“My father was kidnapped because he’s Shiite”
Al Zohra and Noubl are two majority Shiite villages located north of Aleppo. They are surrounded by Sunni villages under the control of the Free Syrian Army rebels. The state’s army retreated from the region seven months ago. Since then, our villages have been encircled by forces from the Free Syrian Army. People who live in the Sunni villages under the power of the rebels are free to move about, but not us. They think we are with the regime, and that we’re potentially chabbiha [pro-regime militiamen] just because we are Shiite.Some people have dared to venture outside the walls of these two villages, but many of them have been kidnapped. Today, we live in a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Supplies arrive infrequently because of the blockade. My own father was kidnapped a few months ago in Damascus because he’s from Noubl. But he has nothing to do with the war – he is even married to a Sunni woman.
“I don’t dare go to Aleppo anymore because I am Alawite”
I am supposed to go to Aleppo regularly for my political activities. As I am Alawite, I haven’t dared go in a few months because Islamist groups have erected barriers on the road from Lattakia to Aleppo. And they wouldn’t hesitate beating up Christians and Alawites. They believe we are in favour of the regime just because of our religious beliefs [Editor’s Note: Syrian identity cards carry information about an individual’s religion]. A few weeks ago, they stopped a bus carrying teachers and kidnapped all the Christians and Alawites. They then contacted their families and demanded a ransom.Most villages found on the fringe of the Lattakia area are in the hands of armed groups. I’ve met people who live in the Christian village of Al-Qasab who had come to seek refuge in Lattakia. They told me that when the rebels arrived two months ago, their priest was beaten up, the church was ransacked and the cross was thrown to the floor. Even their houses had, according to them, been ransacked. A few of them were punished because the armed group thought they were agents being paid by the regime, without having any proof.“Thousands of Sunni families came to seek refuge in Lattakia”For now, there are no tensions between civilians here in Lattakia. There are lots of Sunni families from the Aleppo area who have come to seek refuge in Lattakia, the majority of them Alawite.
“They don’t understand why we want to remain neutral”
We haven’t directly encountered any pressure because of our Christianity. But I can confirm that the Christian community feels targeted and in danger. We often heard slogans like “Those who aren’t with us are against us”.“Some neighbours were forced to leave and threatened with guns”After we left, we heard that Christian families in our town, neighbours of ours, had been forced to leave and threatened with guns. They said to them, “Either you fight with us or you support the revolution financially – or you leave”.I don’t think anyone knows who is behind the church bombings. Three quarters of Homs is destroyed. Both sides are bombing. The fighting is incessant there.We had a very good relationship with the Sunnites before the conflict. There were even real friendships. I cannot say that today our relationship with Sunni families are bad, but we have been left out in the cold because of the revolution. The majority of them are for it and don’t understand that lots of Christians want to remain neutral because they’re scared.