There is a new, and quite plausible, alternative narrative that has emerged these past two days which describes the Houla massacre as Alawite retaliation for an earlier massacre committed by armed Sunni oppositionists against the Alawite village of al-Shoumariyeh.
According to many unconfirmed reports, vengeful and armed villagers and /or shabiha retaliated for the massacre by butchering villagers from the neighbouring village of Houla. Apparently, the artillery rounds the Syrian army fired at rebel-controlled Houla was an attempt to end the bloodshed in Shamariyeh, or something to that effect. How the perpetrators of the massacre entered a rebel stronghold and executed such a large massacre unimpeded remains to be seen.
Although some claim the al-Shoumariyeh massacre occurred after the Houla massacre, the Syrian news agency, SANA, reports that “foreign-funded armed terrorist groups” committed massacres in al-Shoumariyeh and Taldao on Friday, 25 May, at 2:00 p.m. Considering that the Houla massacre is widely reported to have commenced around 3 p.m. that same day, it does appear that the Houla massacre occurred after the first two, or around the same time. None of this confirms the new narrative, but it doesn’t undermine it either.
While the details are still very murky, the UN seems to have caught on to this story, or some related version thereof, as its -peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous recently declared ”There is strong suspicion that the Shabiha were involved in this tragedy in Houla.” Russia has given its blessing to a UN investigation into the incident.
Like any of the narratives about the Houla massacre, the above story has not been substantiated by any evidence, least of all the dominant narrative which places the blame squarely on the Syrian regime. I only chose to comment on this alternative narrative because I deemed it more plausible than the latter, and hence, worthy of commentary, but it remains a narrative not a fact.
I don’t necessarily deem it the most probable explanation for what happened in Houla on May 25, given how much the massacre served US-NATO-GCC interests. What I am arguing here though, is that even if we assume that this Alawite revenge narrative is true, that should not implicate the Syrian regime in the massacre.
I wrote a short post a few days ago on why I thought it highly unlikely the “regime” would commit an atrocity like this. I still stand by my analysis, despite the materialization of this new narrative. When I said regime, I actually meant the Syrian army, as all fingers were initially pointed at it. I didn’t/ still don’t think it makes any sense for a conventional armed force with a clear chain of command to subject itself to charges of war crimes—which is much easier to make when there is a clear-cut organizational hierarchy and hence, accountability, not to mention potential refusniks and defectors given the heinous nature of the crime— in a context of overwhelming international pressure and when the entire world is watching every move and mismove it makes. While I am aware that the shabiha constitute the state’s “unofficial” arm, (some compare it to Iran’s basij), I still deem it highly improbable that the Assad leadership would order shabiha to carry out a killing rampage on its behalf in a Sunni village it had already shelled, for the same reasons I outlined in my earlier post: it stands everything to lose and nothing to gain. And no, the “gain” of terrorizing the villagers and rebels into submission (assuming that is even an effective method of reasserting control) just doesn’t outweigh all the risks that accompany such a tactic. It is much more probable, that these armed elements acted out of revenge of their own accord, as revenge massacres often are.
As for the argument by opposition supporters and others, which regards the regime as being ultimately responsible for all violence, irrespective of its source, the fact remains that this is a government which no longer has full control of its territory, or a monopoly on the use of violence. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that it’s trying to retrieve sovereignty over its land by the force of arms, and in so doing, exposing itself to often unfounded accusations of wide-scale repression, killing and war crimes.
At the end of the day, what we have in Syria is a situation characterized by sectarian warfare, armed insurrection, al-Qaeda terrorism and blatant NATO-GCC intervention —hardly the ingredients of a strong centralized government which can be held to account for every act of violence that takes place on Syrian soil.
One can only wait for an impartial and objective inquiry before jumping to make predetermined conclusions which only serve the agenda of those pushing for a NATO invasion of Syria.
So much political capital is being made out of this inconceivably evil massacre: Both France and the US have now expressed their willingness for military intervention in Syria as a result of this atrocity, which Kofi Annan has rightly labelled it a “tipping point” in the conflict. Uncovering the perpetrators is therefore imperative not only for justice to be served but also for averting a wider regional war.