the war nerd on syria

this is a MUST READ! if you’re not a subscriber, the article in ungated for another ca. 10 hours from now (ca. 10 a.m. EST):

“Little Kerry and the Three Bad Options”

“Isn’t Assad a bad guy? Isn’t his regime evil? I don’t really understand those questions as well as everybody else seems to. The Alawites have reason to expect the worst, to stick together, and to fear Sunni domination. Those fears go way back to Ottoman rule.

“Under the Ottomans, Alawites were kaffir, ‘heretics.’ That meant, basically, ‘fair game.’ At the moment, there’s a lot of nonsense going around about how sweet and tolerant the Ottoman Empire was from people who read Said’s Orientalism, or at least got the gist from the back cover, and went from the old European cliché ‘Ottomans—evil’ to a new one, ‘Ottomans—good.’ It makes me tired, this binary crap. If you can’t handle anything more modulated than that, stick to tweeting ‘Miley Cyrus: Saint or Sinner?’

“Yeah, the Ottomans were occasionally considerate of minorities who had powerful connections abroad, like Western Christians (not Armenian, of course) or who performed useful state functions, like some Jews (not all) — but groups like the Alawites, without powerful foreign connections, huddled in the coastal hills hoping not to be noticed, were prey in the Ottoman view. The Alawites only survived by sticking together, fighting the Sunni when attacked, and above all, hoping not to be noticed. If the local authorities were kindly, they’d just be taxed to death for their heresy. If the Pashas were in a bad mood, troops would descend on Alawite villages and carry off all likely-looking women and children to be sold as slaves….

“The post-war years were full of wild experiments in the Arab world. The only constant was that military coups were the rule. Leaders came from the army — Nasser, Ghadafi, Saddam. So when an officer with coup-making skills happened to come from a tightly-knit community, he was almost sure to end up in charge. Saddam had his Tikrit clan in Iraq; Ghadafi had his academy buddies in Libya; Hafez Assad had his Alawite kin in Syria. The Alawites were perfectly placed to take advantage of this coup-centered polity. T. E. Lawrence said about them, ‘One Nusairi [Alawite] would not betray another, and would hardly not betray an unbeliever.’ With Alawite officers filling the armed services in Syria, it was inevitable that an Alawite would come to power, as Hafez Assad did in 1970. From that point, they did what they had to do to remain in power. When killing was necessary, they killed. And in Syria, it was necessary fairly often. But I don’t know of any records showing that the Alawites were particularly cruel by the standards of the time and place. In fact, from the start of their rule in Syria, the Alawites have tried, via Ba’ath Party secularism and a long-term attempt to make Alawite ritual and doctrine closer to Sunni norms, to integrate with their neighbors….

“Maybe I’m missing something. But what I think a lot of people like John Kerry are missing is what drove the Alawites’ grimmer measures: the simple fear of extinction. It’s a risk to go, as they did, from total obscurity to power in a place as fierce as Syria. Because when you fall, it won’t be to go back to Texas to paint puppies like Dubya. You and your whole tribe can reasonably expect massacres, mass rapes, ethnic cleansing, the works. When the Sunni revolted against Alawite domination in Hama in 1982, one of the slogans of the Syrian Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood was ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the graveyard.’ The SAA dealt with the revolt by blasting rebellious neighborhoods with artillery, killing thousands….”

read the whole thing!

previously: syria and syrian tribes

(note: comments do not require an email. alawites!)

syrian tribes

i knew if i looked long and hard enough, i’d find some tribes in syria.

actually, i didn’t look at all, but instead stumbled across this yesterday in Foreign Affairs:

“Despite popular notions of a rich, privileged Alawite class dominating Syria, the country’s current regime provides little tangible benefit to most Alawite citizens. Rural Alawites have struggled as a result of cuts in fuel subsidies and new laws restricting the sale of tobacco — their primary crop for centuries. Indeed, since the provision of basic services by the first Assad in the 1970s and 1980s, most Alawite villages — with the exception of Qardaha, the home of Assad’s tribe, the Kalbiyya — have developed little. Donkeys remain a common form of transport for many, and motor vehicles are scarce, with dilapidated minibuses offering the only way to commute to the cities for work.”

ah ha! now we’re getting somewhere. assad comes from a particular alawite tribe — the kalbiyya — and — surprise, surprise! — out of all the alawites, they have benefitted the most from the assad regime(s). i’ll betcha that they have benefitted the most out of everybody in syria, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

from the qardaha entry on wikipedia:

“During the reign of Hafez al-Assad 1970-2000 the government poured massive investments into Qardaha, Lattakia and the surrounding region. Today, this is evident already before entering Qardaha, as the broad Syrian coastal highway makes an inexplicable pass into the mountains just to reach Qardaha. Qardaha has a lot of luxurious villas…. People of the Qardaha are said to be descent of Banu Kalb tribe, them and all of the Alawite mountains are called by other Syrians ‘The Germans’ because of their looks.”

there are four alawi tribes or tribal confederations in syria: the kalbiyya, the khayatin, the haddadin, and the matawira.

here’s what happened when and after papa assad took power — from Minorities and the State in the Arab World [pgs. 135-37]:

“After Asad seized power in Syria and became the de factor leading figure in the ‘Alawi community, he turned his attention to strengthening his grip on this community. His first step was to bolster his position within his family and tribe. It is as a result of this effort that the core of Asad’s regime has been composed of members of the Kalbiyya tribe, headed by members of the Asad family: his brother Rif’at and Jamil (until the mid-1980s), his son Basil, and since his death, Bashshar and Mahir. Alongside them in the highest echelons of the regime are members of the Makhluf family, the largest and most prominent in the area of Asad’s birth. Asad is married to Anisa Makhluf, whose cousin, ‘Adnan Makhluf, was the commander for many years of the Republican Guard, the elite force responsible for the regime’s security.”

so bashar is both an asad AND a makhluf. that’s gotta be pretty good.

Asad’s [that’s papa asad remember] second step in consolidating his hold on the ‘Alawi community was to arrange a system of alliances among its families, tribes, and clans by means of marriage and the appointment of family and tribal representatives to important posts in the regime. For instance, Asad appointed members of leading families from other tribes to key positions: ‘Ali Duba, whose family comes from the Matawira/Numilatiyya tribe, was appointed head of the Military Security Department; and ‘Ali Haydar, from the Haddadin tribe, was appointed commander of the Special Forces. There are also strategic marriages between the Asads and those prominent families of the ‘Alawi community whoe members command crucial posts in the army, including the match of Rif’at Asad’s daughter with the son of the then Third Division commander Shafiq Fayyad (now commander of the Third Corps), in an attempt to cool passions aroused in the 1983-84 struggle over government succession.

Once he secured the allegiance of the ‘Alawi community, or at least the recognition by most of its members of his leadership, Asad turned it into the main prop of the regime. The ‘Alawis gradually gained sway over the army and internal security forces. Today, they fill most of the commanding positions in the elite units of the Syrian Army and supervise most organs of state security….”

and they still do.

“With the ‘Alawi community firmly behind him and its members serving as the engine of his regime, Asad directed his efforts to building bridges between ‘Alawis and others. The ‘Alawis are cognizant of their weaknesses; therefore, ‘Alawi officers have always sought partners along their road to power and today endeavor to broaden the base of support for their policies and ideology as much a possible. Other minority groups, principally the Druzes and Isma’ilis, are longtime confederates….

that makes sense since the common enemy of all three groups would be the sunni majority.

“The ‘Alawis, however, did not require Druzes and Isma’ilis as ruling partners, but rather as supporters and assistants, and when the non-‘Alawi members of the Military Committee attempted to preserve and fortify their standing in the mid-1960s, a power struggle ensued in which the non-‘Alawis were toppled.

“No less important was the coalition between ‘Alawis and rural Sunnis. Their understanding was originally based on a common interest in extirpating the old regime, in effect the entire old order in Syria, and in implementing a just distribution of power and resources. Provincial Sunni officers and politicians proved to be convenient and loyal confederates, as they rallied around the regime without reservation in its most trying hours….

Since the early 1990s, a new pact has been in effect — this time between the ‘Alawi officers and the urbanized Sunni economic elite, prompted by the ‘economic openness’ policy recently adopted by the regime. This is a symbiotic covenant between Sunnis, whose priority is political stability as a means of achieving economic stability, and ‘Alawis, who deliver political stability in exchange for recognition of the regime’s political legitimacy from the erstwhile foes of Ba’th hegemony and ‘Alawi power.”

this must explain why it seems to be rural and “backward” areas, like homs (hey, damascus it ain’t!), that are being beaten up today. urban sunni families (tribes — i’m sure they’re there!) are backing bashar and the alawis against the (somewhat unrelated to them) rural sunni families. this has GOT to be an awfully shaky alliance, though [pg. 138]:

“[T]he Sunni majority still regards the ‘Alawis as socially inferior. While recognizing the ‘Alawis’ political and military puissance and appreciating the economic strides they have made, the average Sunni still harbors feelings of condescension and contempt toward them. There is much evidence of an abiding Sunni unwillingness to accept ‘Alawi integration into Syrian society. Intermarriage between the two communities, for example, is rare.”

the feelings are probably mutual.

how long will any sunnis back the alawis? there’s got to be a limit … maybe it’s already been met and urban sunnis are abandoning the alawis. i don’t really know. i don’t follow the goings on in syria closely enough to know.

