In the past few years, some Alawite residents displaced by the war from the Al-Waer neighbourhood of Homs have begun to return home. However, their return does not appear to have gone entirely smoothly in light of various sectarian atrocities committed throughout the conflict.
Al-Waer, also known as New Homs, is located in the city’s eastern part and has two main sections. The first section is called the old quarter, also known as Old Al-Waer. Some of its inhabitants are from the Bedouin tribes. The second, more recent expansion has villas, residential towers, apartment blocks, and many government departments and institutions. In general, most Al-Waer residents are middle-class professionals, including merchants, lawyers, and doctors, as well as some judges and senior state and public sector employees. Most residents before 2011 were Sunni Muslims, with sizeable Alawite, Christian and Ismaili minorities.
Al-Waer remained relatively neutral when the Syrian revolution began in 2011, with relations between the various sects still normal. However, regime military operations in 2012 on the nearby historic neighbourhoods of Homs displaced tens of thousands of residents to Al-Waer. Meanwhile, most of the neighbourhood’s Alawite residents were displaced at this time. The regime enforced a punishing siege on Al-Waer in 2013 and waged multiple attacks on it using artillery shells and rockets.
Then, in May 2014, rebel fighters withdrew from Old Homs, some of them moving into Al-Waer and settling there. During this period, the neighbourhood faced airstrikes and artillery fire from regime forces. There were also frequent infiltrations and clashes instigated by pro-regime militias from the neighbouring Shiite village of Al-Mazraeh. Various sectarian acts and violations were carried out during this time. Meanwhile, a large portion of the neighbourhood’s Sunni residents was displaced to nearby areas still under regime control. In March 2017, regime and opposition forces agreed to allow opposition fighters to leave Al-Waer for rebel-held parts of northern Syria in exchange for gradually lifting the siege.
As the violence declined, displaced Sunni residents began returning to Al-Waer. Only recently did some Alawite families also begin to return on an individual basis, though some of them have not been welcomed by their former neighbours. As a result, some Alawite families prefer to sell or lease their properties in Al-Waer instead of moving back.
Abu Ali, a retired Alawite engineer and longtime leftist opponent of the regime lived most of his life in a house he owns in Al-Waer. He decided to leave the neighbourhood after the murder of a well-known local Alawite lawyer in 2013, which he described it as having sectarian motives. According to Abu Ali, the murder pushed many other Alawite residents like him to leave Al-Waer.
When tensions in Homs calmed down, Abu Ali decided to return to check on his house. Abu Ali didn’t notice any changes to the house despite having been gone for years, he told The Syria Report. However, the neighbourhood had changed, and his neighbour was no longer welcoming towards him. He said he received advice from friends not to return home due to potential reprisals against Alawite residents. As a result, Abu Ali decided to lease his house. Here again, he was surprised that nobody wanted to rent the home due to what he called “sectarian reasons”, as the neighbourhood had become inhabited chiefly by Sunni residents since the war. One Sunni friend of Abu Ali suggested to him that he lease the house through power of attorney, so this is the route he ended up taking.
Meanwhile, Haidar, a young former Alawite resident of Al-Waer, lived in displacement for years before recently considering returning home. Haidar said he returned to find his home as he had left it, and his neighbours were kind to him and had kept his belongings safe in their houses. Still, in the end, Haider chose to lease his house, preferring not to move back home in the meantime.
One Alawite family did decide to return to the neighbourhood after years away, to one of Al-Waer’s residential towers. They had received warnings from relatives and friends not to move back home, yet without any other option for housing, they decided to take the risk anyway.
Nidal and his wife Riham are Alawites from the Syrian coastal region. They recently moved to Homs after Nidal got a job working for a humanitarian relief NGO and decided to buy a house in Al-Waer. According to them, on their second visit to the house, they found a paper on their car parked below the building that read: “If you want to live in Al-Waer, live in Al-Mazraeh.” Al-Mazraeh is a predominantly Shiite village just next to Al-Waer, and was home to several pro-regime militias that fought against the opposition in the neighbourhood. A neighbour later told the couple it was best for them to move out of the building.