Josh Landis poses the question -- is Assad paving the way for an Alawite state?
If Landis asks the question it is more than idle speculation. He may be the best informed Syria expert in academia. I became aware of his blog years ago and there was a time when I read it faithfully. As the years passed I had to stop reading due to the massive content he includes and his meticulous attention to detail.
When I saw this just now I recognized it is important. Anyone looking at the Syrian civil war cannot afford to overlook these comments and analysis. Do not confuse a reference to an Alawite state with an Alawite country. With an overwhelmingly Sunni population and a significant Christian minority with biblical roots there will NOT be an Alawite Syria. But there is every reason to believe that the alternative to a protected place to survive Alawite ethnic cleansing is a totally realistic possibility
This excerpt seems comprehensive but it barely scratches the surface. Drill into these links and many others at Landis' post.
This war cannot end well. Unlike other conflicts in recent years the Syrian civil war is not a win or lose proposition for one or two sides. The complexity may be more challenging than the aftermath of Yugoslavia. I see no way to avoid a negotiated settlement. In the end there must be some kind of occupying peace-keeping force. (It would be a mistake for that force to be made up of peacekeepers from only one country. The ideal outcome would be a hand-picked multi-national force which would include representatives of every Syrian population group, but that is my own pipe-dream and is not likely to happen.)
Do the Massacres in Bayda and Banyas Portend Ethnic Cleansing to Create an Alawite State?
by Joshua Landis
Syria Comment May 13, 2013
This question is taken up in two thoughtful articles by Hassan Hassan and Michael Young. Hassan Hassan argues that “sectarian cleansing is not being conducted for the purpose of establishing a potential state, but rather for other strategic purposes, including recruitment of Alawi fighters, deepening sectarian tensions in Assad’s favor, and ensuring a popular base of support,” (see Elizabeth O’Bagy). Michael Young sees them as a possible prelude to what may be coming if the Alawites begin to lose, but for the time being, he suggests that “ethnic cleansing” may not have been the intended result, but the massacres did serve as a shot across the bow of the Sunni population of the coast. (see extended quotes below).
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu claimed that Syria’s army has begun ethnically cleansing Banyas because it is losing elsewhere in the country. But Assad’s forces are not losing. According to both Liz Sly of the Washington Post and Reuters reports Assad’s forces are gaining ground in Syria, at least for the time being. This can only be cold comfort to the Sunnis along the coast who speak of their fear of ethnic cleansing.
The fighting in al-Bayda began when a bus carrying pro-regime militants, or Shabiha, was attacked, by rebel militiamen, killing at least seven and wounding more than 30, according to activists quoted by DPA. After the rebels attacked a bus, the village became “the scene of fierce fighting between the army and rebel battalions.” The brutality of the shabiha revenge on both al-Bayda and Banyas was depicted in a series of photos and videos that even by the standards of this war were shocking. The religious passions that have now colored every aspect of this fight ran out of control.
How likely is ethnic cleansing along the coast?
The likelihood of ethnic cleansing in the coastal regions is high. It will rise even higher should Assad’s troops begin to lose. The Sunni populations of the coastal cities will be the first to be targeted by Assad’s military, if it is pushed out of Damascus. Should the Alawites be compelled to fall back to the predominantly Alawite region of the mountains stretching along the western seaboard of Syria, the Sunnis of the coastal cities and eastern plan will be the first to suffer. Should Sunni militias, which are perched only kilometers from Latakia, penetrate to the city itself, Alawites may turn against the region’s Sunnis fearing that they become a fifth column. There are many precedents for this sort of defensive ethnic cleansing in the region. Zionist forces in Israel, cleared Palestinian villages of their inhabitants in 1948, rather than leave them behind Israeli lines. Armenians were driven out of Eastern Anatolia by Turks and Kurds, who claimed self-defense in their struggle against Russia in WWI. The Greek Orthodox Anatolians were driven out with the defeat of Greek forces which sought to conquer Anatolia in the early 1920s in an effort to resurrect the Byzantine Empire.
