Monday, December 9, 2013

The Druze of Idlib province & the civil war

Background[i]

The Druze community in Idlib province lives in or near the Jabal al-Aʿla - or Jabal as-Summaq in the north of the province, close to the Turkish border in a rural and relatively isolated environment. These communities are the most northern Druze settlements and also the weakest and politically less important.


Druze villages in northern Syria auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen


The 17[ii] villages are mostly relatively small and situated in a predominately Sunni environment. This unfavourable setting let to mass migration to the Druze centers in Suwaidaʾ, Mount Lebanon and nowadays Israel, where Halabi (meaning from Aleppo district, to which the area belonged then - Halab in Arabic) is a common family name nowadays. Without a real power base, vulnerable and far away from the Druze centers in Mount Lebanon and later southern Syria, the remaining Druze of Idlib province had to find a way to get along with their Sunni neighbors. They did so, not unlikely their brothers in the Galilee and the Karmel, by acting politically particularistic without attracting attention and by practicing taqiyya. The usage of taqiyya to explain Druze political behavior is problematic to say at least, the term is used here in a strictly religious context i.e. to cover the own faith. Taqiyya led to a "sunnification" of the Druze in the area to avoid persecution. The Druze villages here even contain mosques, which are uncommon in other Druze areas.

Supporting the Revolution

Given the historical adjustment to the Sunni surrounding and the support for the uprising against Asad in the area, it came as no no big surprise, when the Druzes of Idlib province expressed their support for the revolution too. 

allegedly Druze sheikh during an anti-Asad rally in Kafar Takharim spring 2012

Even though, according to a AFP report from June 2012, they were not active inside the FSA, a positive attitude towards the revolution was demonstrated and e.g. wounded fighters treated and defectors hidden. Gary C. Gambill suggests a next reason for the positive attitude of the Druze in the region towards the revolution: Walid Junblat, who had urged the Druze of Syria to join the revolution (lately his enthusiasm kinda cooled down). According to Gambill Junblat's influence is strong there, unlike in Suwaidaʾ, where Bashar and Hafiz Asad were always keen to prevent Walid Junblat from forming close ties. 
FSA-fighters in Qalb Loza summer 2012

ISIS attacks Kaftin

On October 29 al-Qaida linked ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Shams) attacked the Druze village of Kaftin. Pro-Asad media circulated news according to which a massacre had happened. Pro-opposition news portal Zaman Alwasl quickly denounced these reports as fake:
"A field activist reported what happened saying: “a branch of ISIS attacked the village, but its men with the help of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and many Sunni people from surrounding villages, and they managed to defeat ISIS and prevented it from entering the village. 
The activist confirmed that what published on social network was an attempt to turn the fact upside down, and killing people and abducting women were only rumors."
The latter version is supported by the fact that no claims of a massacre could be found on the respective Asad-leaning Druze Facebook sites, which normally would report such an incident. However a week later CNN listed Kaftin among the villages in Northern Syria under the full control of ISIS.

Information on the Druze of Idlib province is generally rare and what had happened on October 29 in Kaftin is not verified. It is clear that the Druze of Idlib province are under threat from ISIS, despite their pro-revolution reputation. If it is true, that Kaftin or other Druze villages are under the control of ISIS, the inhabitants are faceing extremely hard times. The persecution of Christians by ISIS is well documented (e.g. in Raqqa) and the Druze have no reason to hope for a better treatment. Unlike Christians, Druze are not even seen as ahl al-kitab (people of the book), who can at least in theory hope to be protected as dhimmi if they pay the jizya taxDruze and Alawites alike are seen as apostates and therefore can not count on any kind of protection.

"Syria Druze back Sunnis' revolt with words but not arms" by Herve Bar/AFP (report about Qalb Loza village from June 2012)


[i] I'm referring here mostly to Firro; Kais (1992): A History of the Druzes, Leiden: Brill, p. 47-49; 165-166.[ii] The exact number may differ depending on who you ask. I go here with the list in Abu Chakra, Eyad (2005): The Druzes and Arabism, in: Salibi, Kamal (2005): The Druze: realities and perceptions, London: Druze Heritage Foundation, p. 179.

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