Investigations | 18 Jan 2015

Since the onset of the Syrian Revolution, Suwayda's people have been divided about the question of joining the ranks of the regime's army. With the increasing number of deaths, the voices questioning and warning of the consequences of being misled by the regime, or joining the ranks of its army; became more outspoken and resonant.

Prisoners of the Village!

"Of what national duty do they speak? Die for whose sake?" Asks Naeem, who lives in a village in the vicinity of Suwayda, and who is reticent to give away his family name; as his brother and he are both requested for reserve duty.

Naeemwho currently lives in hiding from the vigilant eyes of the security servicestells Rozana: "In the past, a young man would go to [perform] his military service, and endure the oppressive conditions—considering it as merely a two years' prison term, that will eventually come to an end. Nowadays, no one knows if and when it will end; that is if one is lucky enough to come back home in one piece, not carried in a coffin."

Naeem describes his brother's and his situation as being virtually prisoners in their own village: They had to abandon their business, and cannot get out of their village, for fear of being caught at regime checkpoints, who have their names in their wanted lists. He then adds: "There seems to be no way out of this impasse. We are disgusted, and simply cannot take it anymore."

Naeem's younger brother considered escape outside Syria, but he could not go ahead with his plans. He succumbed to the pleas of his mother, who has no one left except her children after her husband's death, as he put it.

Mistreatment... and Exorbitant Costs to Obtain a Leave

Druze youth refusing to join the army is not a new phenomenon. Yet the numbers have never been greater, with many of them refusing to participate in the killing of Syrians as they say; while others are afraid of dying, or being retained in service for lengthy periods.

Ill-treatment encountered by young people, by some regime officers, is one of the main reasons to try and avert service in the Army. Adham tells of what happened with his nephew, who has been serving in the ranks of the regime's army for four years now, in the Eastern Ghouta [in the Damascus countryside]. He says: "Rami [his nephew] could not obtain leave to return home for any reason. The officer in charge was literally blackmailing soldiers, particularly if one of them asked for leave to see his family."

Rami was, thus, forced to pay the officer, to secure a trip to hospital for an appendictiseven though he did not truly require it. He merely wished to have a break away from the fighting, says Adham; who adds that this did not relieve his nephew, who was thus forced to go Absent Without Leave [AWOL]. He stayed away until his officer was killed in battle, returning after receiving a formal pardon.

Nashat, a physician in the Suwayda National Hospital, tells of many cases of soldiers rushed into the hospital due to limb fractures or wounds, in an attempt to escape their military service.

"National Defense"—A Way to Make a Living!

With doors and horizons blocked in front of many, as well the existence of many regime loyalists; there are a number of so-called "untouchables" in al-Suwayda's community, who now engage in the ranks of the regime's "National Defense" militias—as a way to get some money. The regime, through its omnipresent security tentacles, also traces young men and even army deserters.

Wajih, a volunteer from the village of Atil, says: "This is a dutyregardless of the material income." While Saeed, from the village of Areeqah, clarifies: "There are 15 young army deserters, who have now become volunteers at the Al Bustan Associationaffiliated with Rami Makhlouf [the President's maternal cousin and the regime's top crony businessman], and fighting alongside the [regime] Army in Daraa. They are paid very handsomely."

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