For decades, it was believed that al Assad Syrian regime has protected the religious minorities that resemble part of the Syrian society, where the majority of the community is Sunni in a country headed by the Alawite regime.
This Status quo have changed after the start of the Syrian Revolution from Daraa at mid-march 2011. The Syrian regime began to depend on minorities to preserve his presence. It endorsed in its media outlets the opponents as “terrorist gangs”, and that the revolution is purely Sunni revolution, motivated by countries that support Islamists militants and terrorist organizations as “Al Qaeda” and its affiliates. The regime focused on the Islamic slogans that demonstrators raised, to frighten the minorities that the revolution is seeking to crush them.
The Druze who constitutes the third largest religious minority faced this dilemma, as the tension between Sunni and Druze areas started to rise between Daraa that resembles the “cradle of the revolution”, where first protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in mid-March 2011, and Swaida where the Great Syrian Revolution under the leadership of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash started against French mandate between 1925 and 1927.
As it is well known the majority of the population of Swaida is still loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, as a result activists in Daraa kidnapped several times Druze employees from the province, mainly in last May and June. So residents of Swaida responded by targeting Sunni from Daraa. Although there are about nine thousand displaced people from Daraa in Swaida, the relations between the two regions is now characterized by extreme caution.
Kidnapping wave sparked violent reactions among the population, prompting activists from the city of Swaida, to kidnap 12 young men from the city of Deraa, who were soon released after meditation efforts made by Druze Sheikh AbuWael Hammoud Hinnawi.
Later ,Al-Nasra Front joined the scene. It kidnapped 17 young people from the city of Swaida, after a failed military operation carried out by Al-Nasra against the regular army almojamer checkpoint near swaida, where the front clashed with a group of “popular committees”, which includes residents of the Swaida .
Opposition member of National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces ziad abou hamdan explained that during the return of Al-Nasra members, they was hindered by groups supporting the regime called (the Popular committees), and as a result of a clash that occurred between the two sides two members of the Al-Nasra ,were killed and the committees hold the bodies and handed it to the Syrian security forces.
This led Al-Nasra Front to kidnap 17 young people from the city of Swaida ,refusing to release them only after the receipt of the bodies of two components fell during the clash.
Sheikh Hanawi entered into negotiations with the leaders of the Al-Nasra for the release of the sons Swaida, but his efforts failed.
ziad abou hamdan said that :«The Syrian regime is responsible for what happened because he refused to hand over the bodies, thinking that it could ignite sectarian strife between Swaida and Daraa “.
Al-Nasra Front behavior was not considered as the first kidnapping incident in south of Syria, as in mid May 2012 a group of «Free Syrian Army» arrested about 12 policemen from the Swaida and put them in detention, so the people of swaida kidnapped 46 from Daraa, and almost these events could have led to Druze – Sunni Sectarian strife without the mediation sponsored by the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) MP Walid Jumbalt Beik (Feudal leader), in participation with other Lebanese Druze leaders, helped to mutual release of the kidnapped.
Mutual kidnappings make the residents live in alert in 18 border villages with the province of Deraa. Druze armed elements patrolling night and day to prevent the recurrence of this matter, as one of the residents of Swaida assured.
Sheikh Aql of the Druze in Syria Hikmat al-Hajri said : “during the last ten years, we have succeeded in deepening our relations with the Daraa community, but unfortunately, due to the current events and the chaos, notable figures from the neighboring province that we were in contact with them, moved and have lost their influence.”
Despite the crisis, al-Hajri still supports the regime. He added:” We are against chaos and with justice. We are against the extremist groups that want to breach security. We are with the national dialogue,” which al-Assad calls for.
During previous January, around 100 personnel of armed opposition settle in villas in preparation for the major attack on the city of Swaida, but the timing of the attack coincides with the fall of snow, which freeze their movement. The inhabitants of Jabal al-Druze were suspicious about the movement in these luxury homes whose owners come only in the summer. So they informed authorities that sent to the area four security elements who were killed upon arrival.
Later on, clashes lead to the death of eight fighters from the opposition, the leader of them was Khaldoun Zainuddin, the first Druze officer who defected from Syrian army, after months of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and joined the revolution.
Meanwhile, Tensions between the people of Daraa and Swaida, pushed Jumbalt to intervene with the Syrian opposition to ease congestion, while Lebanese Democratic Party leader MP Emir (prince)Talal Arslan asked the Syrian regime to ease the situation.
The beik and the emir interfered to release the Syrian Druze detainees which “Al-Miqdad “captured, even though they have different approach to Syria uprising.
Jumbalt from the first weeks of revolution called Syria Druze to distance themselves from the crisis and asked officers and soldiers of the Druze in Syria not to follow the orders of the Syrian army in the fight against their Syrian brothers in any area. But later on, he encouraged them to participate in the Revolution.
Then the Beik tried to restore his alliance with March 14 forces and the Arab countries backing them, by promising to push Syrian Druze residents in the mountain to stand against the regime, which he failed to implement it, because Druze religious Sheikhs in Syria insisted to support the Syrian regime.
Sources who speak in condition of anonymity said: “Druze religious Sheikhs in Syria are affected by Lebanese leaders, but not at the expense of their local interests”.
On the other hand, Arslan chose to stand with the Syrian regime, he gradually moved from full support, to calling to a political solution and rejecting the military option.
Erslan assured to Assad the support of Druze and their staying alongside Syria and its people, and told him that “ we will protect the unity of Syria and to face conspiracies woven against it, and we can only be in this defender line to Syrian society which Druze constitutes essential part of it ».
Arslan supporters in Syria believe that they should distance themselves from the conflict, fearing they will be paying high price for their stance.
They see that Sheikhs in Syria have the obsession of being minorities. They will be with the new regime if their rights are preserved, but they wonder what will be the situation if the Arab spring ignores their privacy.
While “Socialists” put all their eggs in the “Arab spring basket”, for they think that process of change is going on, and it will exclude them if they walk against
This “paradoxical scene” Former Lebanese Minister and the leader of the Tawhid Movement in Lebanon Wiam Wahhab joined. Wahhab who is a close ally of Syria, has taken a decision to be in the trench opposite to Jumbalt, and he has the ability to move inside Syria, and he helped in local reconciliation and the release of «kidnapped sons of Druze that were arrested on basis of their identity”.
He later declared from Baakline, the strong hold of jumbalt that he is ready to fight alongside people of Swaida, if they needed him.
Swaida sheikhs response that they do not need who defend them neither from Lebanon or any other place , mainly from those who try to mark fake tournaments on the platforms , in an indirect response to Baakline meeting , where Wahhab, expressed his willingness to fight alongside the sons of Swaida.
Druze leaders in Lebanon played parallel positions as a result to their ties with their relatives in Syria, and you rarely find a Druze Lebanese family that is not attached to families that live at Syrian Jabal al-Arab or in occupied Palestine and Jordan, which make the fate of this minority, a common concern wherever the battle may be on the land of Lebanese mountain or Syrian mountain or Palestinian mountain.
And it will not be strange that the Syrian crisis could have led to the confrontations in the Mount Lebanon similar to what is happening in Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh, if there were not a will to contain the situation, as a Druze political figure assured.
He said:” Druze Mountain could have been turned into a theatre of daily tensions, related to the events in Syria”.
He added:” without the help of Hezbollah, funerals could have become a daily event in the mountain, but experience has proven, that the ability of Hezbollah to adjust the local actors, is most powerful and effective than the ability of the Syrian regime, who like to burn the mountain and let Jumbalt pay the price of his support to Syrian revolution. But rational Lebanese allies prevented to achieve this desire.
So what Druze failed to do in Syria, they achieved in Lebanon by preventing players in interfering in the mountain. Arslan and jumbalt worked together to assure that mountain of Druze stay as a Neutral zone.
Referring back to the situation in Swaida after two years of the Syrian revolution, university students of the province try to mark a new turning point. The move comes after the kidnapping of a school student named Nasser Gajmoul . Kidnappers demanded a ransom of ten million Syrian pounds, that Gajmoul parents don’t have to pay, so they received their child dead a month after his abduction.
Gajmoul was not the goal; his killing was a message from the regime for students in his age to stop the demonstrations in the province as a whole, as sources affirmed.
The behavior of students bring to the minds of the people Swaida what happened about 13 years ago, when Assad and with the support of notables in the province crush the seeds of revolution against the ruling family, after school students in 2000 demonstrated against the killing of student Fadi alaawaj by Bedouin gunmen.
At the military level, there was a lot from the Druze community in the army regime who refuses to fire on demonstrators, and was murdered in cold blood, and then was buried after arranging military funerals for them with certificates by the regime for being brave in their “fight of the terrorists”.
The idea of defections from the army was impossible, but Martyr Lieutenant Khaldun Zinedine was the first Druze officer who breaks this rule, through his famous statement in which he called all the sons of Swaida to split and break the barrier of fear, and announced the formation “Sultan Pasha al-Atrash battalion”.
This pushed the regime to respond rapidly by launching a campaign against him and all whom he worked with, saying that they are just “individual cases that do not reflect the view of this community”. Later the regime was surprised after the formation of “Kamal Jumblatt” battalion in the countryside of Idlib under the leadership of Thumaamah Shroff from the sons of Swaida, which had played a significant role in that region, and helped breaking the sectarian barrier that the regime has been marketing that the Druze villages in the province of Idlib is loyal to the revolution.
Swaida remained under the authority of the regime due to the lack of defections despite Lieutenant Khaldun Zinedine, announcing the formation of the Military Council of the city of Swaida, because this step remained below the level required for the absence of a cadre of people of the province to cover it activities.
The situation remains quite ,until the second defection by Colonel Hafez Faraj, who reshaped the Military Council and restored its inception, paving the way to a series of defections, including Captain Doctor Shafiq Amer, and Lieutenant Muhannad Alaiseme who announced his defection in Homs, and Lieutenant Fadl Zinedine, brother of martyr Khaldun, and lieutenant Mehran Mehanna and other officers, and these defections culminated to declare a split of pilot Faraj almeket as the highest Druze military rank in the Syrian army.
With the defection of Colonel Marwan hamad and the formation of the Revolutionary Military Council in Swaida province, the trend towards the formation of battalions with Druze majority began, through “Ahrar alsahel waljabal ” led by martyr Lieutenant Khaldun Zinedine and have had an important role in military operations in the city of Daraa, then martyr Tamer battalion awwam in the southern region, followed by the formation of Mazen brigade missile in the city of Hama under the leadership of Lt. Muhannad Alaiseme, then formation of the battalion “known Fedayee bani maarouf” in the East Gouta area working alongside free Syrian army battalions in Damascus.
All these formations contributed through days of the revolution to break the religious and sectarian barrier that the regime placed in the face of the Syrian revolution, and increased splits by many sons of the city of Swaida with different ranks (recruits – row officer) who joined silently Free Syrian Army battalions in various Syrian provinces, and some of them died like magd Zein, Samir Abu Fakhr and others.