This is the first part of a very long seven-part post by Matthew Barber at Joshua Landis’s Syria Comment: A Lebanese acquaintance of Dr. Landis wrote in an email about the recent experience of his Syrian natoor (a worker at an apartment building functioning like a cross between a guard, concierge, and janitor):
I’m now in Beirut at my mother’s. The natoor of our building, Riyadh, is from Hassaka. He’s been our natoor for 6 years.
He just got back yesterday from Haasaka after visiting his folks.
On my last trip here in December, he was 100% anti-regime and his two brothers were fighters with FSA. He told me at the time that Assad must go, he is not good for Syria and his cousin Rami ripped off the country. He came to Lebanon after his military service because Assad and his family destroyed Syria.
That was December 2012. He is now 100% pro regime. His two brothers surrendered to the Syrian army and gave up their $500 a month [FSA] salary (he makes here $250/month).
He said the FSA and Nusra are thieves and robbers – much worse than the regime. They quit after seeing how the FSA (their direct commander was an Afghani) was ripping off and selling everything to Turkey. They sold 4 years worth of huntaa [wheat] for 600 SYP a shewal (no idea what a shewal is, but ya3ni) whereas it’s worth 6,000 SYP. They dismantled whole bakeries, small factories, cables, he swore even faucets were ripped out and shipped to Turkey.
His trip from Beirut to Tadmor was relatively safe, he said. But from Tadmor to Hassaka, there is a Nusra roadblock every few kilometers. At each roadblock, heavily armed men, faces completely covered, get up to the bus and shout “Allahu Akbar.” They wait for the passengers to shout back the same while these men lock their eyes trying to figure out if someone is saying Allahu Akbar back according to their standards. He said I know “Ibn baladi” [locals of the area]. None of these thugs are Ibn baladi.
Women, if any, must be completely covered for the roadblock – head to toe like a trash bag. The driver usually tells all women that they must have black burqas with them before they get on the bus.
Anyway, he said “yashodu allah ya ustaz that Bashar is now in our hearts and minds”:
“يشهد اللهً يااستاذ انه بشار الأسد بقلبنا وبدمنا. يشهد الله يااستاذ انه كل أغلاط النظام ويشار وعيلته مغفورة قدام ها لوحوش المجرمين من الجيش الحر والنصرة الله لاينصرهن خربو سورية. يشهد الله يااستاذ انه هللق كل سوري مخلص وشريف وبيحب بلده الآن مع بشار ومع الجيش السوري ضد هل الأوباش.”
He said, we let Bashar down (نحنا انغشينا و أخطأنا ). And in doing so we let Syria down.
Riyadh is here now to pack his things and go back to Syria to fight with the Syrian army (تطوع). I said how many people are feeling like you in Hasakaa, he said many – all his ربع [a term for family commonly used by Bedouins and Arabs of tribal affiliation]. He is 36 years old. Went to hajj twice. He’s Muslim Sunni.
I asked him what about the Christians in Hasakaa, he said they all left. Only the very weak and poor are left behind, but they are ok.
The FSA ripped off the power plant, dismantled all equipments, generators, transformers, even under ground cables were ripped out and were sold to a turkey.
He said this is not a fight for Assad, this is a fight for Syria.
Such an account looks almost engineered to tickle the ears of regime supporters, but it is real. It obviously, however, cannot reflect the experience of someone whose community has undergone direct bombardment from the regime. Those who have contributed to this long fight or have lived through the airstrikes and massacres of so many towns and villages would not suddenly make a political turnabout and say “we let Bashar down.” Such a statement will appear as the height of absurdity to a great number of Syrians, and even we find it almost bewildering. But it does reflect the feelings of some communities that have become disillusioned with rebel control, or have felt that “you rebels brought the fight to our neighborhood,” a sentiment we’ve seen crop up often.
It reflects the dilemma expressed by the writer of the email: “Syrians today have clarity in the choices being offered: the regime, version 2.0; or a Salafi Islamic Banana Republic. My relatives, friends, and many Syrians I know who were staunch anti-regime revolutionaries early on are privately rethinking their position. It’s almost impossible for Syrians to admit defeat or mistakes (it’s related to some strange DNA mutation I will tell you about later!), but it’s not hard to see where a Sufi Syria would end up given these two distinct choices. The revolution is now proving to be incompatible with the hearts and minds of the Syrian masses.”
Regardless of the degree to which that last statement can be said to be true for various segments of the Syrian population, disillusionment has prompted even some who have been engaged at the forefront of the struggle against the regime to abandon the revolution. The situation alluded to above (the selling off of Syrian assets to Turkey) is a real problem that ultimately drove the head of the Farouq Brigades in Deir Ezzor, Yussef ‘Alke, to resign as leader, leave the Brigades, and declare the revolution a corrupt sham. In a recent statement he laid out 5 reasons for his departure:
- That the trajectory of the revolution in Deir Ezzor has deviated from the right path and transformed [into a campaign of] acquiring wealth
- That some leaders of the Farouq Brigade, in partnership with other brigades undertook the sale of the tools and equipment from the warehouses of sugar mills without our knowledge or agreement
- The failure of the Revolutionary or Military Council or any subsidiary of the join leadership to support us, even with a single bullet, knowing that the everything that comes in the way of support from these groups goes to particular persons with a blind allegiance to the leaders of these councils
- The new emergence of the old phenomenon of bloc formation, partisanship, and allegiances to foreign parties which people are forced to follow or face elimination, as has recently become clear
- The lack of seriousness on the part of any party responsible for the Free Syrian Army or its supporters in the fight against the regime in Deir Ezzor — instead the main concern was, and still is, making financial deals with the regime
‘Alke gave just one example of destructive economic opportunism to occur in his local area (that of the sugar mill). A commodity that has been intensely fought over recently in several areas is wheat. A feud erupted in Tal Hamis (Hasakeh) over the right to distribute wheat between the FSA 313th Division and Ahrar al-Sham who attacked the FSA positions and took over the grain silos. Another scandal took place in al-Shadadi where the elected head of the Local Council was accused of appropriating wheat to sell it for his own profit. But the hottest affair of all is oil. [Continue reading…]