How is Iran reshaping Syria’s demographics?
Tehran systematically pushes Shia Muslims into Syrian neighborhoods to exert control
After six years of constant war in Syria, as communities begin to return, there is a distinct change. Those returning to the once abandoned neighborhoods are not the ones who fled the place as the conflict broke and escalated.
Those arriving now do not belong to the predominantly Sunni Muslim families who lived there earlier, according to a report in The Guardian.
The new arrivals have been sent deliberately by operators in a deliberate move to repopulate these areas with Shia Muslims, not just from Syria, but from as far as Lebanon and Iraq.
There is clear plan to effect demographic changes to parts of Syria, so that the country is divided into zones that the Assad regime, with Tehran’s backing, can control, and in turn advance the nefarious designs of Tehran.
This approach is very different to the stated position of Russia, the Assad regime’s other major supporter.
Moscow, along with Turkey, has exercised their diplomatic and military resolve to bring about a ceasefire that is barely holding, and to promote a political consensus between the Assad regime and the exiled opposition.
Russia, in an alliance with Turkey, is using a nominal ceasefire to push for a political consensus between the Assad regime and the exiled opposition.
Iran, on the other hand is eager to alter the social and cultural landscape of Syria, as well as boosting the Hezbollah stronghold of north-eastern Lebanon, thereby cementing its reach from Tehran to Israel’s northern border.
“Iran and the regime don’t want any Sunnis between Damascus and Homs and the Lebanese border,” said one senior Lebanese leader to The Guardian. “This represents a historic shift in populations.”
The rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya, are very important for Iran’s strategy and they have been negotiating on this with Ahrar al-Sham, the dominant anti-Assad opposition group in the area.
Exchange of residents
Talks in Istanbul have also centred on an exchange of residents from two Shia villages west of Aleppo, Fua and Kefraya. Opposition groups had besieged both villages throughout the Aleppo battle, attempting to pin their fate to the formerly rebel-held eastern half of the city.
The swap will inevitably lead to more extensive population shifts, along the southern approaches to Damascus and in the Alawite heartland of Syria’s north-west.
“Iran was very ready to make a full swap between the north and south. They wanted a geographical continuation into Lebanon. Full sectarian segregation is at the heart of the Iranian project in Syria. They are looking for geographical zones that they can fully dominate and influence. This will have repercussions on the entire region,” Labib al-Nahas, the chief of foreign relations for Ahrar al-Sham, who led negotiations in Istanbul, told The Guardian.
“This is not just altering the demographic balance,” added Labib al-Nahas. “This is altering the balance of influence in all of these areas and across Syria itself. Whole communities will be vulnerable. War with Iran is becoming an identity war. They want a country in their likeness, serving their interests. The region can’t tolerate that.”
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