Syrian Observatory probably overestimated Alawite casualties

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least 94,000 people have been killed during Syria's two-year conflict, but the death toll is likely to be as high as 120,000. At least 41,000 of those confirmed killed were Alawites, the SOHR said.

Although I have no doubt about the fact that the overall death toll is at least that high, it is hard for me to believe that Alawites account for minimum one third of the victims. 

As far as civilians are concerned, Alawites have suffered much less from the war than Sunnis. Regions inhabited by Alawites have been spared major military operations to a large extent. No large Alawite town or neighbourhood was overrun by the rebels, and none of them has known the fate of the countless Sunni cities that were turned into rubble by the regime's artillery and bombers (most of Homs, half of Aleppo, large parts of Deir ez-Zor and Damascus' suburbs, as well as a virtually unlimited list of smaller towns). Mortar shells and rockets fired by rebels landed in Alawite neighbourhoods in Damascus and Homs as well as (very recently) in smaller towns like al-Qardaha in the coastal mountains, but these attacks were too sporadic and limited to entail very large numbers of casualties. The same is true for the few car bombs that exploded in places like Mezze 86, an Alawite district of Damascus. There were sectarian killings on both sides in Homs during the summer and autumn of 2011, as well as two known massacres of dozens of Alawite civilians (in Aqrab last December, and near a military factory in Salamiyye in February), but nothing that compares, for instance, to the daily massacres carried out against Sunnis by loyalist forces during their counter-offensive around Damascus in August-September 2012: several hundreds were executed in Dariya alone within a few days, and dozens of dead bodies were found almost everyday in the province during that period. Civilian casualties on the Sunni side also include an unknown, but probably very high, number of prisoners executed while in detention. There is no equivalent for that on the Alawite side.

In such circumstances, it is likely that the largest share of Alawite victims are members of the military and pro-regime militias, since Alawites constitute most of the regime's fighting units. Here again, however, the figure mentioned in the report is doubtful. Indeed, since it is likely that more than half of the estimated 80.000 Sunni victims are civilians, and since Sunni casualties also include soldiers who died while fighting on the regime's side, the SOHR estimates imply that regime forces lost as many or even more men than the opposition. This is hard to believe given the massive imbalance between the two sides in terms of firepower and protection: contrary to loyalist forces, insurgents have no helicopters, no planes, no ballistic missiles, very few tanks and heavy artillery; they rarely wear helmets and body armors, and they totally lack decent medical infrastructures. In such circumstances, the weakest belligerent generally suffers considerably higher casualties, even when it wins in the end - the Vietnam war is a case in point, since the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army lost two to four times more combatants than the South Vietnamese and US forces.

In conclusion, the number of Alawite victims of the Syrian conflict was probably overestimated by the SOHR. If it is accurate, then it is likely that the total death toll is much, much higher than 120.000. 

Le Club est l'espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n'engagent pas la rédaction.