Baladi News – (Turki Mustafa)
This paper discusses the demographic change in Syria during the previous years of the revolution. Assad’s regime and the Iranian militias were not the only responsible parties for such a change. Rather, the United Nations played a prominent role by supervising the displacement of the Sunnite opponents of Assad’s regime.
This study defines two methods of demographic change;
First: Violent demographic change using military tools.
Second: Soft demographic change using the policy of besiegement until death.
Demographic and Sectarian Distribution in Syria Until Early 2011
According to unofficial statistics, the population of Syria reached approximately 23 million. Of these, 3,393,000 live in Aleppo, followed by Damascus with 3,175,000, and Homs with 1,131140 according to a UN report in 2008.
The Sunnite Arabs are the majority of the population. They are focused in the main cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, Hama, Deir Ez-Zour, and Raqqa, whereas the Alawite, Druze, Ismaili, and Shiite minorities are distributed in mountainous villages of the Syrian coast, Jabal al-Druze in Sweida, Salamiyya, and some small neighborhoods in Damascus. Christians are distributed all around Syria in addition to various ethnic groups including Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syrians, and Armenians.
The Kurds are mostly Sunnite Muslims residing in northern and north eastern Syria, whereas the Turkmen, who are also Sunnites, live in Aleppo, Damascus, Lattakia, and Homs.
Politicians’ diaries and some Lebanese newspapers estimate that the Arab Sunnites constitute 77% of the total population, whereas the Alawites are 10%, the Druze, Ismaili, and Shiites are 3% combined, and the Christians are 8%.
Assad’s Regime Plans to Attract Alawites to the Army
After the Alawite penetration into the security and army sectors during the French occupation of Syria, the Sunnite residents abstained from sending their sons to the army because this serves the French occupation on the one hand, and because the military colleges are hotbeds of the lazy and academically underdeveloped people.
The Alawites established a massive front that waged a cleansing campaign against the Sunnite officers in 1966. After an Alawite-Alawite conflict, Hafez Al-Assad seized the power in 1970 in a coup and ruled the country through dozens of Alawite officers.
Demographic Change in Hafez al-Assad Era
Since he took power in 1970, Hafez al-Assad practiced demographic change according to systematic steps that can be summarized as follows: -Development of a Demographic Change Policy: Assad’s regime consecutive economic plans forced many residents to immigrate to the Gulf States. In mid 1970s, the regime changed the Syrian Desert into natural reserves, which led many members of Aniza tribe to leave to the Gulf. In the 1990s, drought hit the country, forcing a significant number of people to head towards Lebanon and Europe due to the absence of alternative development plans.
Most dangerously, Assad practiced a demographic change in the capital, Damascus, under the pretext of re-planning the city, which caused the redistribution of the indigenous residents to various neighborhoods in the city. On the other hand, the Alawite army officers were allowed to build slums around the city including Mazzeh 86, Alsumaria, and Osh al-Warwar. - Massacres of the 1980s:: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Syria witnessed several uprisings against Assad’s regime who responded by arresting the Alawite political elites who opposed Assad’s policy. This was followed by several uprisings among the Sunnites. The regime responded very aggressively and committed massacres in the Sunnite cities, including the massacre of Jisr al-Shukgur in 1980, where 97 civilians were killed. This was followed by massacres against 40 people in Sarmada in the same year, 83in al-Masharqa of Aleppo, and 42 in
In 1982, Assad’s regime committed the most enormous massacre against 40,000 civilians in Hama city , forcing the residents to leave the country, whereas thousands were arrested and are still unaccounted for.
Bashar al-Assad Systematic Armed Demographic Change Chemical Ethnic Cleansing
Assad’s regime forces committed various massacres using internationally prohibited chemical weapons in more than 140 attacks. They mainly include Aleppo attack in March 2013, where 20 people suffocated, Ghouta attack on August 21, 2013, where 1500 civilians were killed, Homs chemical attack on December 23, 2013, the chemical attacks in Idlib on 29 April 2014, 16 and 31 march 2015, and the latest April, 4, 2017 when 100 civilians were killed, mostly children and women. Whereas in al-Latamina of Hama countryside, 16 attacks have been conducted according to activists.
Assad’s Chemical Attacks, Denouncement Without Punishment. In February 2014, the UN fact-finding committee issued a statement that indicated that sarin gas was used in several occasions in Khan al-Assal and Ghouta, but Assad’s regime was not referred to as the perpetrator of such attacks. In early April 2015, the United Nations issued statement No. 2209 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria and threatening to use the 7th chapter in case the attacks continue.
Scorched Land Policy
According to international reports, it is estimated that the number of victims since the beginning of the Syrian uprising on 15 March 2011 exceeded one million, of whom 92% were civilians. This percentage is much higher than the WWII.
Below are some of the bloodiest massacres committed by Assad’s regime and the Shiite militias since 2011:
- The 22 June 2013 massacre in Rasm al-Nafl of Aleppo southern countryside, where 191 civilians were slaughtered with knives.
- May 2013 massacre in Banias, where 145 where shot dead.
- May 2013 massacre in Aleppo central prison against 50 prisoners.
- April 2014 massacre in Jdaydat al-Fadl against 483 civilians using knives.
- Quaiq River massacre on 29 January 2013, where nearly 80 civilian young men were hanged and slain using cleavers and thrown in the river.
- Aleppo University massacre: 90 civilians, mostly university students, were killed in an airstrike conducted by Assad’s regime on 15 January 2013.
- Darayya massacre of 26 August 2012 when 500 people, including women and children were slaughtered and 100 houses were burned. - Destruction of Revolting Cities and Towns with Warplanes and Ballistic Missiles Since 2012, Assad’s regime warplanes have bombarded the Syrian cities, towns, and villages using all kinds of stocked missiles and bombs. They have also used random barrel-bombs to kill civilians indiscriminately. After the Russian interventions, new types of weapons were used to test the Russian arsenal, including ballistic missiles launched from Russian warships in the Mediterranean.
- Soft Demographic Change
This policy has been a main component of the strategy of Assad’s security and the Iranian militias to force people to leave their areas. In this regard, Assad’s regime and its allies focused on Damascus and its surroundings to end any military presence of the Syrian opposition starting from Barzeh in and followed by Qabun and Tishreen in February 2014.
In southern Damascus, the rebels’ factions signed an open ceasefire according to which the heavy weaponry were surrendered. Moving to the western Ghouta, an agreement was concluded, which provided for transferring 135 fighters towards Idlib. Similar agreements were signed in the towns of Wadi Barada, which created a secure area from Zabadani to Madaya.
Darayya in the south west of Damascus witnessed the largest transfer late in August 2016. The city was evacuated completely of both civilians and fighters, who were replaced by Shiite militias and their families.
Earlier in 2014, residents and fighters in the old city of Homs were transferred to the northern countryside after two years of besiegement alongside heavy shelling that destroyed most of the city.
Demographic Change Consequences
Despite the escalated forced displacement of the Sunnite majority in Syria using the aforementioned tools, Assad’s regime and its allies realize that the Alawites are still a minority . Therefore, the regime worked on buying the loyalty of the other minorities, such as the Druze, Ismailis, and Christians in what is known as the useful Syria to create a balance between the minorities and the Sunnite majority.