure before receiving important positions in the army or government.

As the uprising progressed, military generals and soldiers began to defect from the Syrian army to form the rebel Free Syrian Army. A large number of soldiers fled to neighbouring Turkey while others remained in Syria to battle government forces.

These defecting officials represent a small minority of government representatives – most have remained loyal to the state.



With the help of an organisation named, this tool tracks the defections of senior military officials (generals and colonels), members of parliament and diplomatic officials. Owing to media restrictions placed on Al Jazeera by the Syrian government, we cannot verify all reports of defections that we receive. Whenever possible, we have only added names of people who announced their defection with a video.

Other data comes from media reports, human rights organisations, and activist networks. Due to the nature of the Syrian state, this list is not comprehensive, given the lack of an accessible official database from the Syrian Army or foreign ministry.




Syria’s Parliament has 250 members elected for four year terms in 15 multi-seat constituencies. In May 2012, elections resulted in a new parliament that for the first time in four decades is based on a multi-party system. The ruling Ba’ath Party still won around 60 per cent of the seats. Jihad al- Lahham, representative of Damascus, is the speaker of the parliament.


The Cabinet of Syria, made up of 33 ministers, is the chief executive body as stipulated in the Constitution. In April 2012, a new cabinet led by Prime Minister Riad Hijab was announced, a year after the previous cabinet resigned in light of anti-government protests. In July 2012, Assad selected a new defence minister, Fahd Jassem Freij, after the death Daoud Rajha in a bomb attack.


As violence escalated and reports emerged of massacres committed by Assad’s regime, many countries expelled Syrian diplomats. In February 2012, several Arab nations expelled Syrian ambassadors in light of a massacre reported in Homs City. In May 2012, many Western countries expelled Syrian diplomats following a massacre in the town of Houla in Homs province, which the UN called a “brutal tragedy”.


The al-Assad family has ruled Syria since Hafez al-Assad became president in 1971. His son Bashar took power after Hafez’s death in 2000. Family connections are an important part of Syrian politics and several family members hold important military and security positions. The Assads are originally from a village in Latakia and belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. 

Senior military and security officials

Several military officials are also senior members of Syria’s intelligence apparatus. Many have been actively involved in supressing protests. As the uprising progressed, a growing number of soldiers began to defect from the Army and formed the rebel Free Syrian Army. In July 2012, in a huge blow to Assad, a bomb ripped through a high-level security meeting in Damascus, killing three top officials. Al Jazeera is only including defections from generals and colonels in this visualisation.

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Editor: Basma Atassi – Follow her on Twitter: @basma_

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Source: Al Jazeera