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In Search of the Solution: A- Karma or Preliminary View of Syrian Political and Social Geography

 On the Lookout

The Owl

 

When we arrive at cherry picking times
The happy nightingale and the satiric blackbird will celebrate together

(French song from the 19th Century, that later became the song of the revolutionaries of the Commune de Paris)

1. Frankly

Let our discussion from the beginning be frank and direct, because the first question that faces us when we think of a solution and/or a way out from the tragedy that we are living is: What got us to this situation? Because, we all know very well that nothing comes from a vacuum. Nothing happens on the ground without causes, and these causes, from a philosophical standpoint, are what the Hindus and Buddhists call Karma.

Also, because without frankness and transpirancy, we will not be able to deal with our problems, diseases and mistakes. Nor will we be able to get out of the dark tunnel in which we are involved. And it is a truly dark tunnel; let us recognize this fact, inspite of the difficulty of this recognition. Not just because our people are going through their roughest days, but also because the foreseeable future that face us is still extremely foggy, and we are unable to discern what the current situation will lead to.

It is a truly dark tunnel, not just because those that are at the top of the regime in our country are still hanging on to it in spite of their colossal failure in managing the current crisis, and in spite of all the destruction they have inflicted on the country. Means that we must continue to offer more sacrifices to convince them to step down.And also because, specifically, in our country with its diverse ethnicity, there are old problems that we have not talked about frankly in the past, choosing to ignore them and or avoid discussing them or even thinking of them.

Because what we live today is not just, as our friend Hassan Abbas said in this wonderful article, a problem of mismanaging the existing diversity, but rather it is caused by our inability up until now to build a true citizenship situation that achieves coexistence among the various components of our people. A failure which means, in its darkest aspects, as we see today, deep sectarian, ethnic and social problems. A situation that push us towards a deeper look into this difficult and complicated situation.

2. On the Complications of the Syrian Ethnic and Sectarian Mosaic

Because everyone knows that in Syria there are multiple ethnicities. The most notable of them are the Arabs who constitute between 75% and 80% of the population, followed by the Kurds whose percentage ranges between 10% and 15%. There are also inhabitants of other ancient or migrant ethnicities who settled in the country over the years, such as the Circassians, the Turkmen, the Assyrians, the Armenians, etc., who constitute the remaining 5%.

Everyone also knows that in our country there are many different religious groups and sects. Because, as our friend Hassan Abbas rightfully said:

If the Middle East is rich with its national minorities, it is primarily because it is a region that attracted and insured the transit for people who came from their geographic surroundings. It is extremely rich in religious diversity because it is the region that witnessed the birth of the three monotheistic religions, and lived through their history of conflicts, divisions and changes. Syria inherited and shared the biggest effects of that history because its land was the host that was the most affected by it. These effects are still evident today, whether through its fixed old pillars or in the daily life of its citizens.

And also, those who belong to Sunni Islam constitute approximately 75% of the Syrian population, followed by the Alawites whose percentage ranges today between 12% and 15% of the people of the country, while the Christians, with their various sects, constitute between 5% and 7% of the population. There is also, in addition to the above, other religious groups, such as the Druze, Ismailis, the TwelverShiites and Yazidis who constitute the remaining percentage of the population.

This diversity, as much as it can reflect the great cultural wealth of the country, if allowed to run wisely and appropriately by a civil, democratic and social regime of government, can easily turn into a rich ground for sedition if mismanaged, as is our case today. For example, a good amount of the Kurds view their Arab brothers with an eye of suspicion, especially those with radical nationalistic orientations, because they contributed, since the Baath came to power in 1963, in denying them their simplest nationalist and cultural rights. This is also the case of a significant percentage of Christians who have today a reserved, if not hostile, stand regarding the revolution, for fear of a supposed Islamic religious fundamentalism that may impact some of their civil rights or undermine some of their social prosperity. Moreover, and specifically, this is the case of the majority of the poor and impoverished people of the Alawite sect, who still to this day are against the popular movement of their poor and impoverished Sunni brothers, and support accordingly the unjust regime sharing the same fears that this regime entrenched among them over the years, then fuelled through its failed management of the current crisis and its reliance on the security solution as a sole mean of dealing with it. Because these fears were already there, although hidden, in all those groups. This means that our country has many problems of ethnic and/or sectarian background. Problems we will attempt to shed more light on, starting with

