Edward Luck, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, is warning that the deadly violence in Syria threatens to permanently divide the country along sectarian and ethnic lines. He points to the mixed composition of Syria’s population as increasing the potential risk of divisions and is therefore urging community and religious leaders and civil society groups to do all they can to help reduce communal tensions. Says Luck, “If you look at the demographic breakdown of the population in Syria, it’s a demographic minefield. And we’ve seen in this region of the world some terrible examples of what can happen when a country is divided along sectarian lines.”

As discussed on this blog in December, within the complexity of the Syrian uprising lies a risk of atrocities against a minority religious group, the Alawites (to which the family of President Bashar al-Assad belongs, as well as the security forces suppressing the dissent). The context/precedent for such a reprisal is discussed in the article “How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-Narrative”:

It is disturbing to note that in the Great Lakes, Balkans, and Trans-Caucasus, members of many ethnic groups articulate a version of history which emphasizes how they were historic victims of genocide, and how the inevitable response to this victimhood is to organize to inflict similar violence on the former perpetrators. These histories become self-justifying and self-fulfilling charters for genocidal violence. Interventions at any level in such cases need to be attentive to the layers of historical arguments and how they are deployed for political purposes. [emphasis added]

Mr. Luck is asking the international community, including the UN and regional organizations such as the League of Arab States, to be consistent and unified on the issue of reducing sectarian tensions. The Arab League has called for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission to resolve the crisis in Syria, though Russia said on Monday that a ceasefire would need to be established in Syria before such a mission could be deployed. If this plan does end up being implemented, Luck said it is “critical to ensure that any mandate explicitly refers to reducing sectarian and ethnic tensions and improving community relations.”

Photo: alarabiya.net