Identity, Equality, Unity
Compiled by: Abdul Nishapuri
For the last four decades, Syria has been ruled by a secular, corrupt kleptocracy dominated by the Assads (elite Alawites) but also including elite Sunnis and elite Christians. Given the callous treatment of its own citizens by the Assad regime and also given the sectarian war ignited by the Saudi-Qatar-Turkey sponsored Salafi militants in which ordinary Alawites, Sunnis, Christians are being killed due to sectarian reasons, there are serious doubts about the viability of the Syria to exist as a secular state. Thanks to the patronage of the US, UK and other Western countries, Saudi-Qatar-Turkey trio has been able to smuggle thousands of Salafist Al Qaeda militants into Syria with latest weapons thus effectively disrupting the sectarian harmony and existence of a secular society.
Demographic composition of Syria
Total population: 22,530,746 (July 2012 est.)
According to an estimate, Syria is divided into Sunni Arabs (65 percent), Alawis (12 percent), Christians (10 percent), Kurds (9 percent), Druze (3 percent), Bedouin, Ismailis, Turcomans, Circassians, and Assyrians.
According to other sources, the demographic composition as follows:
Sunni Shafi’i Muslims: 48% (up to 57%)
Sunni Hanafi Muslims: 11% (up to 14%)
Salafi Sunnis: 1%
Total Sunnis: 60% to 72%
Total Sunnis minus Kurd population (i.e., Sunni Arab population): 51% to 63%
Shia Alawites: 12% (up to 20%)
Shia Druze: 3%
Shia Twelever: 2%
Shia Ismailis: 1%
Christians: 10% (up to 14%)
Total Shias and Christians: 28% to 40%
Arab 89% (or 84%)
Kurds 10% (up to 15%)
Armenians, others 1%
Why ethno-religious division?
Innocent blood is being spilt in the streets of Damascus, Aleppo and other cities and towns while Assads,Erdogans and the House of Saud remain interested in securing their own political interests. The violence from both sides has been intense, and the population is now divided beyond reconciliation between the parties involved. A regime change won’t extinguish the divisions that already exist and are getting more entrenched every day.
The only thing that can stop the violence is a national division along ethno-religious (or ethno-sectarian) lines.
Most Americans and other non-Syrians would be surprised to learn of the ethnic and religious diversity that exists in present-day Syria. Standard references sources give an impression of clear domination by Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims.
The CIA World Factbook summarizes Syria’s cultural make-up as follows:
“Ethnic Groups: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%. Religions: Sunni Muslim 74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze) 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo).”
In fact, Sunni Arabs are not as demographically dominant as they might seem. The most potent force in the so called Free Syrian Army comprises Slafist Sunnis who represent only 1% of Sunnis in Syria.
Moreover, the basic numbers are disputed; Alawites, as discussed in a previous post, may constitute as much as twenty percent of Syria’s population. The Sunni population also includes many non-Arabic speakers, including most Kurds–and the Kurdish population may form fifteen or even twenty percent of the total, according to Kurdish websites. Christian numbers are also likely under-reported, as they seldom include the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees living in the country. The Arab Sunni population itself, moreover, is internally divided. Arab Syrians speak widely divergent dialects that most linguists regard as separate languages. As the language map shows, the Arabic dialects of eastern Syria are related not to those of western Syria but rather to those of Iraq.
The Alawis will be persecuted and assimilated into a Slafi-Sunni dominated Syria. As will the Christian minority and the Druze. Alawis have been considered heretics for centuries: they follow the Shia sect of Islam, believe in reincarnation, they do not veil their women, they are quite liberal in their outlook, and in the modern era they have been quite secular.
Since their balkanization by Ottomans and Safavids in the 16th century, Kurds have been seeking liberty and a right to have their own independent country. Kurdistan is a roughly defined geo-cultural region wherein the Kurds form a prominent majority population, and Kurdish culture, language, and national identity have historically been based.This comprises parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Iranian Kurdistan) and northern Syria inhabited mainly by Kurds. Kurdistan roughly encompasses the northwestern Zagros and the eastern Taurus mountain ranges, and covers small portions of Armenia.