A. The Kurdish Problem: Because if it is true that the Syrian Kurdish community, as a main component of the country, has been integrated (in form) in the political and social regime of the young Syrian state, in the first half of the last century, when this component did not have any visible problems, the nationalist and ethnic Kurdish differentiation started to appear with the rise to power of the Baath party, and the participation of Syrian armed forces then in the oppression of the Kurdish mutiny in northern Iraq. This differentiation was deepened with the growing up of the Kurdish problem in southern Turkey and the rise of a semi-independent Kurdish entity in northern Iraq.

The Syrian Kurds, who are mostly Sunni, in spite of a significant percentage of Alawites among them in southern Turkey, are dispersed among various countries in the region, especially Turkey, Iran, Iraq and of course Syria, where they constitute between 10% and 15% of its population.

It is noticed that they are supposedly loyal to the Syrian state Noting sadlyon this concern that this State has not proven any success in dealing with them till this date, going so far as to say that it has tried in the past decades to export its Kurdish problem to the neighboring countries andare divided among a relatively well off minority of Kurds from the main cities who cannot even speak Kurdish and are mostly supporters of the current regime, and a poor majority centered in the north of the country, especially in Al Hasakeh Governorate where they have come to constitute a majority. The Kurds are also centered in the poor neighborhoods of the main Syrian cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo.

The result is that most Syrian Kurds today areasking for their recognition as a national group within the frame work of the Syrian state, and for their right to use their national language and spread their own culture. Pointing on this concern to a minority of them (that may turn with time into a majority if the situation deteriorates) that have separatist aspirations, and is seeking to establish an independent Kurdish entity. And I suffice with this on this now, to move to what some call

B. The Problem of the Christian Minority: Because if it seems at first glance that there is no problem related to this very ancient Syrian religiouscommunity that constitutes today between 5% and 7% of the total Syrian population (its percentage exceeded 20% upon independence), which has mostly coexisted well with its surrounding and incubating Islamic environment.This minority, that mostly lives in the main Syrian cities, along with a significant number of its population living in what is called the Christian Valley in the Center of Syria, has concerns that have reappeared to surface recently. The causes, or backgrounds, of these fears are:

-        First, social:Because most of the Syrian Christians belongs to what is called the middle and/or above middle class. And they avoid, like their brothers of the same social standing from the other religions and sects, interfering in politics. Although theirmajority, and especially their religious institutions, standwith the ruling regime in the country, whatever is the nature of this ruling regime. This rationally leads us to the following problem, related to

-        Second, the nature of the actual ruling regime in the country since four decades. This regime, that was described correctly by Hassan Abbas as a sectarian regime voided all forms of a sound political life, turning the Christians that were with it, like the other components of the country in the beginning of the last century, from effective citizens to mere supporters of a regime that convinced their majority that it is protecting them from an assumed fundamentalism lying in the midst of the incubating Sunni community. Mentioning specifically in this context

-        Third, some current Christian political elites: Because those elites contributed to entrench the situation that is prevailing now, and since decades, through the on-the-ground traditionalpresence of this group recruited by radical ideological parties with a secular shell such as the Syrian Nationalist Party, the Communist Party and the Baath Party. Stating that these parties degenerated and give up most of the democratic principles they claimed in the first half of last century, turning mostly (as for every rule there is an exception) into parties that support the existing regime. And also

-        Fourth, we noticed recently, because of the current situation, that the religions institutions of this minority have started to differentiate themselves in their positions from the positions of the regime, by rejecting the latters attempts to arm their followers, stressing that the Christian religion is a religion of Peace and Love.

