Press Esc to close
Tuesday 01 September 2015
News updated at 9:29 PM IST
Weather
Max: 29.4°C
Min : 21.1°C
In Bengaluru
Sunny day

Syria staring at a genocide

By Simon Adams, Nov 17, 2012, NYT:

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of rebels executing Syrian soldiers and Alawites.

At a recent meeting hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Peter W Galbraith, a former American ambassador who witnessed ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, made a chilling prediction. “The next genocide in the world,” he said, “will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”

A few months ago, talk of possible massacres of Alawites, who dominate Bashar Assad’s government in Syria, seemed like pro-regime propaganda. Now, it is a real possibility. For more than a year, Assad’s government has been committing crimes against humanity in Syria. As it fights for survival on the streets of Aleppo and Damascus, the risk of unrestrained reprisals against Assad’s Alawite sect and Syria’s other religious minorities is growing every day.

Following the rise to power of Assad’s father, Hafez, in 1970, Alawites were transformed from a persecuted minority sect to the controlling force within the army and government. With a system of perks similar to those in other dictatorships, the elder Assad drew other religious and ethnic minorities into his political orbit while rebellions by members of the Sunni majority, like the one in Hama in 1982, were mercilessly crushed.

Collective punishment

When the Arab Spring reached Syria last year, it dredged up animosities that had been lurking for decades. The protest movement was avowedly nonsectarian, attracting Syrians from all communities. But in the government’s eyes, the opposition was simply a Sunni front seeking to topple the Assad family and end Alawite rule. As the violent repression of protests gave way to the destruction of opposition-controlled villages, the government moved from targeting individual dissenters to imposing collective punishment upon entire neighborhoods. Sunni areas were shelled by artillery and tanks, and the pro-government shabiha militia, made up mainly of Alawites, carried out ferocious massacres of men, women and children. The majority of victims were Sunni civilians.

As the civil war intensifies, Assad is increasingly outsourcing the dirty work. In Damascus, militia groups within Druse, Christian and Shiite areas are being armed by the government. While the justifications for these militias are “neighborhood self-defense” and the protection of religious sites, the shabiha emerged in a similar way before becoming killing squads for Assad. And by drawing Christians, Druse, Shiites and Alawites into the civil war on an explicitly sectarian basis, the Syrian government has all but guaranteed that there will be reprisals against these communities if Assad falls.

Indeed, as pro-democracy protests degenerated into civil war, the ideological composition of the opposition changed. The Free Syrian Army’s slogan remains, “We are all one people of one country.” But inside Syria those chanting “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves!” have become more than a fringe element. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented cases of rebels executing Syrian soldiers and Alawites regarded as government collaborators.

Growing numbers of foreign Sunni extremist fighters are battling not just to rid Syria of Assad, but to religiously cleanse it. As a result, many Syrian Christians now fear that their fate will mirror that of Iraqi Christians, who were largely forced out of Iraq by war and sectarian terrorism. The city of Homs was once home to 80,000 Christians; there are now reportedly fewer than 400.

Three vetoes by Russia and China have blocked attempts by the UN Security Council to hold the Syrian government accountable for its crimes. But those who have opted for a proxy war in Syria and who are now financing the rebels cannot avoid responsibility for what comes next.

Governments that have publicly committed themselves to helping end Syria’s misery, including the United States, must immediately do two things to help prevent a violent backlash against Alawites and other minorities. First, they must impress upon the newly united Syrian opposition that support depends on strict adherence to international humanitarian law. Armed groups who advocate fracturing Syria along sectarian or regional lines should be denied funds; there should be absolutely no aid for rebel groups who target Alawites and other minorities for reprisals or who commit war crimes. Second, outside governments should intensify their efforts to hold all perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable at the International Criminal Court, regardless of their allegiance.

That also means allocating funds for additional United Nations human rights monitors on the Syrian border in order to collect evidence and testimony for future prosecutions. Syria has experienced untold horrors throughout its history. But it is a historic crossroads of cultures, faiths and civilizations. The real choice in Syria today is not between Alawites or Sunnis, or between Assad and al-Qaida, but between action enabling further crimes against humanity to take place and action dedicated to ending impunity for such crimes once and for all.


Go to Top

Photo Gallery
women's 2000M Dragon Boat race event at the 4th National Dragon Boat Championship...

women's 2000M Dragon Boat race event at the 4th National Dragon Boat Championship...

Launch of Ciaz Smart Hybrid in New Delhi...

Launch of Ciaz Smart Hybrid in New Delhi...

Iris Maju is crowned as Mrs India World 2015 in Kochi on Tuesday...

Iris Maju is crowned as Mrs India World 2015 in Kochi on Tuesday...

Activist of AASU burn tyres during a protest at Margherita in Tinsukia district...

Activist of AASU burn tyres during a protest at Margherita in Tinsukia district...

Narendra Modi leaves in a chopper after NDA's Parivartan Rally at the Airport Ground in Bhagalpur...

Narendra Modi leaves in a chopper after NDA's Parivartan Rally at the Airport Ground in Bhagalpur...

A artist giving final touches to the Ganesha idol ahead of Ganesha Chathurthi Festival...

A artist giving final touches to the Ganesha idol ahead of Ganesha Chathurthi Festival...

Vehicle riders watch as two decorated elephants pass near Shanthala theatre...

Vehicle riders watch as two decorated elephants pass near Shanthala theatre...

Eunuchs carry wheat saplings on their heads during a procession taken out to celebrate Bhujaria  ...

Eunuchs carry wheat saplings on their heads during a procession taken out to celebrate Bhujaria ...

Local members of Shiv Sena and Dogra Front carrying onions to mark protest against price hike of ...

Local members of Shiv Sena and Dogra Front carrying onions to mark protest against price hike of ...

Kannada actor Shivarajkumar and Geetha daughter Nirupama with Dileep weeding at Tripuravasini  ...

Kannada actor Shivarajkumar and Geetha daughter Nirupama with Dileep weeding at Tripuravasini ...

Copyright 2014, The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd., 75, M.G Road, Post Box 5331, Bengaluru - 560001
Tel: +91 (80) 25880000 Fax No. +91 (80) 25880523