A Syrian Defector Confronts A Sectarian Divide The fighting in Syria often pits Sunni Muslims, who make up a large majority of the population, versus Alawites, who control many leadership positions. An Alawite who joined the anti-government forces finds he is sometimes viewed with suspicion.

A Syrian Defector Confronts A Sectarian Divide

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The violence in Syria has been called a civil war, although the more accurate description is sectarian war. The conflict is reduced in most accounts to a fight between the majority Sunni Muslim population and the minority Alawites. But some Alawites have joined the uprising.

NPR's Deborah Amos met one of them in neighboring Turkey.


DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: He is nervous and lights another cigarette before he continues his story. He's an Alawite, a faith shared with the Syrian president and the elite of the regime. His minority community mostly supports the government. He wants the regime to fall.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Those people have stopped using their minds since a long time. They are just acting by their feelings.

AMOS: He doesn't want his name revealed. He's afraid for his family in Syria. But his Facebook page, Alawite Youth, critical of the regime, has already put him at risk. And in the past weeks, his family has been threatened. They live in an Alawite neighborhood in the Syrian city of Latakia.

So, they come to your house, they punch your brother and they keep calling you?


AMOS: And saying what?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They just threaten me and my family. They just kept saying that we are going to kill your brothers, we're going to rape your sisters. So what can you do?

AMOS: His family, who once supported his activism, begged him to erase the Facebook page he launched in April, 2011. He joined the uprising in the earliest days and was proud to show that the revolt was for freedom and not a fight between religious sects. But he erased the page a few days ago for the sake of his family. Now the only traces are on random sites on the Web.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is my name here. The name of my page, the Alawi Youth page

AMOS: And that's all that's left?


AMOS: His journey was the same as the Sunni Muslim activists here. He took part in demonstrations. He was jailed for months and tortured. He escaped to Turkey five months ago. All the while, he kept up his Facebook page, a Sunni Muslim activist helped him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So we became friends. So he told me that he was astonished that there's some Alawite people who support the revolution. But unfortunately, after the Al Houla massacre, I just lost him.

AMOS: The Houla massacre was another event that cemented the sectarian divide. It began with the army shelling a Sunni Muslim farming district and ended with Alawite militia-men known as Shabiha, killing house to house late into the night. More than 100 people died, including a Sunni Muslim activist willing to work with an Alawite for the sake of the revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He was a good friend. He was an honest man, open minded. It's a disaster, actually.

AMOS: The divide in Syrian society means he's increasingly isolated among the Syrian exiles here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You are not so welcome in the revolution. You have to prove every day, every single hour, you have to prove that you are supporting the revolution.

AMOS: And it seems he has to prove himself again when we sit down in a cafe popular with young rebels who come to southern Turkey for a break from the fighting. They are all Sunnis. This Alawite gets looks, unfriendly looks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, actually it make me so sad, so desperate. There are so many people like this guy who is looking at me suspiciously. And I understand his looks. This is only a disease in the Syrian people.

AMOS: Now, the revolt and the regime's response have separated Syria's communities. It was different in his college days when his friends were Christians and Sunni Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We have been laughing on our religion for 10 years. So, I told one of them you are a stupid Sunni. And he told me, no, you are stupid Alawite. We are laughing about that. There's a feeling of brotherhood in that, that we are just Syrian. We are just human, just Syrian.

AMOS: He is a lonely man, now, he says when we leave the cafe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I have suffered from the regime. I have suffered from my little community, which is the Alawi minority. And up here, I am actually really suffering from the opposition.

AMOS: He remains committed to the revolution, committed to his choices because, he says, Syria must change.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Antakya, Turkey.

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