'Ethnic cleansing' in Syria

Former Islamic advisor to US Defense Secretary says Sunnis are being forced out from Aleppo and other fertile areas.

Hillel Fendel ,

Site of airstrike in Syria
Site of airstrike in Syria

The Syrian government, Russia, and Iran are trying to depopulate Syria of the Arab Sunnis, and thus change the demographic makeup of Syria. So writes Dr. Harold Rhode, who served for 28 years as an Islamic world advisor in the U.S. Secretary of Defense office.

Writing this week for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Rhode explained that before the "Arab Spring," the Sunnis were the largest religio-ethnic group in Syria, mostly inhabiting a very fertile strip of land from Aleppo to Damascus to the Jordanian border. Those Sunnis who are still there, even after five years of civil war, are now being forced to move to areas near the Turkish border.

Rhode says the explanation for this strategy is fairly simple: Bashar Assad and his regime are themselves of the Alawite sect – which the Sunnis do not even recognize as Moslem. The Shi'ites, on the other hand, recognize the Alawites as a branch of Shi’ism.

According to the Sunnis, therefore, Assad is not a legitimate leader, as Islamic law requires that only Muslims may rule a Muslim country. Prior to the Arab Spring, the Alawites constituted only an eighth of Syria’s population, keeping order in the country through coercion, not via democracy. However, when the Arab Spring provided the opportunity, the Arab Sunnis revolted against Assad, joined by Sunni support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

The Alawite fear of the Sunnis is thus clear. Iran, a Shi'ite country, also has a long-standing with the Sunnis, and Russia, too, has an axe to grind with the Sunnis; some 98% of the former Soviet Muslims are Sunni.

Thus, the Iranians, Russians, and Syrian governments all joined together to fight against the Sunni fundamentalists, forcing them to leave the country via bombing, terrorism, and other methods. "It is therefore not surprising," writes Rhode, "that the overwhelming numbers of Syrian refugees are Arab Sunnis from the Damascus-Aleppo corridor which has been the traditional heartland of the Arab Sunni community. Indeed, the majority of migrants currently living in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey are largely Arab Sunni, as are the refugees who made it to Europe."

With the Sunnis dislocated, the Russian-Iranian-Assad coalition has moved on to the next-stage: repopulating the emptied-out areas with Shiites, mostly from Iraq.

Thus, the coalition attacks places like Aleppo, but holds its fire from the Christians, Sunni Kurds, and Druze throughout Syria. The fundamentalist Sunni Turkish government, on the other hand, is clearly on the side of the Sunnis and opposes the above coalition.

Rhode concludes that the United States, for its part, has failed to grasp that the fighting in Syria is mostly a battle for the demographic future of that country – and that soon, Syria is liable to be relatively Sunni-free.