This social and political classification, rather than a religious one, leads us rationally to deal with a similar and more important situation related to

C. The Sunni Arab Majority and its Problems: Because the first thing we notice on this concern is that this majority that includes between 60% and 65% of the countrys population in most areas and incubateall the others is not different in its social composition, and therefore in its social and political positions, from the other groups

-        First: The Sunni Arab Muslims are divided into those who live in the major cities and those who live in the rural areas or in the suburbs of the main cities and the less important governorates. The population of the Daraa, Deir El Zour and Raqqa governorates are mostly peasants and are still firmly attached to their tribal origins and traditions that tie them to their brothers in Jordan, Iraq and Arab Peninsula. The same applies to the population in the rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib. While a large portion of the Arab Sunnis in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and most of the coastal cities work in commerce, industry, and liberal trades. This makes their position towards the existing regime more flexible. Therefore

-        Second: It was very normal that the political position of the Arab Sunnis in Syria differs according to their areas and social condition. So we notice that the Arab Sunnis in the governorates of Daraa, Deir El Zour and Raqqa, who until recently were strong supporters of the Baath Party, turned into fierce opponents of the Party and of the regime because of its immorality, its oppression and the deterioration of their standard of living. The same applies to the rural population in the remaining Syrian areas. This means

-        Third: In general, the Arab Sunnis, who constitute the majority of the population and its incubator all over the countrydoes do not have, which is also a very natural and very normal issue, a unified and homogenous position on what is going on actually. Their positions regarding the regime differs according to their social conditions and to the nature of the areas in which they live. On the other hand, we notice that with the escalation of the events

-        Fourth: Most of the Arab Sunnis in Syria have recently started to lean towards the popular movement of the poorest of their own people, due to the oppression and immorality of the existing regime and its mismanagement of the crisis, and especially because of its sectarianism. Their sectarian positions have also started to be more radical, which reasonably and ultimately leads us finallyto the most important problem in our Syrian situation.What is called

D. The Alawite Problem: Because, as it is the case for all the other groups and components, our country does not really have an AlawiteSectarian problem, just like it does not have a Christian Sectarian problem. But, if we look from another point of view, there is a problem concerning thegeneral adhesionofthis social and religious group, because of certain social circumstances, to certain specific institutions (mean the army and the security forces), which led to theidentification of this group with the current regime.So the roots of the Alawi problem are certainly not in the special beliefs of this rural minority whose percentage ranges between 12 and 15% of the population, and whose main origin are the mountains overlooking the Syrian coastline, known as the Alawite Mountains. The problem of this sect, which also has its extensions in the countries neighboring Syria to the north and to the west, I mean Turkey and Lebanon, has many causes that are:

-        First, ancient historic reasons extending to the time of the Ottoman Rule, when the people of this esoteric Islamic sect suffered oppression, which pushed them to flee to the mountains asking for protection. In that period they also suffered from negligence by the authorities, which led to their miserable social conditions. This painful reality, as it seems, left a great impact on their common hidden memory, and was very well expressed by the great (woman) Alawitewriter Samar Yezbek.

-        Second, less ancient historic reasons: Extending back to the French mandate days, because, as expressed clearly by the historian Philip Khoury in his book Syria and the French Mandate:

Another factor appeared during the mandate and contributed significantly to entrench the military institution after independence, was its variable composition. According to the French strategy on time, the army developed a strong rural and minority composition, where the Alawites enjoyed high standing. This was especially true among the ranks of the soldiers and sub officers. At the end of the mandate, many brigades in the Special Forces consisted almost entirely of Alawites the French preferred recruits from the minorities and the rural areas for an obvious reason: those recruits were very far from the prevalent Syrian ideology that was Arab nationalism. Additionally,because of the poor social situation of the rural Syrian communities, these minorities used the Army a means for their social ascension. In this way, the lower ranks in the Army, including rank officers, became restricted to the Alawites, Druze and Sunnis from the rural areas. And, because the Alawites were the largest of these minorities, and perhaps the poorest, they were the highest in number in the Army. However, this situation did not have a tangible impact for a full generation after independence. When the Sunni officers were holding strongly to the power points in the army in the years following independence.The Alawites only controlled the Army in the sixties, after consecutive cleansing that took away from the army the higher ranks of the Sunni officers

-        Which means, third,that the main Alawite problem today, if we wish to call it a problem, lies in the full control of the regime, through this sect,over the military and security institutions.This was entrenched significantly after Hafez Al Assad came to power in 1970, when the Alawites in general had their almost private military teams, such as the Defense Brigades, the Conflict Brigades, the Republican Guard, the Fourth Batallion etc. This is a noteworthy phenomenon that was studied very well on the time by many Western researchers.

