Foreign Affairs Editor
A winter chill of bitter realisation has descended on Syria.
Each side, and there are many, now understands there is no knockout blow coming soon, there is no compromise in sight, there is no-one riding to the rescue and the country’s infrastructure and agricultural base is being ground into dust.
It’s a fight to the death which by definition involves killing. No-one will win but those who fought from the start will create a desert and then call it victory.
The core fight, in broad-brush terms, was always between the ruling Alawite minority and their supporters, and large swathes of the Sunni majority, especially the Islamists, and those who remembered the slaughter in Hama in 1982.
Now, as the conflict becomes ever more sectarian, everyone is being dragged in. Those who do not wish to choose sides are being forced to as both President Assad’s forces and various militia on the opposition side commit war crimes.
The Christians and Druze minorities would have preferred to stay on the side lines, but the lines have been crossed and the war taken to them.
The Christians are in the most precarious position. There are Christian enclaves but they are scattered around the country and many have been overrun by opposition or government forces.
Elements in the opposition forces have desecrated and burnt churches in the northern half of Syria. Priests have been murdered, and Christian civilians forced to flee, just as thousands of others have fled in the face of government forces.
There is now a slow exodus of Christians which may become a flood if the Islamist side of the opposition to Mr Assad becomes the dominant force in Syria.
The aftermath of the Iraq war saw 400,000 Iraqi Christians forced from the country and a similar fate may await their co-religionists in Syria.
Syrian Christians, about 10% of the population, have never formed militias and are not in a position to do so now despite the presence in neighbouring Lebanon of powerful Christian armed groups. They do not have strongholds, and are primarily from the merchant class, lacking the muscle of other minority groups.
That is less true of the Druze community which makes up about three percent of Syria’s population. Their stronghold is the southern mountains especially what they call the Jabal ad Druze – or Mountain of the Druze.
This gives them a geographic space to which the Druze in the rest of the country can withdraw if necessary. For example, the district of Damascus most heavily populated by Druze is on the southern side of the city with links down to the mountains.
There are also signs that the Druze are beginning to form fledgling militia with help from the Druze community in Lebanon. Most Druze are still trying to stay out of the fight, but behind the scenes they are preparing for the worst.
If forced, the Druze would most likely side with the Alawites as many Sunnis regard both as heretical to their version of Islam. What they are most concerned with, though, is surviving this conflict, and then dealing with the aftermath and trying to keep their religious and cultural rights intact in a post President Assad Syria.
The Kurds, Alawites, Druze, Christian, and Shia minorities are all now contemplating and planning for a post-Assad scenario. Of them all, the Christians are the most exposed.
No-one will win. The people have already lost.
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