Manufacturing Division: The Assad Regime and Minorities in South-west Syria

Summary:

Minority communities in south-west Syria have shrunk to a fraction of their pre-2011 size, and the regime’s repressive policies in the south-west perpetuate a cycle of violence and chaos that prevents their safe return. The regime’s strategy of transforming minority communities into sources of militia fighters has not only led to the deaths of thousands of young Alawite and Shi’a men, but also created sectarian tensions between formerly interconnected communities in south-west Syria. Heightened sectarianism stoked by the regime, alongside intense shelling and bombardment, has also contributed to the flight of Christians from their traditional communities, while Suwayda’s Druze increasingly find themselves victims of regime- and Hezbollah-backed efforts to dismantle their relative autonomy. Meanwhile, concerted Russian-led efforts to see Christians and other communities return to the south-west have ended in near total failure, with minorities rejecting a return to this volatile and unstable region. So long as the regime's policy in the south-west is characterized by violence, the safe and dignified return of displaced Syrians will not be possible. This paper studies current and former minority communities in south-west Syria, the security and economic challenges these groups face, and the manner by which the regime exploits and weaponizes these vulnerable Syrians.