Raqqa: Open-Ended Questions Address Syrian Regime’s Return into the City
Raqqa is today the centerpiece of many discussions and questions, raised throughout the city, in its different neighborhoods and rural parts; what destiny lies ahead of the city? Amidst talks about an agreement between the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF)and the Syrian regime, providing for the latter’s come back to the area.
Enab Baladi interviewed a number of Raqqa’s people concerning the fear hovering over the city; Omar al-Sayed, known as “Abu Mohammad” (36 years old), “we no more know who saying the truth and who is lying,” stressing that “the people have the right to know their fate and what is happening behind the closed doors”.
Al-Sayed summed up the indictors which hint at the Syrian regime’s return into the city. Assad’s forces area positioned near “SDF” areas, while locations are initiated to become security squares for the regime. In addition to this, many of the pictures, flags and slogans of the “Kurdish parties” were removed, which formerly proliferated in the area.
Early in June, talks began about a direct and unconditioned negotiations between the “Syrian Democratic Forces’ Council” and the Syrian regime, as Ilham Ahmad, the joint head of the council, has said, after, the first of its kind, meeting with the official spokesperson of the “Syrian Democratic Front”, affiliated with the internal opposition, Mays al-Kraidi.
The uncertainty, thus, knocked on the doors of all the city’s houses in fear of an anonymous future, amidst questions about the regime’s return, the borders of its influence, the area on which its forces will settle and the powers they area allotted.
Activists from Raqqa, confirmed to Enab Baladi, that “SDF” and the regime have already sealed an undeclared deal, under which the Syrian regime’s affiliate establishments get back on work in the areas controlled by “SDF”, and it also has access to areas where the Kurdish forces have positions.
Some of the people referred to the Syrian regime’s pictures and flag which were hoisted in some places and the overt popular demonstrations on Raqqa streets that expressed the people’s disappointment of this potential return, after five years of its departure from the city early 2013. Raqqa was the first Syrian governorate to completely break loose from the Syrian regime’s forces’ control in 2014.
A Fresh Displacement Is Feared
Many of the people refuse the presence of Assad’s forces security squares, which have become a source for intense worries, while several questions are being raised about the situation of the people, whom the Syrian regime demands, including civil activists, opposition figures and dissidents, and how they would be treated in the near future. Sami Sharaf, “Abu Abdullah” (50 years old) directed the question to Enab Baladi, unable to hide a tear, pushed to the surface by his tragic conditions, in a three-room house, which he shares with his brother’s family.
Sharaf said: “We no more have the money or the physical power to bear with a new evection”, declaring his fear of the area’s status despite the relative state of calm is currently witnessing and completes to say, “people are walking along the wall, asking God to safeguard them”.
Ragheb Khalaf (52 years old), however, said that he will be packing his belongings, a few carpets and pillows, and leave the area, in case the regime were to enter it, justifying his decision as thus: “we are fed up with imprisonment, torture and misery, and I do not want to lose any member of my family,” for the regime, according to Khalaf, “Cannot be trusted, and that this is the beginning of surrendering the city and maybe all the areas controlled by (SDF)”.
He also wondered about the destiny of the revolution’s young men, whom the regime demands, and some of whom are yet in the city and how their situation is going to be according to these changes, stressing the necessity to explain the reality of the political and military conditions to the people on the part of the ruling power and the need to inform them of the talks that are going on, as well as the reconciliations and solutions suggested by SDF and the regime behind the closed doors, since the people will be the most affected by these reconciliations which will directly impact their lives.
What upsets Khalaf the most is that he describes as “the gaged mouths policy and frightening the people, as well as going back to the prisons phenomenon and the talk about anti-SDF figures death in the detention centers due to torture.”
SDF Negates the Syrian Regime’s Return
Despite the people discussion of a deal between “SDF” and the Syrian regime, which became the core of their daily talks, a number of informed sources, close to “SDF” have negated to Enab Baladi any talks about the Syrian regime’s return to Raqqa or any of its control areas; they have also refuted all the talks about the withdrawal of foreign forces (there are American, French and Italian forces) or the dismantling of the military bases located in their areas or handing them over to the Syrian regime, stressing that the regime will not progress to these areas currently and the international protection will stand in the face of any attempted advance.
Several Kurdish leaders, including “SDF” affiliates, have previously stated their wish to negotiate with the regime to reach a political solution and the readiness to initiate a dialogue with it.
Questions without Answers
The city of Raqqa is living a state of tension, despite the people’s attempt to restore their lives and rebuild what the war has destroyed. “SDF” is launching an arrest campaign to “purify Raqqa and its countryside of criminals and law breakers,” as it describes the detainees. Activists, nonetheless, confirmed that the arrests are targeting former “Free Army” members, the faction known as “Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa” (Rebels of Raqqa Brigade) in particular, which participated in forcing the regime out of Raqqa and fought side be side with “SDF” in most of its battles, being one of the major Arab factions in its lines.
In the past a few months, the city and its countryside suffered increasing attacks on “SDF” troops, which anonymous entities are conducting, some belong to the “Islamic State” which officially adopted a few incidents, while the identity of other sides have not yet been discovered.
Amidst all these, the questions of Raqqa’s people are meeting enough answers as to the destiny of the city, declaring “SDF” the responsible side to answer these questions. One of the activists put this into words, on the condition of anonymity, telling Enab Baladi that “satisfaction with silence is not a solution, to be later on surprised with readymade plans at the expense of the people’s safety and lives,” demanding that the current authority survey the people’s opinion, to start from there being the decision makers in relation to the city’s issues, which he described as “life-changing”.