Against the partition of Syria

An analysis I wrote for WOZ  , criticizing the partition of Syria advocated by some analysts. The German version is not available yet on their website, I’ll fix the link as soon as it will be published. (Image taken from socioecohistory.wordpress.com)

Fragmentation will serve no one’s interests in Syria

By Andrea Glioti

syrbalk

Amuda (Hasakeh, Syria)- June 7, 2013

An increasing number of analysts see partition as the only solution to the ongoing conflict in Syria. It is undeniable that the regime has started paving the way for its plan B: the establishment of an Alawi State stretching from the coast to Homs, due to the territories lost in favor of the opposition. However, this is an emergency plan rather than a priority and the regime is still firmly in control of the country’s economic capitals (Damascus and Aleppo). Fragmentation would also imply a major central Sunni State, a Kurdish State in the North-Eastern Jazira plain and a Druze State in the South, but none of these sects would be satisfied by the establishment of these new entities, either for economic reasons  or territorial boundaries. Instead of serving as a reconciliation plan, such a division would only serve foreign interests and deepen sectarian tensions.

The only feasible solution is a decentralized State, balancing the representation of all Syrian sects, without marking a Sunni revenge over the other components.

The regime has already started to lay the foundations of the Alawi State. The month of May was featured by an escalation of sectarian violence along the Alawi-majority coast (massacres of Baniyas and Bayda) in a clear attempt to ‘cleanse’ Sunni villages. On June 5, the fall of the strategic town of Qusayr (Western Homs Governorate) in the hands of the regime has reopened the corridor to the Lebanese border and paved the way for the next offensive on Homs: this city is crucial to the survival of Asad’s last shelter, as it would link the Syrian coast to the Lebanese Biqaa valley controlled by Hezbollah, thus circumventing the Sunni-majority Northern Lebanon. This would ensure a continuous flow of weapons and fighters to launch further attacks on the rebels’ bases in the countryside of Damascus.

Having said this, the Alawi State remains an emergency plan, because of its scarce energy resources and the worrisome perspective of being stripped off the country’s economic capitals. Oil and gas fields are in fact concentrated in Deyr az-Zor and Hasakeh and the oil flow to the coast has been officially halted by rebel groups;  the country’s biggest dam is located on the Euphrates river, in the Eastern province of Raqqa, which is completely controlled by the opposition. In the so far unlikely hypothesis of a central Syria dominated by the opposition, the only bargaining chip of the Alawi State would be its access to the sea.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that all Alawis would be willing to live in Assad’s fiefdom: even if they don’t side with the opposition, two main Alawi tribes, al-Haddadiyah and al-Khiyatiyah, are loyal to Bashar’s exiled uncle Rifaat al-Asad. The history of Alawis saw them ‘jumping’ from rural outcasts to the backbone of the Baathist Syrian intelligence, but will the limited resources of a tiny coastal State be able to absorb thousands of former security officials?

From the Iranian perspective, as noted by the former air force officer Abdul-Nasser al-’Aid in an op-ed published by the Pan Arab daily Al-Hayat, supporting an Alawi State would imply a much heavier military and economic burden than mobilizing Shi’a power networks within Syria or Lebanon. In addition to this, al-’Aid suggests that the ‘Alawi elites are likely to leave the country once Damascus will fall in the hands of the opposition, thus casting again the shadow of poorness on the Alawi villages.

From the point of view of the opposition, the hypothesis of a Sunni State with no access to the sea is equally discouraging. The recently approved Government decree ruling the creation of three new provinces- Manbij in the countryside of Aleppo, Badiya in the desert East of Homs and Qamishli in the Kurdish lands of the Jazira- suggests also a narrower extension of the regions the regime is willing to give up to the Sunni rebels: Aleppo won’t be abandoned that easily and the new province of Qamishli is likely to include more than a half of Hasakeh’s oil fields currently controlled by the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party)-affiliated YPG militia. The Kurdish leadership has stated clearly that the- mostly Sunni Arabs have no right over these oil reserves

Even if the Kurdish shadow State dominated by the PYD received temporarily from the regime numerous oil wells, in order to trigger an ethnic divide within the opposition and deter Turkish interference, it would be foolish for Damascus to abandon its energy reserves. If Kurds opt for separatism, the regime would easily mobilize Arab tribes against them, as it still counts on thousands of loyal settlers brought here in the ’60s to change forcibly the demographic balance.

Besides this, the Kurdish State envisaged by the Government decree would be much smaller than West Kurdistan, thus failing to meet Kurdish demands and replicating the Iraqi scenario of Arab-Kurdish contended regions. Finally, the PYD’s political program is shaped on self-administration without geographical borders, encompassing the institutions of every Syrian Kurdish community and ruling out the need of an independent State.

The Druze State in the South seems a more likely option, being part of a plan drafted by a major regional power like Israel to protect the Golan border from the Islamist brigades within the Syrian opposition.  The border has remained quiet for the last forty years and some Druzes have historically cultivated good ties with Israel: Galilean Druzes still serve in the Israeli army, for example. However, the Syrian Druze stronghold Jabal al-Duruz is still totally under the regime’s control and fragmentation is explicitly rejected by the Druze tribal leader Sultan Basha al-Atrash. Under any circumstances, the feasibility of a Druze State is challenged by the Sunni enclave of Daraa, which is located exactly between Jabal al-Duruz and the Golan Heights.

In conclusion, the fragmentation of Syria might serve the Israeli interests by weakening one of its regional rivals, but for sure it doesn’t benefit any of the Syrian communities. Dividing the country along sectarian lines would not be possible without forced population exchanges, supposing that this would help reducing violence: those proposing a solution similar to the partition of Pakistan and India appear completely unaware of the Syrian peculiarities, which cannot be simply overcome by the creation of two or four sectarian States.

The only viable solution is decentralization, according to a model similar to the PYD’s program: self-management of each community according to demographic figures [1], on condition that the borders of local and central powers are precisely defined.

First of all, the Sunni-majority opposition should start accepting decentralization, differently from what it has done so far with the Kurds, and support a fair representation of all minorities within the State apparatus. Any sort of ‘Sunni revival’ is likely to ignite separatist trends. The Baathist regime is unlikely to accept decentralization: its vision is centered on preserving absolute power either on a national or local scale. It will be up to the opposition to exert pressures on Damascus to preserve Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic fabric.


[1] However, it is debatable whether the PYD had the right to set up Kurdish institutions even in the Kurdish-majority neighborhoods located in cities where Kurds are not the majority like Aleppo.

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