The Ba'ath regime in Syria is known as a minority power, based on Arab Alawites. Indeed, people in Head-of-State position, and in many key-role positions are Arab Alawite-origin. However, all of the Arab-Alawite society, who are estimated to compose approximately 10% of the Syrian population, do not support the Assad regime. The Arab Alawite representatives, who came from Hama, also took part in the Syrian opponents conference that was organized in Antalya. The opponent Arab Alawites claim that it is indeed the Assad regime itself, which gave damage to their societies the most. We carried out an interview with Sunda Suleiman, who is the member of the “Party of Modernity and Democracy for Syria” that was created in order to represent the Arab Alawites, on the general situation of the Syrian Arab Alawites, and on their point of view related to the civil commotion in Syria.
Can you introduce yourself ?
Sunda Suleiman: My name is Sunda Suleiman. I am from the suburbs of Hama where the Allawite population is the majority.
Are you from a tribe?
The Alawites don’t have tribes. They belong to the sect, the loyalty goes to the sect itself.
Here today are you presenting just yourself individuality or a political group?
I am a member of a party called Party of Modernity and Democracy for Syria. I am a political activist belonging to that party.
It is generally said especially in the West that the Syrian regime is an Alawite regime. But here many said that while the people around Basher Assad are Alawite, the whole Allawite population does not support the regime. In this respect is it possible to call Syrian regime as Allawite regime?
Firstly it is not possible to describe the regime as an Alawite regime. That is because even in the days of Hafez al-Assad, the father of Basher Assad, many of the opposition figures, who belonged to the same sect, were the Alawites; they were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured just like the other oppositions. Second is that many of the Alawite figures are not supporting the regime. The regime has always played the card of the Alawites, assuming that all the Alawites are loyal to him, therefore loyal to the regime. What happens in reality is that this is not true, because during Basher Assad and his father rule, being an Alawite become harmful to Alawites, a corrupt regime created such kind of a perception. It must be noted that they are loyal to their sect; however their loyalty to their nation, to their Watan is more important for them.
Are there any fears within the Alawite community in Syria that if the regime collapses, that will lead maybe not a civil war, but being a minority in a Sunna majority society. In other words are there any fears of sectarian conflict?
It is very important to know that the Alawites are not the only minority in Syria. In Syria there is the Alawites, Ismailites, Shias, Christians, and Druzes. So, all these elements of the Syrian society constitute the nation of Syria. The regime has played, since its start this card, trying to divide them, trying to make everyone fear from each other. The regime is threatening everybody with the Sunna, which means that there is a trap. Since the beginning of the regime, they started telling, provoking and saying that. They go to the Alawites and say “if you are not loyal to me the Sunna will banish you”. Unfortunately, what is happening is that the Christians, Alawites and other minority groups in Syria were falling in this trap. They were thinking that the regime was protecting them. This was what they were advocating by saying that “those people are going to attack you”. They are doing even more than that. They are giving weapons to Alawites and were asking them who we are calling “thugs”, not only Alawites, “criminals.” Regime gives weapons to people from different sects, also Alawites to attack on Sunnis. Both Sunnis and Alawites are falling in this trap. Our role here is to promote awareness among the people; telling them this is the biggest trap. Big evidence is that we are here altogether, agreeing on everything. We all want Syria liberated and democratic.
Could you tell us how you joined this conference?
First of all I am invited by several opposition groups that are part of the organizing party of this conference. Secondly, we today asked every participant –I did this personally- to provide suggestions to be included within the last statement that is going to be the result and outcome of this conference. Each person presented a few suggestions. One of my suggestions which are representing the party, was that there should be a bullet point saying that the Syrian Revolution will engulf, will contain all people and all sects. We have one target, which is to overthrow this regime. The other suggestion is going to be that we need to reassure as supporters of the Syrian Revolution that we are going to reassure minorities, specifically the Alawite minority to show them that this revolution is not by any mean or form targeting Alawites after the overthrow of the regime. We are committed to this.
What are you ideas about Turkey’s role in this process? What are your expectations from Turkey?
Turkey, as government and people, has presented many good steps to promote what’s happening in Syria. The problem is that very strong ties between the Syrian regime and Turkish government had made it very difficult to disentangle from this relation. However, the steps that has been taken so far by trying to promote reforms, stop the bloodshed, many demands presented by Davutoglu, Gül, and Erdogan, in total were very promising. But we have high hopes and high expectations from the Turkish people, specifically, to actually demand more severe and stern stand from what the government has done, because they have an elected government. The elected government represents the people; therefore they can push further into stopping the bloodshed in Syria.
It is noted that the Alawites in Banias and Lazkiya are different. What are the differences within the Alawite people? Which one is against the regime?
As you said Alawites are spread in many cities and villages in Syria. The first demonstration that happened in Damascus was recorded by a young man who was Alawite. There are many discrepancies like Alawites and like the others. People from Damascus are divided. Some of them are loyalists, others are from the opposition. So we cannot narrow it down to Alawites. We don’t even say “this is Alawite, this is Sunna”. This is not a taboo, but we don’t divide people according to their sect. Furthermore, the Alawites living in coastal region might have had, during the regime’s reign, more advantages than others within the internal regions in Syria like Hama for instance. So they were not privileged as the ones in the coastal areas. That’s the answer in general. The main difference is those who are opposing and those who are promoting.
Thank you very much.
* This interview was carried out during the “Change in Syria Conference”, which was organized in Antalya, on June 1st 2011, by Prof. Dr. Veysel Ayhan, ORSAM Middle East Advisor; and Oytun Orhan, ORSAM Middle East Expert.