The Sunni cities of the Syrian coast — Latakia, Jeble, Banyas, and Tartous — had no Alawite inhabitants in the 1920s, when the French began taking censuses in Syria. Certainly, Alawite, servant girls, day laborers and peddlers may have worked in the cities, but they were alien to them. Sunnis and Alawites did not live together in any Syrian town of over 200 people, according to Jacques Weulersse, the French academic who published the most thorough and reliable study of the Alawites, Le pays des Alaouites, in 1940. Their demographic segregation was profound. The deep mistrust and hostility that separated the two communities was caused largely by religious differences. Alawites see themselves as the truest Muslims, who possess secret knowledge of God. Sunnis view Alawites to be not Muslim at all, and indeed, not even People of the Book. The many prejudices that were suppressed or attenuated during the modern national era have now reemerged and threat to divide the two populations anew.
During the modern era, Alawites came down out of their mountain villages, migrating to the cities. Today, most of the coastal cities are only half Sunni because of the growth of Alawite neighborhoods and migration. But that population is new. Most is no older than 60 years. The same is true for Damascus, where in 1945 only 400 Alawites were recorded to be living in the capital.
Ethnic cleansing may turn against the Alawites. If Sunni militias win in their struggle against the regime and penetrate into the Alawite Mountains. Alawites will flee before them, rather than be vanquished. In all likelihood, they will run to Lebanon, which is no further than an hour’s drive and the border is open. One fear of Western policy planners is that should Sunnis be armed for a total victory, as rebel activists are urging, three million Alawites could flee into Lebanon, destabilizing the country for decades. This sort of population transfer could be as disruptive to the region, as was the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948. Just as the Palestinians have not been permitted to return to their ancestral land, neither, in all probability, would the Alawites.
The fear of ethnic cleansing has increased among all populations of Syria and with good reason. Sunnis claim today that the regime is effectively trying to clear many areas of its Sunni inhabitants. One only has to look at the overwhelmingly Sunni population of the refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan to see the reason for these claims.
The strong possibility of ethnic cleansing means that foreign sponsors of both sides are treading with caution. If Assad’s forces are pushed out of Damascus and toward the Alawite Mountain, they could well ethnically cleanse the Sunni inhabitants of the coast. If rebel militias penetrate into the Mountain villages, Alawites would almost certainly flee to Lebanon.
If Assad reasserts his control over rebel held parts of Syria, large populations of Sunnis would flee. They would fear ruthless retribution and possible massacres, such as have already
For this reason, Western powers are searching for a political solution. It is hard to imagine such an outcome any time soon. Both sides remain convinced of their rectitude and eventual victory. All the same, it is not impossible that some new balance will eventually emerge in the years, if not months, to come. Much depends on whether rebel forces are able to unify. Much too depends on external powers and their willingness to arm and finance their Syrian allies. But Western and even some Middle Eastern authorities seem to be growing resigned to such an outcome, even if their rhetoric remains highly partisan.
Mihrac Ural or Ali Kyali, who has emerged as a leading Shabiha leader.
Key to the heightened fear of Sunnis along the coast, is the growth and power of the Shabiha, or Alawite militias, which have been adopting a raw religious and increasingly Alawite nationalist rhetoric. No one stands out among the Shabiha leaders more than Mihrac Ural, or as he is often called Ali Kyali, of late. He is a Turkish Alawite, who fled Turkey around 1981 and was given Syrian citizenship by Hafiz al-Assad. He is credited to have introduced Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader to the Assads and to have married a secretary of Rifaat al-Assad. The PKK’s first conference took place on Syrian territory in July 1981. Turkish authorities are accusing him of masterminding the recent bombing in Reyhanli, turkey. He is in all likelihood, the leader of the Banyas incident as well.