Rising sectarianism sees Alawites lose their sense of security


Antakya, southern Turkey

Mehmet Fahraci was reluctant to attend the rally in support of Bashar al-Assad in central Antakya, a Turkish city near the Syrian border. But his father and friends insisted he join the hundreds-strong march last Sunday where people held photos of the Syrian President and denounced the violence raging inside Syria as a Western conspiracy.

"It comes from sharing blood with Assad," Mr Fahraci said.

Mr Fahraci is an Alawite, the same Muslim sect to which the Assad family belongs. In Turkey, Alawites live largely in Hatay, a Turkish province that was once part of Syria. There are close ties between people that live on both sides of the border, and the local economy has suffered as a result of Turkish sanctions on Syria.

Now, concerns over business are being replaced by sectarian tensions. With Sunnis comprising the majority of Syria's population and in all the security forces, fear has overtaken all sects and religions. Mr Fahraci says his Alawite friends and family inside Syria were unsure "from where or when death will come". Someone who protects Alawites today might change sides tomorrow, he said. No senior Alawite figure from the regime's inner circle had defected yet, but already any sense of security was gone.

Sunni refugees who have fled the fighting in northern Syria – a stronghold for opposition forces – are disliked because they are perceived as being religiously conservative and their presence would change the demographics of the local population if they stayed in Turkey. While Mr Fahraci said the conditions for Alawites in Turkey were not comparable to those in Syria, they were feeling increasingly uncomfortable as sectarianism becomes more apparent. "I am also afraid. Not afraid to death, but I am afraid," he said.

Mr Fahraci describes Turkey's ruling Sunni-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), as "our big problem". The conflict inside Syria was not just about toppling Assad, it was a battle for influence in the Middle East, he argues. AKP was supporting the Syrian opposition because they wanted to promote Sunnis, he said.

'I need surgery – and a ceasefire': a journalist's plea from Homs

A French journalist wounded by shelling in the city of Homs has made a desperate plea for her government to evacuate her from the country.

Edith Bouvier was hurt in an attack by the Syrian army that killed journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik in the Baba Amr suburb on Wednesday.

The area in the west of the city has been under intense shelling for nearly three weeks and many hundreds are thought to have been killed.

In a video posted to YouTube last night, Ms Bouvier said her leg is broken in two places and that she needed a car to evacuate her to neighbouring Lebanon for an operation.

She says that doctors are doing all they can to treat her, but that they lack the surgical facilities to operate.

She speaks calmly throughout the six-and-a-half minute video, during which explosions can heard in the background. "I have a broken leg, I need surgery as soon as possible... So I need a ceasefire and an ambulance."

Ms Bouvier and her colleague, photographer William Daniels, appear to be with a doctor and Syrian rebels, who ask the journalists to say they are being treated well, but need to leave since they can no longer be cared for. Mr Daniels says that conditions "are very difficult".

In a separate video, British photographer Paul Conroy, who was also injured in the attack, says he is being looked after by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He stresses that he is "absolutely OK", and that he is staying with the FSA as a guest.

David Cameron yesterday condemned the killing of American-born veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik as "yet another evil act by the Syrian government".

"Marie Colvin was a giant as a foreign correspondent; someone whose writing I very much admired; someone whose despatches were incredibly moving and powerful," he said.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman offered condolences to the families of Ms Colvin and Mr Ochlik, but rejected any responsibility for their deaths. The spokesman urged foreign journalists to respect Syrian laws and not to sneak into the country.

Some Syrians held protests and vigils Wednesday night in several parts of Homs in commemoration of Colvin and Ochlik.

"Remi Ochlik, Marie Colvin, we will not forget you," read one banner held by protesters in the town of Qsour in Homs province.

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