An Existential Battle for the Demographic Future of Syria

December 21, 2016

An Existential Battle for the Demographic Future of Syria

Dr. Harold Rhode

  • The Syrian government, Russia, and Iran are trying the change the demographic makeup of Syria, aiming to depopulate the country of Sunni Arabs. All three see themselves in an existential battle against radical Sunnis and are now moving to repopulate formerly Sunni areas of Syria with Shiites - mostly from Iraq.
  • The places which the Russians have been attacking are the traditional strongholds of the Sunnis, including Aleppo. At the same time, they have refrained from attacking the Christians, Sunni Kurds, and Druze throughout the country. The overwhelming number of Syrian refugees are Arab Sunnis from the Damascus-Aleppo corridor.
  • When the Arab Spring took hold in Syria, the Arab Sunnis revolted against the Alawite regime. They were aided in their efforts by fellow Sunnis in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni powers, which provided arms and funding.
  • Syria's Arab Sunnis never recognized the Alawite rulers as Muslims. The Sunnis acquiesced to Alawite rule because of their inability to forcefully remove the Assad family from power. For these Sunnis, it is an offense against Allah that these non-Muslim Alawites were ruling Syria.
  • The Middle East is a rough neighborhood, and people nurse grudges and perceived insults to their honor until they have the opportunity to avenge perceived "wrongs." Nothing is ever forgotten; nothing is ever forgiven.
  • Though America naively spent large sums trying to train and arm some Sunnis, many of America's "friends" in Syria turned over their weaponry to the myriad of Sunni fundamentalist groups fighting in Syria. For example, American-supplied TOW missiles to these Sunnis later ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda.

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Dr. Harold Rhode served for 28 years as an advisor on the Islamic world in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense.