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Mordechai Kedar: The Division of Syria

Demographic map of Syria

Demographic map of Syria
Photo Credit: http://www.kurdistanabinxete.com/Besha_Erebi_Erd_Netewe.htm

Syria comprises 14 administrative districts that reflect the demographic distribution of the population.

Following the collapse of the central government, Syria is likely to be divided up according to its ethnic groups, and this division will be fairly similar to the map of administrative districts: six main districts; the rest will either become independent/autonomous, or some or all of them will be subsumed by one of the groups mentioned above.

It could be that some of the districts will declare total independence, while others may form some sort of federation.

The Druze

Opposite the Golan is the district of Kuneitra. This district may unite with the district of Dara’a and Damascus, so that facing Israel will be a state whose center is Damascus. It is very doubtful that the district of Suwayda’ will join it, as it is likely that the Druze will declare themselves to be independent. In the year 1925, when they understood that the French Mandate wanted to bring them into the framework of a Syrian state, they began a rebellion that continued for several months, under the leadership of Sultan Basha al-Atrash, a statue of whose likeness, riding on a noble horse with his unsheathed sword in hand, adorns squares in many Druze villages, and whose picture is hung on the wall of every Druze household.

The ‘Alawites

About two million ‘Alawites live in Syria, who represent a minority of about 10 percent of the citizens of the state. Their traditional area of residence is the Mountains of Ansariyya, the topographical continuation of the Israeli Galilee and the Lebanese mountains. All these mountains are settled by religious and ethnic minorities: Druze, Christians, ‘Alawites and Shi’ites, because they minorities were persecuted by the Sunni Muslim majority in the area. The mountains served these minorities as a place of shelter and refuge for several reasons: the mountain caves provide convenient hiding places; it is difficult for a large army to reach them; and it’s easy for the local residents to block approach roads by tumbling down boulders and trees.

The ‘Alawites, who are considered heretics by Islam, were vigorously persecuted until the French Mandate rescued them from their miserable situation, when it armed and equipped them and made them into soldiers and officers. After the Ba’th revolution of 1963, and especially after Salah Jadid assumed control of the regime in 1966, many ‘Alawites moved to the cities: Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and principally Damascus, where they live in self-contained neighborhoods.

Following the expected fall of the ‘Alawite rule, they will need to flee from their neighborhoods because of the hatred with which the Muslims regard them and the desire of Muslims to take revenge on the ‘Alawites for tens of years of oppression, which has reached terrible proportions over the past year. Some of them will flee abroad, but most will flee to the Ansariyya Mountains, where they lived generations ago. In recent weeks the Syrian regime has been streaming great quantities of arms and ammunition to the mountains of Ansariyya so that they will be able to fortify themselves in these mountains after the great escape.

The Kurds

The Kurds are traditionally residents of the Hasaka area in the North of Syria, however over the years many have migrated to the cities – mainly Aleppo and Damascus. The Kurds and the Arabs relate to each other with mutual hatred. The Kurds are dispersed among four states: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. In Iraq they are almost totally independent. However, in Syria they are oppressed, especially since the state of Syria was established in the year 1943. Most don’t have citizenship, and therefore they cannot hold government office and are not entitled to health or educational services. The regime does not recognize their language and their culture, and whatever they have achieved over the years has been as the result of demonstrations, some of which were violent, and “buying the favors” of the government.

The Kurds in Syria already sniff the scent of freedom from the Arab regime, and they are establishing contact with their brothers in Iraq who support them in their path to independence.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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