Volunteering for the Syrian army… an act of treachery or survival?
Haneen Al Naqri – Enab Baladi
One of the main reasons for the migration of young Syrian men is fear of mandatory military service or becoming a reservist. Young men are called up whether a supporter of the regime or the opposition, but the army is no longer what it used to be. The “military training” that was practiced on wooden statues in deserted camps before the revolution, now involves bloody battles and live practice on human targets, something that most young men try to avoid by postponing their service or travelling.
However a new trend has recently spread in areas under regime control: “volunteering in the army”. This bewilders many observers, who struggle to understand the motive behind a voluntarily enrolment in the army, especially when it is something avoided by thousands of men! Do young men really volunteer in the army out of support for the regime? Who are the people that mostly volunteer in the army?
Minibus drivers in Hama are at the mercy of the military airport, whose regime forces are entitled to commandeer these civil buses for a set or even open period of time and use them for military purposes and on battle fronts. Abu Saeed (a fictitious name), a minibus driver from Hama, says “I have very bad living conditions now because regime forces at the airport take my minibus whenever they want; sometimes I only work for ten days before the regime forces retake the minibus from me. Not to mention the need for a complete repair after some missions; for example if the vehicle has been hit by a RPG or had the windows totally smashed by other kinds of bullets. After some missions, it costs me around 200 thousand SYP to get the minibus functioning again.”
Abu Saeed continues to work in these difficult conditions, enduring the regime forces repeatedly taking his bus for fighting missions, but the patience he practices is not applied by other drivers. Abu Saeed relates that “some of my fellows in the field sold their buses and stopped working, as it is a complete loss; others, like me, try to continue despite the harassment and the destruction of their minibuses, while a third category of drivers have volunteered in the army forces in order to serve their interests.”
According to Abu Saeed, if you see a new shiny minibus on the roads of Hama city, the driver is usually a volunteer, which is why the vehicle is clean and undamaged. He adds “some of these drivers are friends of mine, who only volunteered in order to support their families. In fact, they volunteer in secrecy so that people won’t accuse them of treachery; on the other hand, there are some other drivers who begin to adopt the morals of the regime. They have become Shabiha (those who intimidate people using violence, in favor of the regime), and boast openly about joining the regime, despite the fact they are from Hama. They are even selective when it comes to passengers, and sometimes wear military uniforms.”
Volunteering in brief:
The Syrian regime has lately focused on campaigns to encourage volunteering for the army, using billboards with expressions like “Join the armed forces”, “Our army can win our country”, “Our army is everyone.”
A volunteer can determine the duration of his volunteering contract; options vary from six months, a year, or two, and are renewable.
Earlier this year, the leadership of Assad’s army announced it had established voluntary brigades for those wishing to fight alongside the army in their provinces, with the volunteer choosing the terms of the contract.
Governmental workers, who volunteer, receive their salaries plus 50% of the value of their salary as a volunteering allowance.
Volunteers, who are not employees in the government, receive 20 thousand Syrian Pounds monthly as a volunteering allowance plus 10 thousand Syrian Pounds as an allowance for battle missions.
Members of volunteering brigades are assigned to work in their own provinces or near their place of residence.
Volunteering conditions published by the Interior Ministry include “open to both those who finished their mandatory military service and those who did not.”
Hama’s governor, Ghassan Khalaf, said that 1250 persons are needed for the Hama voluntary brigade.
Significant or small traders “with a few exceptions”
After experiencing harassment, from both sides, while traveling between Homs and Damascus, Mohammad (a fictitious name) decided to volunteer “spuriously”, according to him, in order to protect himself from being arrested, and to save his goods from being looted at every checkpoint. Mohammad says “I gave this step thorough thought, since I had no choice but travelling. But my family needed me and my job, and because I have no university degree that would enable me to work abroad, I asked one of my acquaintances to get me a volunteering card within the city.”
Mohammad tries to justify volunteering in the regime’s forces, despite the fact that he is on the opposition side, by thinking that he won’t harm the revolution, nor will he benefit the regime, adding “I was not deprived of my civil rights. I still have my identity in addition to the security card that facilitates my everyday life. I am not proud of it of course, but it has become the only guarantee for fulfilling your civil rights in a country ruled by the military!” with a sigh, he continues “I have volunteered to protect myself from injustice, robbery, looting and assault. The thief’s associate does not get robbed.”
