MESOP REPORT : Syria’s Alawites pay heavy price for loyalty to Assad

ARA News – 13 April 2015 – Damascus, Syria – Over the past deadly four years of conflict in Syria, people in the Alawite-majority areas in western Syria have suffered a lot at the hands of the Bathist regime that helped the Alawite sect to escape oppression before the rule of who they used to described as “the savior”, Hafiz al-Assad, former Syrian president and father of today’s Assad.However, many other people in the Alawite community in the coastal countryside of Syria suffered the brutality of a Syrian regime that was supposed to protect them. According to many people who witnessed the rule of Hafiz al-Assad spoke about the “persecution” experienced by the Alawite community at the hands of landlords and owners of factories from Hama, emphasizing that the Alawite areas were neglected by the government and suffered deteriorating conditions in the domains of education, medical care and cultural institutions.

Alawite writer and journalist Firas Ali told ARA News that after Hafiz al-Assad came to power through the Baath party, the Alawite community breathed a sigh of relief, especially knowing that the new president belonged to the same sect, and expecting that this would help them gain more privileges in the country.

“Unfortunately, all expectations were unrealistic because the power turned from sectarian affiliation to a personal and family monopoly, so the situation of many members of the community did not change a lot, starting from the period between the rule of Hafiz al-Assad and current one of Bashar al-Assad,” he argued.

“What Assad did, is that he paved the way for members of the community to volunteer in the army and security forces, turning a blind eye to their stay in squalid squatter areas or irregular residential districts in Damascus,” Ali said.

The Alawite minority did not expect that the privileges of power after years of what they called “persecution” in the phase before Assad gained power but tried to impose their influence under the name of “the leader and the community.”

Speaking to ARA News, Mamdouh H., a Syrian poet, said that the coastal accent of the Alawites turned into a feature which the Alawites used to recognize each other in order to utilize nepotism and promote relationships developed between members of the community. Alawites enjoyed ecstatic power during the rule of Assad the father and son, but the outbreak of the anti-Assad uprising in 2011 has reduced much of this feeling and they felt that the battle’s options are limited; either it will eliminate them or lead to their departure from the country in case of losing the war . The additional option, which they did not argue, is to recall the pre-Assad era, namely “persecution”.

However, Alawites surrendered to the only option of confronting an enemy the regime itself obliged them to fight against. Therefore, supporting the Assad regime was their only choice to maintain survival. According to state estimations, more than 60,000 Alawites have been killed during the four-year-old war in the country, some of them military members and others were civilians. Additionally, there are thousands of injured who have lost organs and turning them into people with special needs. While, nearly 100,000 Alawite children have became orphans while thousands others have been forcibly displaced from their areas. According to Syrian opposition activist Amer Halwani, the Alawites were unable to look at themselves as a component of the broad Syrian society or as partners even after the downfall of Assad regime.

“Alawites should have revolted against Assad dictatorship since they were among other persecuted components of the Syrian society,” Halwani said. “The regime has turned many of them into Shabbiha (pro-Assad militia) and used them as a tool to suppress Sunni Arabs, Kurds and other ethnic groups in the country.”

Ibrahim Hammoud, a former political prisoner in Assad’s detentions, reported that “the Alawite political prisoners suffered more than other detainees, as the authorities were deliberately placing them in isolated cells so that people do not know that there are opponent members from the same community of the president.”

“This is how the regime tried to maintain its image before the Alawite population in Syria for decades,” Hammoud said. The story goes back to the pre-crisis phase in Syria, as many Alawites used to be active as communists, and have repeatedly revolted against the regime’s actions, but there is a lack of details about such causes due to the forced confidentiality within security headquarters in this regard.

“Until 2008, there were significant rifts in the heart of the Alawite sect, which was unheard by the rest of Syrians. Some Alawites in the countryside of Tartous were inclined to support an Iranian affiliation, while others were seen standing against Iran for fear of losing the community’s identity and turn into mere followers to Iran by the regime’s policies and obvious loyalty to the biggest Shiite power in the region,” the Syrian poet concluded.

The Alawite community constitutes a branch of the extended Shiite sect, which, according to observers, explains the apparent loyalty of the Assad family to Iran and the latter’s commitment to support the Alawite regime in Syria until this moment. Syria’s Alawites have fallen victims to the regime’s policies, which linked their survival to Assad’s rule and convinced them to get largely engaged in the ongoing war against rebels who mostly represent the Sunni majority in Syria. Reporting by: Adel Hassan Source: ARA News