Reports | 25 05 2020
“I never feel afraid when I see one of the Syrian Army’s young men carrying a weapon, but I tremble when I see a teenager or a young man who used to be a criminal before shouldering a weapon that has been given to him at the beginning of the events in Syria... Both the criminal and the weapon that has been given to him have been granted legitimacy. They have been also given free rein to do whatever they wanted to do with people. When I see one of those, I tremble with fear, I assure you,” says Rym to Rozana.
Rym lives in the Mezzeh neighborhood and is pursuing her studies at Damascus University. She has not yet become accustomed to see the weapons spreading everywhere, as she put it during an interview.
“Two cars stopped in front of a cafe at al-Nasr Street in Damascus. A young man, whose age I assumed to be no more than twenty, came out of the first one guarded by armed guards who came out of the two cars. The young man entered the cafe and the guards kept waiting outside. I was about to enter the same café but I decided not to, for this kind of place visited by this kind of young people guarded by these types of young people and weapons is not safe,” Rym pointed out.
Weapons in the hands of militants in the slums of the capital Damascus outnumber those that can be found in the capital itself.
"The number of weapons inside Damascus is barely noticeable, for only the sons of powerful officials such as officers, ministers and others are allowed to hold them. However, they are strangely proliferating in the slums, especially Esh al-Warwar, District 86, Jabal al-Roz, al-Ward and the like. Weapons are highly accessible to the teenagers who belong to the Alawite sect but are less accessible to those who belong to other sects," said Badr al-Din, a worker at an electrical appliances shop in a Damascus slum.
There are reasons why weapons proliferate in the slums, explains Abu Fouad, a citizen of Lattakia who has been living in one of the slums of Damascus for more than twenty years to Rozana.
"When the events broke out in Syria, the Syrian security forces distributed sticks and batons among a large group of young people in Esh al-Warwar to confront the demonstrations in Rif Dimashq, before distributing more than 3,000 automatic rifles and pistols, followed by the sniper rifles and PKC machine guns. This period also witnessed the emergence of the four-wheel driven vehicles carrying machine guns that the Syrians have never seen before except in the coast when the first Shabiha campaigns started, very active then in smuggling operations." He adds: "the widespread use of weapons among young people and adolescents is frightening."
Two types of indiscriminate armed groups must be distinguished in Damascus today: The so-called national defense and popular committees, according to Khalil, a resident of the Mezzeh district 86. "A large section of Shabiha got engaged in the national defense, after Iran restricted their activity, and after they had had been trained in Iran. They returned then to work under the command of Syrian officers, while some others remained active but worked as separate units and groups without any leader. As for the popular committees, they are young people or teenagers who serve as guards of internal security in the areas where they live, for example, you would find young people from district 86 guarding the entrances to the their neighborhood and wearing the Syrian Armed Forces uniform."
From National Defence to Committees
The behavior of the Popular Committees should not be compared to that of the National Defence Forces. The majority of the Committees members are residents of the areas they protect, and this makes them behave peacefully, unlike those of the national defense forces who are aggressive, said Khalil.
"I am not afraid of the popular committees at all but I feel scared of the national defense. However, despite their mightiness and bad behavior, they are protecting us after all" Khalil adds.
Similarly, in the villages and small towns along the Syrian coast, weapons are heavily present among Alawites youth. These young people never belonged to the Army , but today they put on its uniform and exercise their authority in villages and towns, especially at the checkpoints located at the entrances of villages, and during the inspection of passer-by cars or even utility vehicles that serve the villages.
Previously, a merchant from al-Ibrahim in Lattakia countryside was kidnapped and then found dead in an isolated country road.
Rami al-Sheikh, one of the dead merchant’s relatives, says: "What is really frightening is the presence of armed youths who used to be in the margin before, as my village residents say, they were useless in the past, but they make up for it today, roaming the cities on wagons whose engine power and origin are unknown to us. They are doing everything that comes to mind, kidnapping, stealing, beating and killing. They have limitless power in this country, which is out of the control of it leaders. . No one can hold them accountable or complain about their actions. Their deeds go unchecked and unreported."