“Pass my regards to the Moalem!*”
Mohammad relates a conversation he had at his accessories and gift shop, when a military man entered his shop, and tried to “Yoshabeh” (intimidate with violence) in order to force a refund of some goods he’d bought after using them. Mohammad says “the military man started harassing me, using verbal ‘Shabiha’ words, while I insisted that no refund is possible after using the goods. When I was out of options, I showed him my security card, telling him that the shop’s owner is Colonel X, at which point, he apologized, asking me to pass his regards to the Colonel! (Moallem)”
*Moallem is a slang use referring to that who is in control, as in a high rank or status.
According to Mohammad, some significant traders also hold security cards to enable them to facilitate their work and goods, adding “we are not talking here about forbidden goods, rather shoes, clothes, make-up and the like. A trader buying a container from abroad, costing thousands of dollars, will risk a huge loss if not supported by some security authority; this is something that everyone resorts to”. Mohammad tells of his surprise that when accompanying 15 significant traders, 12 of them produced security cards when asked to show their identities at checkpoints.
Reservists want “best of two bitter choices”
Volunteering in the army becomes “a better choice out of two bitter ones” in the case of those called up for the reserves. It is not an easy matter to achieve, in fact, you need a lot of effort and connections, yet it is much better than joining the military action, according to a Damascene young man Moayad, who says “I work with my father in the vegetables market and we are doing well, thanks to Allah. We were stable financially till my father and I were called up for the reserves. That meant my father and I will be fighting in battles, and the family will have no one to support it. Someone gave us the advice of volunteering in the army, which will protect us from the reserve draft and joining a military unit.”
Moayad explains that his identity was withdrawn from him, since he is wanted for the reserves, however, he can still pass all checkpoints and continue his life because of his security card that states he is on a mission to serve the State within his province. However this does not relieve his fear of being called for a fighting mission, as he put it.
Power, money and breaking away from parents’ rule:
“Abu Saeed” from Hama, deplores people’s current situation in Hama: the excessive oppression and injustice practiced by the regime, forced people to resort to joining his ranks in order to avoid harm. He adds that volunteering has become very common among teenagers who wish to get away from their parents’ rule, “we see many young men walking around “boasting”, as if they have freed Golan Heights. My friend’s son volunteered in the army to get rid of his parents’ instructions and scrutiny of going out and coming home late. Not to mention the salaries the State offers to volunteers; a tempting matter for the young, who are not considering the consequences.”
Regarding the same matter, Ms. Samira, an Arabic language teacher at a secondary school in the countryside of Damascus, says the security card is now being shown at certificates’ exams, allowing its holder to cheat as much as he wishes to, “this card is now allowing its holder a power to do whatever he wishes to. This helps attract young men to volunteer today.”
Nepotism determines the kind of volunteering!
From Homs, Mohammad says everything in the country is controlled by nepotism, even volunteering. He explains “the paper card is different from Baath Brigades card, both of which are less in rank than the plastic card of regular soldiers. Each kind of card has its own price and significance, related to its sponsor, each of whom provides a different protection degree for its holder.”
When Mohammad is asked about what he would do if the Free Syrian Army enter the city, he replies that he has already agreed with a security employee “to rip up my volunteer application, if I have to. I will destroy the card I have and become a civilian again, just like everyone else. No harm is done.”
Oath to volunteer in the Syrian Arab Army:
I declare that I am making, with my full will, without any pressure or coercion, a request to be accepted as a volunteer soldier in the Syrian Arab Army, taking on my shoulder working in any of its fighting units, to defend the Arab land, honor and dignity, and face the unjust crusader American Takfiri campaign against our Arab in general and Syria in particular.
I wish to carry out all the missions assigned to me by the leader of the Syrian armed forces, at any price, and against any American – Zionist enemy targets allied with the traitor Arab midget rulers of Al Saud, and Qatari mules, as well as all Takfiri groups participating with them in this criminal attack.
I renounce connection to any movement, party, government or regime that is silent towards this crime against our nation and against the Syria, the proud Arab.
Long live the struggle of the Arab people – Glory to martyrs, rebels and history makers
May all treacherous Arab regimes fall…