Dom communities, which have their origins in India, today live in many Middle Eastern countries, number around five million, call themselves Dom, Dummi or Deman, and are multilingual, speaking Domari, which belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, as well as the languages of the societies in the regions they inhabit (Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish) (Herin, B. 2012: Matras, Y. 2000). Experts on Indian languages claim that the Doms must have left about a thousand years ago, as some changes observed in Indian languages since then are not present in Domari (Kenrick 2006). Communities of Indian origin are given different names in the Middle East, as they are around the world. Nawar, Zott, Ghajar, Bareke, Gaodari, Krismal, Qarabana, Karaçi, Abdal, Ashiret, Qurbet, Mitrip, Gewende Çingene, Dom, Tanjirliyah, Haddadin, Haciye, Arnavut, Halebi, Haramshe, and Kaoli are some of these names (Marushiakova, Veselin, 2001; Kenrick, 2006). Nawar, the most common of these names, is supposed to have been derived from the Arabic nar, meaning fire, and is thought to have meant ironsmith (Kenrick, 2006). These communities, which historically have migrated in order to practice their professions, have become semi-nomadic over the last 50 years. They have lived settled lives for 3-4 months in the immigrant areas on the outskirts of urban areas, and taken to the road to practice their professions for the rest of the year. After centuries of meeting the needs of the communities they lived with for worktools and kitchen equipment, and of serving as dentists and musicians, they have become unable to practice the professions of their forebears due to the development of industry and mass production and have ended up without any profession. Their former occupations in arts and crafts have largely been replaced by seasonal migrant agricultural labour, waste and refuse collection, the selling of lottery tickets and newspapers, hairdressing, dental technician work and daily manual labour. It is estimated that there were more than 300,000 Doms throughout Syria before 2011: known as Dom, Dummi, Nawar, Kurbet, Abdal, Helebi or Zott (Williams, 2000), they were settled or semi-nomadic. When the Syrian civil war began, these communities, which lived in the poor neighborhoods of towns throughout the country, were already facing discrimination. Some of them led settled lives especially in the Hadradiye and Sheimaksut districts of Aleppo, while others settled down for the winter and continued to play their traditional arts and crafts as iron and tin smiths, basket makers, dentists circumcisers, fortune tellers, waste and refuse collectors, hunters, tanners, boiler making and playing music. The majority, however, worked on agricultural land as seasonal workers or as daily labourers in construction and transport. While those who had turned to a settled life tried to continue their arts and crafts, they were also engaged in selling lottery tickets, construction work, playing music and waste and refuse collection.Others were engaged in trade and throughout the Middle East there were those who worked as dentists. Some groups were known to own land around Damascus and Jazira and lived in villages.
The Dom society in Syria generally did not own up to its identity. They were left without citizenship rights by the government of Syria for being migratory and nomadic. There were individuals among the Dom community who were not registered and had no citizenship. If the children were not going to school, identity cards would not be issued to them until they reached the age of military service. The proportion of the Dom in Syria who were semi-nomadic and practiced their traditional arts was known to be quite high. Abdal groups played drums, zurna and other instruments at weddings and festivities. Haramshe and Hadjiye Dom communities specialised in festive music and dancing. Male musicians and female dancers from these communities are still employed in night clubs in Syria and Lebanon (Berland, Rao, 2004; Tarlan, 2013). Dentist Doms, who were the traditional practitioners of dentistry in the Middle East, and are known to Arabs as Siyaghin (Dandekam in Domari) still practice this profession. Dentist Doms from Syria enjoy a sound reputation in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine (Bochi, 2014).
In recent years the political and social turmoil in the Middle East, and the climate of civil war and conflict, has made life more difficult for these people. With the occupation of their centuries-old migration routes, neighbourhoods and houses, settled communities have once more become nomadic. After the Iraq War of 2003, in particular, with Iraq rapidly becoming destabilised, many Doms were forced to migrate from the towns and villages where they had settled. While this was partly due to the impact of war and violence that affected the Dom as well as other groups, the main factor was that with power changing hands, new governments exhibited a negative attitude towards the Dom. War and conflict have created new fault lines in Middle Eastern societies and have added religious and sectarian differences and accompanying violence to strong Arab nationalism. (Tarlan, 2015).