Syria’s clans… multi-proforma councils affiliated to their guarantors’ will

A gathering for Syrian clans in Azaz city (Anadolu Agency)

A gathering for Syrian clans in Azaz city (Anadolu Agency)


Enab Baladi – Taim al-Haj

These days, the question “to which clan do you belong?” is no longer considered an easy thing to ask for members of the Syrian clans due to the sharp divisions caused by the nearly ten years of the ongoing war that have gravely damaged the fabric of the Syrian society.

These divisions did not exclude the Syrian clans, and therefore, the previous simple question has turned to “from which clan council are you?”

The status quo of Syrian tribes and clans has changed after they became represented by at least three councils, two of which are inside Syria, while the third is abroad and has offices operating in parts of Syria.

However, none of these councils recognizes the other, despite the fact that their members belong to the same descent.

A clan of three councils!

The transformations witnessed by the Syrian society have reduced the influence of clans and tribal culture on the private and public aspects of the clan’s life.

This contributed to the disintegration within the intra-clan into several divisions, each of which has a different political orientation.

This disintegration caused a further division in the Syrian tribes’ composition in general.

It makes little sense for the clan’s population to have one consensus in supporting the popular uprising against the Syrian regime or standing with the regime to confront those rebelling on it or with the Kurdish-led the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) against the two previous parties.

The beginning of 2019 witnessed a fervent race between the influential parties in Syria to acquire the clans’ card.

These parties sought to show control over the clans’ card at the same time, by holding meetings and inviting thousands of clan members to attend them.

The Syrian regime made a great effort to gain the support of the clans that are distributed within the areas of its influence.

In late January 2019, the regime-held a clan meeting in the Athria area in al-Raqqa countryside, which was attended by hundreds of pro-regime tribal figures living in areas under its control. Other Iraqi clannish figures known for their loyalty to Iran attended the meeting also.

In conjunction with this meeting, and after recognizing the importance of the clans’ role in the current political scene in Syria, Turkey called for another meeting for the Syrian tribes in the border area of Azaz city.

This meeting was followed by another one in Sajo town, attended by about 150 tribal figures, besides the Head of the “National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.”

Turkey’s second meeting announced the formation of the “Supreme Council of Syrian Tribes and Clans,” as well as the “Council of Dignitaries.”

As for the US-backed NES, it also sought in the same period to demonstrate its ability to grasp control on one end of the clans’ card.

Therefore, the NES gathered thousands of people living under its control and held a meeting in the town of Ain Issa in al-Raqqa countryside, which is considered the NES’ administrative capital.

Images depicting reality

The current situation of Syrian clans can be depicted in three images. The first was when some members of the “Clans Council” in the NES administrated areas rushed more than once to dress a US official an Arab cloak. This tradition originally signifies the pledge of allegiance of the clan members to their chief or new leader.

The tradition has other indications that fall under the idea of showing hospitality to the guest; however, this meaning is only applicable in normal conditions, away from polarization and the power struggle taking place in Syria.

The Second image is represented by the formation of the “Supreme Council of Syrian Tribes and Clans” in the Syrian opposition-controlled city of Azaz in Aleppo countryside.

Since its establishment, the “Supreme Council” did not hide its support to Turkey’s policy in Syria, regarding its military operations targeting the “Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).” The council also showed support to Ankara’s position rejecting the NES project in Syria.

The third image manifested when the Syrian regime gathered tens of clans and Syrian tribes in the eastern Aleppo countryside.

By this move, the regime did not aim to unify the clans nor to represent them in a unified council to consider the state of fragmentation of the Syrian tribes.

Instead, the regime aimed to use the council as a combat unit against the US, French, and Turkish presence in Syria. The council was also used by the regime to declare a total rejection of the NES project in Syria.

These fragments of images, if combined, they allow observers to have a clear depiction of the dire situation of the clannish community in Syria.

Unfortunately, the new reality of the Syrian tribes is quite different than what it used to be. It no longer represents the history of the clans that played an essential role in the social and political Syrian scene throughout history.

Different visions

In an interview with Enab Baladi, a member of the general authority and the founder of the “Supreme Council of Syrian Tribes and Clans,” Sheikh Mudar al-Asaad said that the tribal councils in the regime and the NES regions are merely gatherings that conduct discussion sessions and meetings.

These councils do not meet the level of councils with organized structures, as per al-Asaad’s description.

Al-Asaad pointed out that the tribal councils formed by the regime and the NES do not have a chairperson, members, or a public body. They also lack executive, political, media, or public relations offices, unlike the “Supreme Council of Syrian Tribes and clans,” which has a full structural entity, as per al-Asaad’s expression.

Al-Asaad confirmed to Enab Baladi that their council, which is formed by Turkey, includes members from all of Syria’s geography, and does not exclude the tribes in the NES and the regime’s regions.

According to al-Asaad, the tribes in the NES and the regime’s areas sent them messages of support upon forming the “Supreme Council of Syrian Tribes and Clans.”

Al-Asaad indicated that the NES’s security grip and the regime is preventing the clans under their control from showing public support to the “Supreme Council.”

On his side, the head of the local council of al-Shuhail town and member of the “Legislative Council” of the NES, Ahmoud al-Nofal, said to Enab Baladi that their council the “Syrian Clans Forum” does not recognize any other council for the Syrian clans.

It only acknowledges the councils on the Syrian soil, that serves the Syrian population, as per al-Nofal’s expression.

Al-Nofal said that they refuse to communicate with the regime and that all meetings with the regime take place through the NES’ mediation, stressing that they are against the division of Syria and call for preserving its unity.

Regarding the council that is located in the Syrian regime’s controlled-regions, it has publicly accused all the councils calling for denouncing the regime of treason and refused to work with them.

It also issued a lengthy statement of 11 points, all of which reflected the regime’s rhetoric, vision, and policy in the Syrian provinces, especially the eastern ones.

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