Were the victims of the Houla Massacre Shia/Alawite?

It’s horrible that it’s come to this. I never want to delve into stupid sectarian politics. But alas, the pro-Assad right-wing forces have made the sect of the Houla victims part of their propaganda campaign to exonerate government forces with regards to the Houla Massacre. So it has come to this.

Directly after the Houla Massacre happened, many directly began claiming that the victims were Shia or Alawite. The reasoning for this is because if the victims were Shia or Alawite, then it can automatically be assumed that the perpetrators of the massacre were extremist Sunni militants allied with the opposition in Syria, because Shias and Alawites, according to conventional wisdom, are assumed to be government supporters(although this claim itself is patently false as there are many members of the Alawite minority in Syria who are supportive of the opposition as well as many members of the Alawite minority who have been thrown in jail for voicing their opposition to the regime). This rumor spread, and many pro-Assads accepted this is as fact.

The claim was granted even more legitimacy after a report by the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This report was picked up by the conservative American magazine The National Review, which stated:

“But according to a new report in Germany’s leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the Houla massacre was in fact committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and the bulk of the victims were member of the Alawi and Shia minorities, which have been largely supportive of Assad.”

A brief look at the names of some of the victims, however, shows that this claim is most probably false. The Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies has an excel sheet (in Arabic) that documents the names of the victims that were killed and the method of killing. Many of the names of the victims are names that are culturally understood to be names of Sunnis. For example, victim number 27 on the list’s name is Umar Mahmoud Al-Kurdi. Umar is generally a name given by Sunni families to their children, due to its association with Umar ibn-Al Khattab. Without delving too much into Islamic history, Umar ibn-Al Khattab is generally an Islamic figure who is regarded positively in Sunni theology, but is regarded negatively in Shia theology. Because of this, it’s very culturally rare that a Shia or Alawite family would name their child “Umar”. Thus, it is unlikely that the Al-Kurdi family, one of the three main families that was massacred in Houla, was indeed of Shia or Alawite origin.

The second family who was targeted in the Houla Massacre was the Al-Sayyid family. A look at some of the names of their family members also shows a trend for naming names that are traditionally associated with Sunnism. Victim number 90’s name is Ahmad Muawiya Al-Sayyid, and victim number 91’s name is Muawiya al-Sayyid. The name ‘Muawiya’ is a name also associated with a figure in Islamic history that Shias regard negatively. Muawiya is not a common name in the Arab world as a whole, but is common among Syrian Sunnis as Muawiyah was at one point the governor of Syria. It is very unlikely that a Shia or Alawite family would name their child “Muawiyah”, as Muawiyah is a reviled figure in Shia theology.

The third family who saw lots of members massacred in Houla was the al-Razzaq family. Victim number 59 on the list’s name is Aysha Abd al-Khaleq Abd al-Razzaq. “Aysha” was the name of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives. She is also generally regarded positively by Sunnis and negatively by Shias for historical reasons.

In each of the three main families that was targeted in the Houla Massacre, there are names of children that are names that are culturally Sunni. It is highly unlikely (although certainly not impossible) that Shia or Alawite families would casually name their children after figures that are reviled according to their own theology. This is certainly not any kind of conclusive evidence, but it certainly throws the claim reported by FAZ and pro-Assad propagandists into extreme doubt. One anomaly may be possible, but  in each of the three families that are reported to be Shia or Alawite, there are names that are normally associated with Sunni theology.

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