File OF Kharaba’s Christian Community Discussed
A year into the first Russian military visit to the City Hall of Swaida, Russian officials returned on Sunday, 21 July, to visit the governor of the city and other officials for discussing the issue of the repatriation and return of Kharaba village’s Christians to their homes, west of the 5th Corps-controlled Swaida province.
The local Suwayda 24 news page quoted Imad al-Aqbani, the delegate of the Russian forces in the southern area, as saying that Russian officials held a meeting with the governor of Swaida Amer al-Ashi and directors of security services in the city, as well as the dignitaries of the Bedouin tribes to confer the issue of the Christians’ return.
Even though many Russian military and security delegations visited Swaida to address numerous security matters, the last limited the conversation to discussing the Kharaba village Christians’ coming back to their area, which shares borders with Daraa province while administratively affiliated with Swaida province.
The issue of returning to the Kharaba village, which was abandoned by the majority of its population, when the opposition’s factions were in control of Daraa province, was not extensively discussed in previous meetings.
Kharaba in Russian talks
The majority of Kharabas’ residents fled to neighboring areas throughout the opposition factions’ control of the area. George, a young man from the village refused to be named for security reasons, pointed out that only elderly and poor people, who cannot afford to pay the rent in neighboring villages or in the city, can be found in Kharaba today.
George, a displaced person from the village, added to Enab Baladi that the members of the Christian community did not exceed 1200 persons, the majority of whom were coerced into leaving their villages in 2014, when the factions took over the area, in addition to other armed bodies, which committed several violations against the village’s Christian community.
George denied that the Russians have previously taken any step to return the residents to Kharaba, considering that meetings and gatherings are just “nonsense,” adding that “this is not the first time the file is opened. Every time the Bedouins who settled in our homes are warned to evacuate and an appointment is made to remove them, but it is all to no avail.”
Local fear of Russian expansion in Kharaba
Enab Baladi monitored the reactions of some residents of Swaida to the recent Russian visit. The majority of the interviewees considered that the frequent Russian visits are an introduction to military expansion, by deploying checkpoints and imposing security authority on the province.
Suwayda 24 reported that the Russians have visited the governor of Swaida several times before. In June 2018, the Russian military officials held meetings with political, religious, and social actors in the province to discuss the affairs of Swaida. They made proposals about the local factions and the security issues without taking any concrete action.
An activist in the province, who has ties with local leaders, confirmed to Enab Baladi that the people of the city “always meet any positive Russian action with great fear and extreme caution, fearing the Russians’ attempt at spreading checkpoints and Russian police in the province.”
The activist, who refused to be named for security reasons, added that the local leaders are also seeking to keep the residents of the province united, rejecting the checkpoints of both Russia and the Syrian state, despite their varying perspectives on the state and the Russian support.
An employee in the province of Swaida, who refused to be named for security reasons, said the Russian’s visits always have a “patronizing” air about them.
The Russians, he added, play the role of “wise and experienced men, who find solutions, but with no further follow-ups; they just want to impose their presence amongst the people and constantly remind us that we are under their authority.”
The delegate of Russian forces in the southern area, Imad al-Aqbani, denied in an interview with Suwayda 24 the intention of Russia to deploy checkpoints in Swaida province. The details of the interview were disseminated on Sunday, July 21, 2019.
Al-Aqbani also clarified that serious action to meet the pledges of returning the Christians to Kharaba is not taken yet, as the file is still in the stage of assessment and discussion.