steve sailer was recently annoyed at the msm for failing to explain the racial differences between the players in the mali unrest. i found myself raising my voice to a cnn anchor over easter during a report from turkey in which they were telling all us viewers about the streams of “syrian” refugees fleeing from syria to turkey. i was figuring to myself that these were probably syrian turks — makes sense to flee to turkey if you’re a syrian turk i thought — and i was wondering if bashar’s regime was beating up on the syrian turks (and why). as the cnn cameraman panned around the refugee camp, i could see that the women there were dressed head-to-toe in niqabs, so then i figured they must be syrian bedouins — which made me wonder if bashar’s regime was beating up on the syrian bedouins (and why).

which all made me very annoyed at cnn/the msm for being SOOOO uninformative! how can anybody getting their info from the msm expect to know what the h*ll is going on out there?! and most people don’t know what the h*ll’s going on out there. (and prolly most people don’t care to.)

p.s. – this looks like all you’d ever want to know about the bashar regime. here’s a nifty graphic from that report [pg. 356]:

previously: syria

(note: comments do not require an email. the assads.)

linkfest – 03/25/12

First Madagascar settlers may have been Indonesian“Their results suggest Madagascar’s initial population contained around 30 women of reproductive age, with roughly 93 per cent of their genes indicating ties to Indonesia. Such a small population suggests they may have colonised Madagascar after crossing the ocean by accident.”

Researchers discover why humans began walking upright – maybe. “Human bipedalism, or walking upright, may have originated millions of years ago as an adaptation to carrying scarce, high-quality resources.”

A black-white difference in cortisol level – from the inductivist.

People with autism have a greater ability to process information, study suggests – obviously. (~_^)

30% of atheists, agnostics are pro-life – from mr. a epigone, esq.

Self-reflective mind — in animals! Psychologists report on continuing advances“According to one of the leading scholars in the field, there is an emerging consensus among scientists that animals share functional parallels with humans’ conscious metacognition — that is, our ability to reflect on our own mental processes and guide and optimize them.”

bonus: Alevi Turks concerned for Alawi ‘cousins’ in Syria

bonus bonus: Report from Former U.S. Marine Hints at Whereabouts of Long-Lost Peking Man Fossils

bonus bonus bonus: Ox Carts and No Coffee – Building a Monastery the Medieval Way. don’t miss the photos!

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what a god awful mess that is. =/

what’s going on there? well, obviously, there are several different groups all of which marry endogamously, many of which marry their cousins regularly.

a survey published in 2009 found that:

“The results showed that the overall frequency of consanguinity [first-, double-first- and second-cousin marriages] was 30.3% in urban and 39.8% in rural areas. Total rate of consanguinity was found to be 35.4%…. The mean proportion of consanguineous marriages ranged from 67.5% in Al Raqa province to 22.1% in Latakia province…. The western and north-western provinces (including Tartous, Lattakia and Edlep) recorded lower levels of inbreeding than the central, northern and southern provinces….”

so, across the whole country, the average cousin-marriage rate was 35.4% or over one-third of all marriages in syria were between close cousins. cousin marriage is more common in rural areas, but even in urban areas, including damascus, about one-in-three marriages is between close cousins. compare that to a rate of 46.5% in libya and 38.9% in egypt.

here are the provinces/governorates of syria:

al raqa/ar raqqah province has the highest consanguinity rate at 67.5%. ar raqqah has a large bedouin population [pg. 300], so it’s not surprising to find such a high rate of in-marriage. bedouins everywhere inbreed A LOT.

latakia in the west has the lowest consanguinity rate in syria at just 22.1%. two other neighboring provinces, tartous/tartus and edlep/idlib, also have comparatively low cousin marriage rates. these provinces are where the alawites are concentrated, so i’m guessing they’re the ones with relatively low cousin marriage rates compared to the rest of the syrian population. (interestingly, the alawites are also concentrated in the plains around the city of homs, which has a majority sunni muslim population, the arch rivals of the alawites, so i guess we shouldn’t be surprised that homs is getting pounded.)

the authors say that the central, northern and southern provinces have higher inbreeding rates than these western ones where the alawites live.

in the south we find the druze who practice father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage. in fact, the druze and other peoples of the levant are probably the ones who invented fbd marriage and they’ve likely been marrying that way since well before the time of christ. fbd marriage prolly started in the levant, spread to the arabs via the hebrews, and then the arabs spread it to peoples like the persians, afghanis and pakistanis. in addition to the druze, the sunni muslims and the alawites in syria also marry their father’s brother’s daughters [pg. 112].

in the north in aleppo we find syrian turks. if they’re anything like their brethren in turkey then they, too, are probably marrying their cousins with a preference for fbd marriage. there are kurds in the northeast in al hasakah province and, yes, you won’t be surprised to hear it, but kurds marry their cousins, too — more so than the turks in turkey, for instance — and have a preference for fbd marriage.

so not only is syria full of several different ethnic groups and “religious sects” (read: discrete sub-populations), almost all of them are inbred in that they marry their cousins regularly (i.e. not just marry endogamously) and have been doing so for eons — AND almost all of them practice father’s brother’s daughter marriage.

recipe for disaster.

update 04/22: see also syrian tribes

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