Posted by Aymenn Al-Tamimi on Saturday, January 24th, 2015
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
While most analysis of the Druze in Syria focuses on their positions in Suwayda province- where they constitute the majority of the population- as well as Jabal al-Sheikh in Damascus/Quneitra provinces, it should be remembered that there is also a Druze community in the Jabal al-Samaq area of Idlib province, more widely known as Jabal al-Zawiya. This community consists of numerous villages, whose names can be found here. Unlike their co-religionists in the south, these Druze have no capacity for the formation of self-defence militias analogous to the banners of ‘Jaysh al-Muwahhideen‘ (‘Army of the Unitarians/Monotheists’) or ‘Forces of Abu Ibrahim’ (named after Druze figure Abu Ibrahim Ismail al-Tamimi). The Druze in Jabal al-Samaq are therefore dependent for preservation on the good-will of whichever external actors are present in their areas.
During the high-point of the influence of Jamal Ma’arouf and his Syrian Revolutionaries Front [SRF] in 2014 following the withdrawal of the Islamic State from Idlib province, there was some attempt to engage in outreach to this Druze community, best illustrated in an al-Aan TV report that featured Ma’arouf talking to Druze locals and ostensibly affirming a non-sectarian vision for Syria. “We are one,” he declares at one point in the video, while acknowledging Druze concerns about problems of extremism and criminality among rebel groups.
It should be noted that this apparent SRF tolerance for local groups of minorities that cannot be seen as having an active role in the civil war is not unique. For comparison, despite prior reported Northern Storm Brigade attacks on Yezidis in north of Aleppo province that are said to have led to clashes with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Northern Storm today tolerates a tiny Yezidi community that works inside Azaz town (no more than ten individuals), and in accordance with the group’s current neutral stance towards the PYD, leaves any Yezidi villages alone. In contrast, the bulk of sectarian animus is unsurprisingly directed at Alawites and Shi’a.
In Idlib province, however, the SRF has since been routed at the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), with Ma’arouf forced to flee to Turkey in exile. JN’s attitude towards the Druze- an offshoot of Shi’a Islam- is hardly going to be conciliatory, and in line with JN’s assertion of an increasingly hardline Islamic face of governance in its Idlib proto-emirate (cf. the execution of women on charges of ‘prostitution’, the crackdown on opponents in Kafr Nabl etc.) are some notable reported developments concerning the Druze of Idlib province. First, JN reportedly destroyed the tomb of the Druze Sheikh Jaber. Second, a document has emerged of a meeting between JN officials and proclaimed Druze village representatives who have converted to Sunni Islam, agreeing on the implementation of Shari’a and Sunni Islamic supremacy:
“Statement on the first meeting for the villages of the mountain [Jabal- i.e. Jabal al-Samaq]
Attendants of the session:
Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi [the Tunisian]: area official
Abu Hafs al-Homsi: Shari’a official of the area
Abu Muhammad and Abu Khadija: Administration guys.
Representatives of the area [NB: names blocked out but villages listed, compare with the first listing of Druze villages in Jabal al-Samaq]:
The representatives of these aforementioned areas have disavowed the Druze religion and have said that they are Muslims of the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamaat [Sunnis]. And an agreement has been made between them on one side and the representative of Jabhat al-Nusra (Sheikh Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Tunisi) on the other on what follows:
a) Implementation of God’s law in the aforementioned areas with focus on the following points:
(i) Searching of the idolatrous tomb-shrines, destroying their structures and flattening them on the ground.
(ii) Securing of places for prayer in all the aforementioned villages in which there are no designated places for prayer; teaching of the Qur’an, aqeeda [creed] and jurisprudence therein for the youths and children.
(iii) The obligation of wearing hijab according to Shari’a for women outside their homes.
(iv) No display of gender-mixing in schools.
b) Choosing of two persons from each village for the organization of matters concerning services, aid, and oversight of contraventions under the stead of JN.
The beginning of that operation is to be implemented before the appointment of the next meeting.
Reminder: Any person in the Jabal region and aforementioned villages who contravenes/disagrees with these issues will expose himself to penalty according to Shari’a and censure.
Meeting adjourned until 1 February 2015.”
These regulations imposed on the Idlib province Druze by JN are of some concern when one also considers that there is a growing JN presence and influence in areas like Azaz where other minorities are to be found. Were JN to gain sufficient strength to take over Azaz from Northern Storm, it is certainly possible that the group would attempt to assert supremacist authority over the area’s Yezidis as well. In any case, news of the latest developments as regards the Idlib Druze only make the SRF’s guarantees of protection ring hollow and cause further concern among Syrian Druze about the rebels, even as there are signs of increasing resentment in Suwayda province about conscription into the Syrian army.