3. In an attempt to think about what happened and an internal solution to the crisis

The revolution today is in its eighteenth month, and the tragedy is not yet close to ending. However, all the facts point that it shall escalate, and may continue for a while. And also

The popular movement today is no longer peaceful and non-violent as it was in the beginning of the events. It has turned into a violent and bloody revolution that has spread all over the country. And revolutions, as every sane person agree are not beautiful nor coveted, because they are a deep explosion that pushes to the surface all the dirts that werein the past dormant in the heart of society, means the social problems and diseases that now everyone knows.

The popular movement that was non-violent peaceful in the beginning has turned into an armed and bloody conflict in which armies are fightingeach others. These armies, if we want to be more specific are: the regular Army and its main brigades, the security forces and their supporting sectarian militias from one side, and on the other side, the army that was formed by the dissidents of the regular army and formed what is known now as the Free Army, whose brigades are also of a sectarian nature, and the militias that are supporting it.

Means that this conflict, on which we consider the regime to be mainly responsible,hasput the country in the mid of international interactions that are threatening its unity and its entity.As it has also caused death and destruction all over the country. Means:

-        Over 25,000 people killed to this day according to the revolutions sources, and not less than that (i.e. double that figure) if we take the losses claimed by the governmental sources. Additionally, hundreds of thousands detainees, and missing, and injured, and homeless and immigrants. Today, there is about 2.5 million immigrant inside the country and 200 thousand in the neighboring countries. And also

-        These events have led to the destruction of the infrastructure in most of the cities and rural areas, as is the case today in the governorates of Homs, Idlib, Deir El Zor, Dara and currently Aleppo and Rural Damascus. Also

-        These events have caused an almost complete paralysis in the countrys economy since about one and a half year. Also, and this is the most important

-        These events have caused very deep psychological wounds that seem at first glance not able to be recovered. Because everyone knows that the hatred produced by this war in the hearts and minds will take a long time to heal after things quiet down and returned to normal.

And I reflect as a non-violent person, and as a human being, on what can be concluded from this painful situation and its perspectives. And my conclusions are:

-        First: That the old times thatled to the eruption of the revolution, can no longer continue, for the simple reason that they caused the revolution. Means that it is not possible to go back to the situation that was prevailing before the revolution, as if nothing happened. This means

-        Second: If we want to be more specific, that it is no longer acceptable at allthat the existing security regime which is not subject to any accountabilityremain in place. And also, is no longer acceptable that this presidential regime that grants the head of the state absolute and unlimited royal powers remain in place. I also think that

-        Third: Attaining a change of this reality means in fact achieving liberty and dignity to everyone, requires the reaching an historic settlement between all the various components of the Syrian society without exception, whether these components are now in against the existing regime or supporting it.Which means thatno social component should be considered and treated as defeated or excluded because of its previous positions and alliances. What should be defeated and excluded are the oppression, immorality and arbitrariness that bring the country to this situation. What is needed today is that the country with all its positive componentswins. Moderation should prevail and extremism should be excluded. The state structure and institutions must be maintained, but it should become a state of law and citizenship for all citizens. Otherwise, the revolution would be without meaning, and so all the sacrifices made.Whichmeans that

-        Fourth: In the heart of this overwhelming chaos and the prevalent lawlessness, what is required of everyone is wisdom, halting violence, and actively seeking for a way to sort out. A way that would ensure the starting a true national dialogue and a real change of regime. And I reflect finally that

Achieving these goals will grant the maintaining the unity of the country, and avoid the dangers and risks of foreign intervention from all sides. I suffice with this for now

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