Imagining and inventing Syria: alawites as frontier case of genesis of the nation in the arabic world

Abstract views: 117
PDF Downloads: 100


Syria, Alawites, nation, nation-state, nationalism, imagined communities, the invention of traditions

How to Cite

1. Кирчанов М. Imagining and inventing Syria: alawites as frontier case of genesis of the nation in the arabic world // Journal of Frontier Studies. 2017. № 2. C. 73-106.


The author analyses transformations of the Alawite community in the contexts of the development of nationalism and its main political derivatives, including the “nation” and the “nation-state”. This article represents a revisionist attempt to transplant Western principles and methods of Nationalism Studies into Oriental non-European contexts. The author, on the one hand, uses the approaches proposed for the analysis of the genesis of capitalism and fascism and, on the other hand, he transplants them into Oriental political contexts. The author presumes that the Western theoretical approaches to Nationalism Studies are applicable to the analysis of Alawite history. It is presumed that the Alawites in contrast to other Syrian Arabs came closer to the understanding of themselves as the imagined community and invented tradition. The Alawites became a political nation in spite of themselves. The objective historical preconditions for the transformation of this community in a nation were absent or were minimal. The external negative factors, including the non-recognition of Alawites by other Muslims, stimulated social and economic transformations, accelerated the modernisation of this community, inspired its consolidation and assisted to the development of the authoritarian political regime of the al-Assad’s dynasty. The Alawites actualized intellectual tactics and strategies that allowed them to “remember” the nation in contrast to other Syrian Arabs who preferred to “forget” the nation because the values ​​and principles of the Ummah had universal significance and were more attractive to them.



Akimov, Aleksandr. (2012), Stsenarii razvitiia stran Vostoka na dolgosrochnuiu perspektivu, in Vostochnaia analitika. Ezhegodnik 2012. Tendentsii, perspektivy, prognozy razvitiia stran Vostoka. Moskva: Instititut vostokovedeniia RAN, ss. 5–13.

Anderson, Benedict. (1983), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. NY: Verso, 160 p.

Anderson, Benedict. (1983), Language and Power. Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 352 p.;

Batatu, Hanna. (1999), Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics. Princeton University Press, Jew Jersey

Bērziņš, Jānis. (2013), Civil War in Syria: Origins, Dynamics, and Possible Solutions, in Strategic Review of National Defence Academy of Latvia, No 7, 12 p. [On-line resource]. – URL:

Bolliger, Monika. (2011), Writing Syrian History while Propagating Arab Nationalism. Textbooks about Modern Arab History under Hafiz and Bashar al-Asad, in Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society, Vol. 3, Issue 2, Spring, pp. 96–112.

Briscoe, Ivan; Janssen, Floor; Smits, Rosan. (2012), Stability and economic recovery after Assad: key steps for Syria’s post-conflict transition. The Hague: Conflict Research Unit – The Clingendael Institute, pp. 7, 9.

Burke, Edmund, (1973). A Comparative View of French Native Policy in Morocco and Syria, 1912–1925, in Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 175–186.

Burr, Vivien. (1995), An introduction to Social Constructionism. L.: Routledge

Choueiri, Youssef. (2000). Arab Nationalism. A History. Oxford: Blackwell

Cleveland, William. (1994), A History of the Modern Middle East. Oxford: Westview Press

Dawisha, Adeed. (2003), Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century – From Triumph to Despair. Princeton University Press

Dolgov, Boris. (2011), Krizis v Sirii: vnutrennie i vneshnie faktory, in Vostochanaia analitika. Ezhegodnik 2011. Ekonomika i politika stran Vostoka. Moskva: Institut vostokovedeniia RAN, ss. 181–187.

Farouk-Ali, Aslam. (2014), Sectarianism in Alawi Syria: Exploring the Paradoxes of Politics and Religion, in Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 34, No 3, pp. 207–226.

Filonik, Aleksandr. (2011), Siriia: reformy i politika, in Vostochanaia analitika. Ezhegodnik 2011. Ekonomika i politika stran Vostoka. Moskva: Institut vostokovedeniia RAN, ss. 177–180.

Friedman, Yaron. (2010), The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria. NY – L.: Brill.

Gaub, Florence. (2016), Syrian Separation: Why division is not the answer, in Security Policy Working Paper (Federal Academy for Security Policy), No. 17

Gaub, Florence; Pawlak, Patryk. (2013), Sykes-Picot and Syria, in Issue Alert. European Union Institute for Security Studies, no 34, October, pp. 1 – 2.

