The recently released book, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami mentions that the protest movement in Syria that occurred in 2011 was initially non-sectarian. The following quote refers to the predominantly peaceful protest movement within Syria in March-April 2011.
Kurds and Islamists were the traditional sources of subversion and popular unrest, but not in this case. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the protest movement at this time was its ability to unite people across religious, sectarian and ethnic boundaries. The language of protest was neither religious nor secular; the demands as expressed on the street were for political rights to be applied in general, not to specific groups. (Chapter 3.)Unfortunately as the campaign of violence by the Assad regime continued some Syrians chose to respond to in kind. They were provoked into taking up arms. Syria has military conscription so knowledge of arms is quite widespread in Syrian society. As the nation was plunged into a never ending nightmare of violence and horror various factions coarsened.
The Assad regime studiously tried to foment sectarian fears and various conspiracy theories to keep the opposition divided and doubtful and made all kinds of wild accusations that they were funded by Israel, high on drugs marked with Al Jazeera labels and that footage was made up in fake movie sets in Qatar. One private pro-regime TV station even suggested the soccer club Barcelona FC was part of the conspiracy against the Assad regime by communicating with protesters by selecting certain formations on the field of play to tell the opposition where to get weapons.
It is mentioned elsewhere in this book that as people within the opposition were traumatized they turned to religion and this affected how many of them responded to the Assad regime's destruction of peace.
Tragically the Syrian people continue to suffer from the catastrophe imposed upon them by the Assad regime's campaign of violence and repression. A recent UN report noted that the Assad regime's treatment of prisoners may amount to extermination.
In recent days many Syrians have fled for their lives from Aleppo in the wake of severe bombardment and advances by the Assad regime. This will further contribute to the ongoing refugee crisis.
The Syrian people deserve to live in peace and safety. It is just so terrible.
(Update, February 14, 2016: More about the accusation that Barcelona FC was part of the conspiracy may be seen in this post.)