Who will water our neighborhood’s trees if everyone leaves?”

Raqqa Residents Explain Their Reasons for Staying Despite Battles

Raqqa Residents Explain Their Reasons for Staying Despite Battles

Enab Baladi Enab Baladi
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Civilians fleeing battles in Raqqa (Reuters)

 

Despite the intensified fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIS in Raqqa, hundreds of residents still live inside the city, refusing to leave despite the dangers as the shelling intensifies.

A video shared by activists on social websites sites in recent days shows residents who remain in Raqqa. The recording shows an old man covered in blood and is said to be recorded in the Rumaila neighborhood of Raqqa, which the Syrian Democratic Forces recently entered. In the video, the old man, whose name is Ahmed Zeno, is asked “Why didn’t you leave?”, to which he replies, “Where do we go?”. There were rumors that Ahmed Zeno was executed after the recording of the video, which ended with a QSD fighter saying, “You’ll go to heaven and find houris”.

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Some of those who remained in Raqqa told Enab Baladi about the difficulties they face in the conflict-stricken city.

What are they doing in the city?

There are a number of questions being asked about the remaining residents, particularly why they are throwing themselves into danger and risking their lives by insisting on staying.

There are many stories circulating among residents about civilians who refused to take up arms and to leave their city. They say they “tolerated the chaos of the factions and the madness of ISIS, in addition to the  attacks by the coalition air force”.

Fifty year-old Abu Muayyad, who is still living in Raqqa, told Enab Baladi that he has a great love for the city’s streets, “I’m like a fish. If I move away from the Euphrates, I’ll die. All I want is to stay in my house”.

Thousands of people are still living in Raqqa, despite the bombing and fighting. Abu Muayyad says that security is relative, “Death is in the hands of Allah but devotion to our land and the homeland is a duty, not an option.”

He describes himself as an old man and says that all he wants is two meters of land adjacent to his house, where he wants to be buried. “I will not leave Raqqa. I will be buried near my wife who died years ago. Who am I going to leave her with? Who will water the trees in our neighborhood if everyone leaves?”.

There are no real statistics on the number of civilians in Raqqa but what is certain is that hundreds of families face an uncertain fate in the coming days, trapped under the “iron media curtain” imposed by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the areas it controls.

Fear of exile

“Video recordings have documented the targeting of Raqqa using white phosphorus and the killing of dozens of people. The Coalition says it has “taken the necessary measures to reduce the risk of unintentional injury to civilians”. It also accuses the QSD of murder and displacement in the area”.

The horror of the scenes that have emerged from Raqqa and the fear of a similar fate have not prevented Abu Abdullah from staying in the city until today. He told Enab Baladi, “The feeling of exile is worse than injury, shelling, destruction, even death, imprisonment and torture.”

Abu Abdullah, who is in his forties, describes what is going on in Raqqa as “vast destruction” and confirms that he “is waiting to see how its reconstruction will be divided up by the war criminals.” He says that what is happening “reveals the fraudulence and false claims of all parties that want to displace residents and destroy the city and do not care about the fate of civilians”.

“Whoever leaves his house loses his value”

Despite the lack of health services and food, and the deterioration of all aspects of life in the city, this has not been enough to justify departure for many, including Umm Muhammad. Aged 63, she still lives with her neighbor in Raqqa after the departure of most of her family. In her view, “whoever leaves his house loses his value”.

Umm Muhammad, who moved from Deir Ez-Zor and settled in Raqqa five years ago, says that the act by residents of staying in Raqqa and remaining attached to their homes is their way of “guarding the city from greedy people. It’s a trust that must be preserved. I cannot explain the reason I am staying here. It does not follow the laws of life, reason and logic.”

These are feelings that are hard to explain and that are unrelated to either age or gender. The people of Raqqa who spoke to us about their experiences consider themselves to be part of the mosaic of the Syrian war and its stories. They insist that they are no better than Zeno, “who died at the hands of his torturers, an end to a story of love for his city by giving his life as a dowry mixed with blood”.

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