Gellner, Ernest. (1983), Muslim Society. Cambridge University Press, 267 p.

Gellner, Ernest. (1983), Nations and Nationalism. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 150 p.

Griffin, Roger. (1991), The Nature of Fascism. NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Griffin, Roger. (2003), From Slime Mould to Rhizome: An Introduction to the Groupuscular Right, in Patterns of Prejudice. Vol. 37. No 1. P. 27-50.

Griffin, Roger. (2007), Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler. Hampshire and NY: Palgrave

Griffin, Roger. (2008), A Fascist Century. Hampshire and NY: Palgrave

Haddad, Bassam. (2012). Business Networks in Syria. The political economy of authoritarian resistance. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Haddad, Bassam. (2012). Syria, the Arab uprisings, and the political economy of authoritarian resistance, in Interface Journal, Vol. 4, No 1, pp. 113 – 130.

Heard, Linda. (2016), Balkanization of Syria is a catastrophic idea, in Arab News, March 23 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Heras, Nicholas. (2013), The Potential for an Assad statelet in Syria. Washington: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Hof, Frederic; Simon, Alex. (2013), Sectarian Violence in Syria’s Civil War: Causes, Consequences, and Recommendations for Mitigation. Washington: The Center for the Prevention of Genocide, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Hroch, Miroslav. (1986), Evropská národní hnutí v 19. století. Praha: Svoboda; Hroch, Miroslav. (1971), Obrození malých evropských národů. Praha: Universita Karlova, 115 s.

Hroch, Miroslav. (2000), Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe. A Comparative Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups Among the Smaller European Nations. Columbia University Press, 220 p.

Illarionov, Andrei. (2006), Bar’ery nesvobody, in Kommersant, 27 marta [On-line resource]. – URL:

Kaplan, Robert. (1993), Syria: Identity Crisis. Hafez-al Assad has so far prevented the Balkanization of his country, but he can't last forever, in The Atlantic, February [On-line resource]. – URL:

Khaddour, Kheder. (2015), The Alawite Dilemma, in Stolleis, Friederike, ed. (2015), Playing the Sectarian Card Identities and Affiliations of Local Communities in Syria. Beirut: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung – Dakroub Printing Press s.a.l., pp. 11–26.

Khoury, Philip, (1987). Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920–1945. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Khoury, Philip. (1981). Factionalism among Syrian Nationalists during the French Mandate, in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 13, No 4, pp. 441–469.

Kirchanov, Maksim. (2009), Natsionalizm i modernizatsiia v Indonezii v XX veke. Voronezh: Nauchnaia kniga, 250 s.

Kuznetsov, Vasilii, Salem, Walid. (2016), Bezal'ternativnaia hrupkost': sud'ba gosudarstva-natsii v arabskom mire, in Rossiia v global’noi politike, 13 marta [On-line resource]. – URL:

Kuznetsov, Vasilii. (2015). IG – al’ternativnaia gosudarstvennost’, in Rossiia v global’noi politike, 13 oktiabria [On-line resource]. – URL:

Lachmann, Richard. (1987), From manor to market. Structural change in England, 1536-1640. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 166 p.

Lachmann, Richard. (2003), Capitalists in Spite of Themselves: Elite Conflict and Economic Transitions in Early Modern Europe. NY: Oxford University Press, 314 p.

Longrigg, Stephen, (1958). Syria and Lebanon Under French Mandate. London: Oxford University Press

Lund, Aron. (2012), Syrian Jihadism. Stockholm: Swedish Institute of International Affairs, 50 p. [On-line resource]. – URL:

Lund, Aron. (2013), Syria’s Salafi insurgents: The rise of the Syrian Islamic Front. Stockholm: Swedish Institute of International Affairs, 51 p.

Lvov, Petr. (2015), Syrian Regime is Going Down in Flames, in New Eastern Outlook, May 15 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Malashenko, Aleksei. Politicheskii islam: mirnoe sosuchshtvovavie ili global’noe protivostoianie, in Otechestennye zapiski, 2001, no 1 [On-line resource]. – URL:

McPherson, James. (2003), Revisionist Historians, in Perspectives on History. The Newsmagazine of American Historical Association. 2003. Vol. 41. No 6. September. P. 2.

