News

Syrian Violence Exposes Sectarian Divide

Damage in al-Khaldia neighborhood in Homs is seen during the United Nations' observers visit to the city, May 3, 2012.
Damage in al-Khaldia neighborhood in Homs is seen during the United Nations' observers visit to the city, May 3, 2012.

Unrest picked up again Friday in Syria, with large opposition demonstrations reported in Homs, Hama and other opposition strongholds, as well as by ethnic Kurdish protesters in Qamishli.

Rights activists said government forces killed at least 10 people across the country. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least three of the deaths occurred in the Hama region after forces opened fire on a vehicle.

Photo gallery

The year-long crisis has exposed some of the fundamental fault lines in the country, including ethnicity and sectarianism.

Syrian Kurds gathered in Qamishli Friday for an anti-government demonstration, part of what appears to be a continuing movement of Kurds into the opposition fold.

While the extent of the ethnic group's participation is debated - limited access to the region makes popular sentiment too hard to assess - protests like Friday's in the northeastern city highlight long-standing resentments of groups across the nation.

Minorities speak out

Syrian Kurds wearing Syrian opposition flags chant participate in a sit-in in front of UN headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Syria, April 29, 2012.
Syrian Kurds wearing Syrian opposition flags chant participate in a sit-in in front of UN headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Syria, April 29, 2012.

Kurds, as well as Armenian and other minority ethnic groups make up about ten percent of the population in this Arab majority nation. There is also a diversity of religious groups; about ten percent are Christian, while Muslims are split between Sunnis, Shia-derived Allawites, and Druze.  

The government, dominated by minority Allawites, has portrayed the conflict as partly sectarian driven, rather than a popular uprising against decades-long autocratic rule. The state argues Sunni extremists cross the border from Iraq and elsewhere to carry out what it calls terrorist activities and foment sectarian divides.

Anti-government forces stress that they are an inclusive group, and point to members of all Syrian ethnic and religious groups as proof that their motives are political.

But reprisal killings of Sunni and Alawite civilians in the most restive areas have added to fears of sectarian divides, now that the once-peaceful protests have been overshadowed by the opposition's military wing.

In Damascus, university student Zain, who gave just his first name, seconded the idea of sectarianism as a driving force. He spoke in the presence of a government official, known as a minder, who accompanies foreign journalists.

“Of course and a lot of the problems as we say are religious," he said. "Anyone that starts to see that you are this type, you belong to this group and the other belongs to this group, things will be distressed.”

Zain blamed other nations, in particular the United States, of trying to play up the divides, arguing instead that in the end, “we are all Syrians.”

But fellow student Nour el-Ibrahim argued that while sectarianism has caused problems, there is far more to Syria's problems.  

Also speaking in front of a minder, she agreed that a foreign conspiracy is behind growing sectarianism. But she pinned half the blame on Syrians themselves, starting with the government as well as the public. Mistakes, she said, have been made.

An opposition funeral Friday in a Damascus suburb was a reminder of those “mistakes.”  As the death toll in the conflict continues to climb - now estimated at more that 9000 killed - both sides become more entrenched, as do any signs of differences between them.

UN sees small signs of progress

The Chief of the U.N. Supervision Mission to Syria, Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood (L) and his team meet members of the Free Syrian Army at al-Khalidiya neighborhood during a visit to Homs on May 3, 2012.
The Chief of the U.N. Supervision Mission to Syria, Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood (L) and his team meet members of the Free Syrian Army at al-Khalidiya neighborhood during a visit to Homs on May 3, 2012.

U.N. observers in Syria are continuing to work toward an end to violence between government forces and rebels despite a fractured cease-fire.  

A spokesman for international envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the cease-fire plan last month, said it was "on track," despite continued violence.

Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva there are some small signs of progress.

"There are no big signs of compliance," he said. "There are small signs of compliance. Some heavy weapons have been withdrawn. Some heavy weapons remain. Some violence has receded. Some violence continues."

On Thursday, at least two dozen people died in anti-government related unrest, including four civilians at Aleppo University.

Witnesses said pro-government students armed with knives attacked protesters at the university before security forces swept in, firing tear gas and live ammunition.

The violence has erupted as Syria prepares for parliamentary elections on Monday, under constitutional reforms that have allowed the creation of new political parties.

World powers, meanwhile, have been tightening economic pressure on Syrian leaders and the government. On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China to consider additional penalties against the Syrian government.

The State Department released her remarks as she completed talks with high-level officials in Beijing. Both China and Russia have voiced reservations about imposing new sanctions on Syria through the U.N. Security Council.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs