Homs or Hims is the third most important city in Syria and it is strategically located at the fertile Orontes River (Naher al-Aassi, – Assi means Rebel, since the river runs northwards) Valley in the centre of Syria, between Damascus (162 Km South) and Aleppo (193 Km north). It is very close to the coast (Tartus, 96 Km West) and in the center of Syria.
The perfect place for a capital for the Alawi sect!
For nearly twenty years now, Homs has become the place where the Alawi have been emigrating to in their thousands, coming from their villages in the mountains around the city and illegally building huge areas for their own communities. When I say illegally, I mean that most of the housing, schools and shops, in their areas have been built without permits; none necessary, of course, as their leader Bashar, let’s them do as they like whilst the rest of the Homs Community, made up of approx. 70% Sunni Muslim and approx. 10% Christian have to apply for permits, even to paint and decorate their homes INSIDE, which seems to most people, almost unbelievable!
The biggest problem in Homs specifically is that the Alawi community never lived amongst the Muslims and Christians, preferring to keep together in their hugely expanding areas across the main road to Damascus. On my last visit to their area last year, I was shocked at the expansion of the area, the amazing new roads, sports centers, shopping areas; it had grown beyond belief!
Of course, they came into the main city to work, the majority of them given government jobs, many never attending their positions, just turning up, in the city at the end of the month, to cash their government pay checks, lining up in their hundreds, outside the government office, I saw them every month, asking myself, where did all these people come from? Yes, government jobs were mostly given to the Alawi, especially high ranking positions, whether deserving or not, and over the twenty years I lived there, you could feel their rule over the city, becoming tighter and tighter, as they filled their pockets with bribes, we were forced to pay, in order to do any normal business or daily tasks, even the Police, also mostly Alawi in Homs, would stop your car, or our school bus, with no cause, just to put money in their pockets, and we paid, it was easier than the hours of standing in line, being treated like second class citizens, and then paying in the end anyway!
They began to strangle the population with their corruption, and it became almost impossible for the youth to find the work they deserved, after finishing university, as the best jobs were all theirs.
University professors openly took bribes from their students in order to allow them to pass their exams. Don’t pay, don’t pass! It was clear and simple, and I know for a fact that the Alawi students during exam times, were given the answers to the exam questions beforehand, as they always finished their tests in amazing time, having not studied the night before, and would joke about this often!
Homs would be theirs! We knew this when the Mayor, Eyad Ghazal, came up with a new plan: ‘Homs Dream’. And what a dream it was! Property was bought from the Muslim and Christian owners in the Old City of Homs, forcibly by the government, at only a fraction of its true value to make way for car parks. Yes, people’s lives were ruined, and the greenbelt farmlands, between Homs and the Waar neighborhood were also in the plan to be taken, in order to make way, as they said, for public gardens. Also, of course, at less than 10% of the real estate value. The people of Homs began to become agitated, with good reason. The plan was obvious; the city was to be sold cheaply to the Alawi sect, and then they would start moving in!
The plan was already in action, many years before, as I noticed, with my own teachers in my school, many of whom were Alawi, that their identity cards, said Homs, Khaldiyi, or Bayada, when they certainly came from Latakia or Tartous! This is a rule never broken in Syria; identity cards MUST show the place of ancestry, so their plan was in action, they were already Homsis, even though they were never born there. The mayor was prepared to destroy the heritage of the old city just to get his people moved in, but the people of Homs saw this cunning trick and in the first demonstration called out for the removal of the Mayor and his horrific ‘Dream’. On being met with live bullets, as I saw myself, the first demonstration quickly turned for the worst. Horrified at the immediate attacks by government forces upon them, they began calling for the fall of the regime instead and ripping the pictures of the President from the Officers Club on the Hama Road in Homs.
Homs would stop the Mayor’s dream, the President’s dream. And Homs is still fighting today, stopping the government fulfilling their dream of destroying Old Homs and creating it into the Alawi Capital. Now more than 53% of the City of Homs has been destroyed, and 70% of the Muslim and Christian community displaced. Is this ethnic cleansing? Yes, personally I can think of no other way of describing it, and the world’s silence allows Bashar to push forward with his dream of Homs the Alawi Capital of Syria.
Helen Dayem is a Syrian Activist from Homs.