It was a throw away line but it sums up what many fear will come to pass in Syria’s not too distant future: “Once we’ve got rid of Assad we’ll kill all those who stood against us”.
The Syrian speaker had been with us a couple of days as we travelled through his country’s western mountains. He had been pragmatic and seemed to grasp the fears the international community had about the conflict. But in that one line it was clear to him revenge against the Alawites is expected. Even a necessity.
I’d encountered a very different opinion amongst others from the Turkmen community in their mountainous region. One group of elders had explained the less than hostile relationship they had with the neighbouring Makos Alawites.
At the start of the conflict, the Turkmen said they had been approached through their neighbours with an offer of Federal autonomy in their part of Latakia province if they stood by the government. The Turkmen have weekly meetings with the Alawites and have forged a mutual respect.
But the Turkmen always felt like second class citizens in Syria. They say they make up 30 per cent of the population in Latakia but hold just two of the Provincial Council seats and not one in the national parliament. Appalled at the violence, the government was meting out elsewhere in the country they refused autonomy and formed their own army and now fight alongside the Arab brigades. But the meeting with their Alawites neighbours is still held every week.
‘No code of conduct’
The desire for revenge against the state’s symbols of oppression are evident in those mountain towns where the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has won control. The state security police headquarters in Rabia is half demolished and riddled with bullet holes. The fighters who took part in that long battle talk of the torture and violence that went on in this two storey concrete building.
It’s the same story in Salma, a Sunni town just 20km from where President Bashar al-Assad was born that now stands as the frontline between the government and the FSA. The security police headquarters there is also in ruins. The sign of Salma’s police station with Assad’s smiling face now peers up from the rubble.
We saw the same anger against former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s state apparatus in Libya. But we also saw fighters at checkpoints handing out a code of conduct written by the National Transitional Council (NTC) urging the rebels to treat prisoners well and to refrain from acts of revenge. The NTC knew the world was watching. US Senator John McCain told me they were his heroes. They needed the international community to believe they would stand by decent humanitarian principles.
There is no NTC in Syria. There are no political leaders that unify the FSA. There is no code of conduct. In Salma, I was shown footage of a fighter with his prisoner, one of Assad’s shabiha, armed groups who have assisted in the government’s crackdown. The fighter keeps shouting why did you attack the people of Haffah, the town the FSA held for nine days before a relentless aerial bombardment brought them to submission and the regime took it back. In the video the fighter punches his captive.
This is not conduct the FSA should be proud of. But they showed no hesitation in giving me a copy. Their captive worked for the regime. He deserves to be punished. It doesn’t bode well for the future here.
Follow Sue Turton on Twitter: @sueturtonaje