Mikheev, Vladimir. (2016), Federalization or balkanization for Syria?, in Russia and India Report, February 26 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Naumkin, Vitalii. (2014), Tsivilizatsiia i krizis natsii-gosudarstv, in Rossiia v global’noi politike, 19 fevralia [On-line resource]. – URL:

Nguyen-Phuong-Mai, Mai. (2015), Syrian Alawites: Their history, their future, in The Islamic Monthly, October 28 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Orlov, Alexander. (2013), Borders Are Going to Be Redrawn in the Middle East, in New Eastern Outlook, April 22 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Ostal’skii, Andrei. (2016), Razdelit’ Siriiu, in Radio svobody, 3 marta [On-line resource]. – URL:

Parasiliti, Andrew; Reedy, Kathleen; Wasser, Becca. (2017), Preventing State Collapse in Syria. Santa-Monica: RAND corporation. 20 p. [On-line resource]. – URL:

Patel, David Siddhartha. (2015), Remembering Failed States in the Middle East, in Rethinking Nation and Nationalism. Washington: The Project on Middle East Political Science, pp. 29–32.

Provence, Michael, (2005). The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism. Austin: University of Texas Press

Qaddour, Jomana. (2013), Unlocking the Alawite Conundrum in Syria, in The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 36, No 4, pp. 67 – 78.

Rabinovich, Itamar. (1979). The Compact Minorities and the Syrian State, 1918–1945, in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 14, No 4, pp. 693–712.

Rousseau, Eliott. (2014). The Construction of Ethnoreligious Identity Groups in Syria: Loyalties and Tensions in the Syrian Civil War, in BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 66 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Salamandra, Christa. (2013), Sectarianism in Syria: Anthropological Reflections, in Middle East Critique, Vol. 22, No 3, pp. 303–306.

Salm, Randall. (2016), The Transformation of Ethnic Conflict and Identity in Syria. A Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at George Mason University. George Mason University, 323 p.

Schaebler, Birgit. (2013), Constructing an Identity between Arabism and Islam: The Druzes in Syria, in The Muslim World. Vol. 103, no 1, pp. 62–79.

Schiøtz Worren, Torstein. (2007), Fear and Resistance. The Construction of Alawi Identity in Syria. Master thesis in human geography. Dept. of Sociology and Human Geography. Oslo: University of Oslo, 118 p.

Shakdan, Catherine. (2016), The Syrian deception: on the Balkanization of the Greater Middle East, in American Herald Tribune, February 25 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Silverberg, Mark, (2013), The Balkanization of Syria. The country isn’t going to become a stable, unified state again in the foreseeable future, in Arutz Sheva, October 28 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Skriba, Andrei, Novikov, Dmitrii. (2016), Blizhnii Vostok: osnovnye tendentsii, in Rossiia v global’noi politike, 13 oktiabria [On-line resource]. – URL:

Smith, Anthony. (1991), National Identity. NY: Penguin

Smith, Anthony. (1992), Nationalists and Historians, in International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. XXXIII, no 1–2, pp. 58–80.

Smith, Anthony. (1999), Myth and Memories of the Nation. Oxford University Press

Smith, Anthony. (2003), Chosen Peoples. Oxford University Press

Snell, Arthur. (2013), Conflict in Syria: An Historical Perspective, in Caribbean Journal of International Relations and Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 4, December, pp. 49–59

Tekdal Fildis, Ayse, (2012), Roots of Alawite-Sunni Rivalry in Syria, in Middle East Policy, Vol. XIX, No 2 [On-line resource]. – URL:

Vertiaev, Kirill, Ivanov, Stanislav. (2015), Kurdskii natsionalizm. Istoriia i sovremennost’. Moskva: URSS, 352 s.

Wagner, Daniel. (2015), The Brave New World of ‘Syrianization’ [On-line resource]. – URL:

Watenpaugh, Keith D. (1996), “Creating Phantoms”: Zaki al-Arsuzi, the Alexandretta Crisis, and the Formation of Modern Arab Nationalism in Syria, in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 363–389.

Winter, Stefan. (1999), La révolte alaouite de 1834 contre l’occupation égyptienne: perceptions alaouites et lecture ottomane, in Oriente Moderno, Vol. 79, No 3, pp. 60–71.

Winter, Stefan. (2016), A history of the Alawis: From medieval Aleppo to the Turkish Republic. Princeton University Press.

Zisser, Eyal. (2006), Who’s afraid of Syrian nationalism? National and state identity in Syria, in Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 42, No 2, pp. 179–189.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.