World View: Syria’s Alawites Threaten to Abandon Bashar al-Assad

A billboard sponsored by Latakia's chamber of commerce and industry shows pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his late father former president Hafez al-Assad in the coastal city of Latakia, the provincial capital of the heartland of Syrian president's Alawite sect, on March 17, 2016. / AFP / …

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict extremely dangerous, despite ‘unilateral ceasefire’
  • Syria’s Alawites threaten to abandon Bashar al-Assad

Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict extremely dangerous, despite ‘unilateral ceasefire’

Furious Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev announces that the cease-fire will be observed
Furious Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev announces that the cease-fire will be observed

Heavy fighting continued on Sunday for the second day between Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh (NKB). As I reported yesterday, there is widespread concern that this conflict could spread south into the Mideast and north into the Caucasus.

There were many international calls for a cease-fire. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of starting the renewed fighting. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of violating international law, and announced a “unilateral ceasefire”:

We won’t abandon our principal position, but at the same time, we observe the ceasefire, and after that we will try to solve the conflict peacefully. At the same time, we will strengthen our army. We are fighting on our territory. If an Armenian soldier doesn’t want to die, then let him get off Azeri territory. I have said that many times, and I want to repeat it now.

However, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry, said: “The statement by the Azerbaijan side is an information trap and does not amount to a unilateral ceasefire.”

The Nagorno-Karabakh military (which holds to the position that it is distinct from the Armenian military) said: “The Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces are ready to meet and discuss a ceasefire proposal in the context of restoring former positions.”

In fact, there have been reports of continued fighting by both sides.

As we described in yesterday’s report, the NKB conflict is extremely dangerous. There are reports that Turkey is openly supporting Azerbaijan. Russia is remaining nominally neutral, but Armenia is an important Russian ally, while Turkey is an important Russian enemy. It is possible that either Turkey or Russia could intervene militarily, in which case, the conflict would draw other countries in and begin to spiral. AzerTag (Azerbaijan) and Reuter

Syria’s Alawites threaten to abandon Bashar al-Assad

In a surprise, a document has emerged by the leaders of Syria’s Alawite sect dissociating members of the sect from the regime of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad.

Al-Assad himself is an Alawite, and the Alawites have been the group in Syria most loyal to him, as al-Assad has conducted his genocidal attempts to exterminate the Sunni majority as if they were cockroaches. But this relationship is at a high cost for the Alawites:

  • Much of al-Assad’s army has been drawn from the Alawite community. Although defections and desertions substantially crippled the army, especially prior to Russia’s military intervention, the sect has lost about a quarter of all of its men of fighting age.
  • After the conflict ends, it is quite possible that many of the Sunnis in Syria will seek revenge against the Alawites. This is particularly true of the jihadists, who claim that the Alawites are an apostate sect.

The new document is called a “Declaration of Identity Reform.” The document concedes “that we have been, for far too long, defined with the words of others rather than our own,” and seeks to remedy this situation by establishing a new and distinct identity.

In interviews with foreign journalists, Alawite leaders said that they “should not be associated with the crimes the regime has committed.” The document says that Syria has suffered because of “totalitarian regimes:

The vicissitudes of the Syrian land tender proof that no true national integration has materialized yet. A national integration was forged before the era of the modern State through the coercion of imperial rule. Later, it became no more than an illusion exhibited by totalitarian regimes. […]

26: The ruling political power, whoever embodies it, does not represent us nor does it shape our identity or preserves our safety and reputation. Nor do we, the Alawites, substantiate it or generate its power. The legitimacy of a regime can only be considered according to the criteria of democracy and fundamental rights.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the document declares that Alawism is not a branch of Shia Islam, as has been widely reported in the press for years;

28: We do not speak, in this Declaration, as religious preachers but as people inspired by religious thought. Doctrinal Islam, Sunni or Shia, in our view, originated in a quest to understand God’s message, the religious. It focuses on what comes from God. In contrast, Alawism can be regarded as a quest to understand what God truly is. In Doctrinal Islam, God is behind everything. In Alawism, everything is hidden behind God.

Our differentiation of Alawism from Shiism is not a shift from the latter, nor an evolutionary act. It is a reverence to the primary and original truth.

29: The fact that Alawism and Shiism share some formal religious sources does not make Alawism a branch of Shiism. Since Shiism until today allows for the constructive interpretation of religious texts (Al-Ijtihad) it was merely an obligatory passage for all those who wanted to restore or even revolutionize Muslim thought.

The document also calls for integration with other religions:

35: Alawism incorporates elements of other monotheist religions, most notably Judaism and Christianity. These elements enrich Alawism and shall not be seen as marks of deviation from Islam but as elements that bear witness to our riches and universality.

Alawite Declaration of Identify Reform (PDF) and Telegraph (London) and BBC

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, NKB, Serzh Sargsyan, Ilham Aliyev, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, Russia, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Alawite, Declaration of Identity Reform
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