Nowhere to run: President Bashar Assad’s homeland is no longer a safe place to retreat to
UM HAYAN, a 48-year-old mother, used to travel the 30 kilometres (19 miles) from her home in the wooded hills of Jebel Turkman to Latakia city to buy clothes. There she gossiped with friends, stopping off for tea in various villages on the way back up. “Now the road has checkpoints and there is no contact between us,” she says. Her friends are members of an esoteric Shia sect known as the Alawites who make up 12% of the Syrian population, including President Bashar Assad.
Seen by many Syrians as a driving force behind the regime’s harsh tactics in the civil war, Alawites have come to feel unwelcome in much of the country. Now that is so even in Latakia, their home region along the Mediterranean, which had been relatively calm until recently.
Some senior security chiefs have sent their families to the province. It could be where the regime plans to make its last stand, but it is looking less like a refuge these days. The rebels have made headway in the ethnically mixed province since they gathered local forces several months ago. “On a clear day you can see Latakia city,” says Abu Adnan, whose Hateen brigade has taken up position in an abandoned house. “And these are the Alawite villages,” he says, gesturing to settlements nestled just a few hundred metres away.