The number of Kurds living in Southwest Asia is estimated at 26-34 million, with another one or two million living in diaspora. Kurds are the fourth largest ethnicity in the Middle East after Arabs, Persians, and Turks.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Kurds comprise 18% of the population in Turkey, 15-20% in Iraq, 9% in Syria, 7% in Iran and 1.3% in Armenia. In all of these countries except Iran, Kurds form the second largest ethnic group. Roughly 55% of the world’s Kurds live in Turkey, about 18% each in Iran and Iraq, and a bit over 5% in Syria.
UN Security Council should use the Syrian crisis and the volatile situation in Turkey, Iran etc as an opportunity to negotiate with these countries in order to create a free Kurdistan. Here is an approximate map:
2. West Syria:
In May 2011, International Christian Concern indicated that Christians in Syria were more afraid of the anti-government protesters than of the government itself, because under the Syrian Assad government there has been tolerance towards religious minorities.
Western part of Syria will comprise the coastal areas dominated by the Alawites and Christians as shown in the following map:
West Syria will include he strip of coastal and mountainous land between the northern border with Turkey and the southern Lebanese frontier. The strip includes the thriving city of Tartus, home to a Russian naval base.
In the 18 months since the uprising began, Syria’s demographic map has been rapidly changing, according to witness accounts.
While official tallies do not exist, there have been reports of thousands of Alawite families relocating to the coast or buying property in cities such as Tartus in anticipation of a shift in fortunes.
Historically, the Alawites, a persecuted sect considered heretical by the Sunni Muslim establishment, tilled the fields in the mountains east of Syria’s northern coast. The wealthy Mediterranean coastal areas were dominated by Sunni merchants and a mix of other religious groups – including Greek Orthodox Christians and Armenians.
The marginalised Alawites’ fortunes turned when Hafez al-Assad, the current Syrian president’s father, came to power in 1971.
3. East Syria:
East Syria will comprise the Sunni Shafei majority population along with Sunni Hanafis, Salafis and minority pockets of Christian and Alawites. East Syria will also have a semi-autonomous region in the South for its Daruze population.
In the current Saudi-sponsored sectarian war, Alawis and Christians are seeking refuge in Western coastal provinces. Sunnis are already leaving the Latakia governate. This will allow the international community to find some eventual solution with the least trouble and death: West Syria comprising Alawis and Christians, East Syria comprising Sunnis, and a newly enlarged Kurdistan.
The proposed division will be fine with Russia which will vigorously support the West Syria which will incorporate Tartous. Iran may have to accept it since they can still support Hezbollah. The Sunnis get the heartland. The Kurds get a newly enlarged Kurdistan. The Christians become a sizable partner in West Syria, and Druze get a semi-autonomous status.
East Syria will control two main cities (Damascus, Aleppo etc) and the major chunk of the present Syria whereas West Syria will get the port cities and a well educated skilled population of 5-6 million (Alawi, Christian, Druze).
UNESCO as well as UN army will be responsible for the security of holy shrines and historical sites in Damascus, Aleppo and other cities in East and West Syria. UN army will also ensure security of thousands of Shia and Sufi Sunni Muslims originally from Turkey, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Iran etc who are settled in the Sayyida Zainab area of Damascus.
West Syria will be supported by many around the world. Alawites along with the Christians and other minorities are the victims of Saudi sponsored Salafist militants. If Kosovars could get their “country” to protect them from Serbian ethnic cleansing, similar solution could be considered for Alawites and Christians. West Syria State supported by Russia and China will gain recognition from many in the non aligned movement and the United Nations.
A Western Syria comprising Alawite and Christians will be quite defensible. They will retain a large portion of the highly trained military and intelligence officers, as well as heavy weaponry and much of the institutional structure of the state. In fact, the remainder state in the interior will face a tremendous shortage of human capital and functioning state apparatus. It would take a while for them to construct viable institutional structures necessary for a strong state. Also, there is quite specific demographic shift currently taking place which make the West Syria and East Syria as more likely possibility.
The best solution for Syria would be a demilitarized zone (DMZ) style division under the auspices of Russia, China, US, Iran and Turkey. A new divided Syria could model itself on the rapid development model of North and South Korea. Divided Syria could benefit from democratization of South Koria and industrialization of North Korea. A rational division is the perfect opportunity for a conversion to a peaceful Syria, which could serve as a beacon of hope for all Semitic/Arab peoples.
Some relevant maps
Arabic dialects map: