November 24, 2014
Before the war, the port city of Latakia was known as the unofficial capital of the Alawites in Syria. Nearly 70 percent of the city’s pre-war population of 400,000 was Alawite, among which up to 14 percent were estimated to be Christian and 12 percent Sunni Muslim.
The war has since caused major displacement and demographic shifts around the country, Latakia in particular.
While there are no official statistics about the of number of displaced persons in the city, residents say that as many as 1.5 million have moved to Latakia from all over Syria, including Idlib, Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Damascus.
Still, the Assad regime continues to maintain its iron-clad grip over the strategic city, but Syria Direct’s reporting indicates regular harassment of Sunni residents, who are assumed to be in the opposition.
“There is hidden resentment from the regime towards us,” a Latakia-based citizen journalist living in the Sunni-majority a-Tabiyat neighborhood
Families whose male members have been forced to serve in the Syrian Arab Army are strained as women-led households struggle to get by, the journalist who goes by the pseudonym Samer Ahmed, tells Syria Direct’s Moutasem Jamal.
In his district, Ahmed says, “I know women working in grocery stores, bakeries, cleaning houses, or sell gum, cigarettes, and other small things like scrap metal on rugs laid out in the streets.”
Q: How is the regime’s treatment of citizens in your area?
There is hidden resentment from the regime towards us.
Latakia residents say they are being forced to join the army. Photo courtesy of @eldorar1.
Q: How is the situation between Sunnis and Alawites in Latakia city?
It depends on the particular relationship. We’ve lived with them [Alawites] for a long time, but some have become entirely hostile towards us and cut off their relationships because of our stance against the regime.
On the other hand, some have continued to treat us well because of our strong ties.
Q: Is there mandatory recruitment in your area, and if so, who is required to serve?
Yes, there is mandatory recruitment, which is carried out in several different ways. For example, the checking of ID’s at checkpoints—if the young man is wanted for service, he’s taken immediately from the checkpoint [to serve].
Another way—security elements will enter common spaces, and take every young man who they find to be suitable for service by force. In general, only we, the residents of pro-opposition areas, are subjected to this type of behavior.
Q: Are there any internally displaced people living in Latakia city and do the same laws apply to them?
Yes, there are a large number of Palestinians in the southern a-Raml district, and displaced people from the countryside of Idlib, and Homs, and Damascus.
The same laws that apply to us apply to them, as the regime considers them from pro-opposition areas.
No, none of us can refuse or resist [mandatory recruitment] because the fate of most people, if they refuse, is death.
It happened to my friend. When [a soldier] at one of the checkpoints told him he was wanted for military service, he refused, and when he tried to flee they opened fire.
Q: How does mandatory recruitment] impact women?
A large number of men were driven by the regime to serve in the army, so women no longer have their breadwinners.
In the a-Tabiyat neighborhood, which is populated by many families whose sons or fathers were arrested, the women are compelled to work in the fields in order to survive.
I know women working in grocery stores, bakeries, those who clean houses, or sell gum, cigarettes, and other small things like scrap metal on rugs laid out in the streets.
Q: Where is Latakia city headed?
If the situation remains as it is—I don’t know what’s coming.
Q: If you were arrested or forced to serve in the army, how would you react?
I prefer death over military service.
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