Rescuing and serving persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

ICC Note: Idlib governorate in Syria once had a significant Christian population. However, one of Assad’s preferred tactics is to move rebel groups to Idlib after gaining victory over other territories. As a result, the governorate’s population has, according to some estimations, more than doubled. The Christians of Idlib have largely fled to other parts of Syria out of fear from those who now live in the area.  

05/11/2018 Syria (ASPI) –  The United Nations and France have both recently warned of an impending humanitarian disaster in Syria’s Idlib province. Until now, the Syrian government has held off on launching an all-out offensive on the province. But recent development have reduced the cost of an attack, raising international concern.

In 2015, Russian air power and foreign ground troops turned the tide of the Syrian civil war in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour. With superior armaments and the influx of veteran fighters, the government retook many rebel-held areas, along with their populations and fighters antagonistic to Assad’s rule. To avoid a perpetual low-level insurgency, the government began to move the rebel-aligned populations to Idlib in the country’s northeast.

Such population transfers quickly became the norm. After retaking the rebel enclave in the old city of Homs in May 2014, the Syrian government offered some 1,400 civilians and fighters safe passage to Idlib.

This set the tone for nearly every settlement that followed. Once the government retook a rebel-held area, it allowed remaining rebel-aligned civilians and fighters to move to Idlib. In March 2018 alone, the province received some 10,000 fighters and civilians. At the same time, Assad filled the newly empty rebel-held areas with populations loyal to him, many of whom had fled from rebel militias elsewhere in Syria.

That rebel funnel to Idlib radically changed the demographics of the province. Before the civil war, the province was home to just over 1 million people. Most were Sunni but the province also had significant Christian and Druze communities. Over the course of the war, the population jumped to between 1.5 and 2.5 million. The increase resulted directly from the government’s transfers of Sunni civilians and fighters.

The new Sunni fighters, often aligned with extremist groups, quickly took power. They suppressed local minority groups, including through forced conversion and massacres. As Idlib’s Sunni population grew, many Druze and Christians fled to government-held areas.

Rival rebel groups in Idlib allied together early on in the conflict, but tensions quickly emerged. In 2015, for example, a coalition of rebels took control of the city of Idlib. Almost immediately afterwards, fighting broke out between the dominant factions. The perpetual drip of new fighters into the region under Assad’s population transfers fed the conflict.

The Syrian government has largely left Idlib alone, marking the province as one of its ‘de-escalation zones’. The government seems content to sit on its hands, letting the rebel factions in the province burn each other out before making a move. Turkey’s presence may also be preventing a concerted attack.

Turkey has been the most important backer of Idlib’s rebel groups.

[Full Story]

For interviews with Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org