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Umm Sharshuh… an abandoned village that suffered from injustice of the conflicting parties 

The cross raised over the hill of “Umm Sharshuh” - 4 October 2020 (Enab Baladi / Urwa al-Mundhir

The cross raised over the hill of “Umm Sharshuh” - 4 October 2020 (Enab Baladi / Urwa al-Mundhir

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Homs – Urwa al-Mundhir

On the eastern bank of the Orontes River in central Syria, 20 miles northwest of Homs, a cross stands over piles of basalt stones that were once the homes of the Christians of the village of Umm Sharshuh.

Elias, the twenty-year-old young man, wiped the sweat from his brow while smashing one of the pillars of his old house and told Enab Baladi, “The bell of the destroyed church did not ring out again although the fighting ceased two years ago. I was sweating when I used to hear the sound of the church bell. Now I am sweating while destroying my father’s house to extract what is left of iron rods.”

The destruction spread throughout the village caused directly by the armed conflict that illustrates the intensity of the battles and the bombing that it was subjected to. It is too difficult to recognize the features of the demolished houses that turned into piles of stones. 

The water reservoir at the top of its hill collapsed shortly before the so-called settlement agreement was signed due to one of the airstrikes that had hit the area from 2013 until May of 2018.

The residents of the only Christian village in the northern countryside of Homs coexisted in a culturally diverse environment, bordered on the west and south by Alawites and Murshidis in the villages of Kafr Nan and Jabourin, and from the north by the Bedouins, and from the east by a Kurdish neighborhood. Besides, in its intertwining surroundings, there are farms linked to the cities of ar-Rastan and Talbiseh.

In his tent, Abu Hamed prepared a kettle of tea on a wood stove and told Enab Baladi in his Bedouin dialect that he was a “close friend” to two-thirds of the residents of Umm Sharshuh village. He said, “They were good people who did not cause any problems in the area, but the amount of harm they suffered from both sides of the conflict was very great. That was what prompted them to leave.”

No neutrality amid the “liberation” war

“Umm Sharshuh” is named in the Syriac language after a branch of the “Orontes River” called “Sharshuh,” which goes through its land, forming an “island” called “Zoya.” The people of Umm Sharshuh village, who numbered about 1,600 in 2011, belong to the Greek Orthodox community, but today they have become strangers to it after deserting their village more than two years ago.

Since the start of the popular protests in Syria, the village people have attempted to distance themselves and remain neutral. They refused to take up arms after the residents of the Alawite villages were armed. They also stood in the way of some factions that tried to turn their village into a base to launch attacks on neighboring villages, but this did not help.

People of Umm Sharshuh had remained indecisive, without standing with one party or the other until some members of the opposition factions killed a dealer (an agent earn commissions for performing difficult types of transaction services ) working in the transportation department in Homs on charges of cooperating with the Syrian regime. Then, they dumped his body near a container. For a while, no one dared to approach the body, which was mauled by stray dogs until some notables of the region mediated with the military commander to allow the hand over of the dealer’s corpse to his family. 

“The Syrian army’s entry into Umm Sharshuh village was a decision made beyond our control. For two years, the villagers had suffered from bullying by some members of the opposition factions, and the leaders intervened and solved the problem,” recalled Nawar Eid, who spoke to Enab Baladi about what happened in his village.”

He continued, “But what happened with the transaction dealer was not acceptable, so the village notables gathered and decided to bias for the Syrian regime.”

The residents of the village called on the Syrian regime’s army to protect them. However, those who entered were “the Nation Defence Forces,” a pro-government militia (NDF), which considered their property as spoil. 

The NDF, who were recruited from the neighboring villages and dressed in army uniforms, deployed heavily in the village by building trenches and fortification at the entrance, causing concerns among the village residents, who were preparing to leave. They were moving their homes’ furniture when the NDF stopped them and reassured them that the situation was “under control.” The NDF pointed out that after only a few days, the village people can return to their homes. 

“When everyone left the village, the return became forbidden under the pretext that the region is a military one, and the entire homes of the village were looted,” Abu Luai, a resident of the village, told Enab Baladi.

The opposition forces affiliated with the factions of “al-Nusra Front” and “Ahrar al-Sham,” fought two losing battles to regain the village until they managed to control it in 2014, at which point the village’s homes moved from a state of being robbed to a state of destruction.

Nawras al-Bitar cast another look at his village while lighting his second cigarette, pointing to Enab Baladi at the houses that the opposition factions had taken as their headquarters, indicated by the slogans and phrases painted on their walls, which remained steadfast amid the destruction and bombing.

“People’s houses in the village are completely destroyed, while the headquarters of the opposition factions are still standing, so who was the real target of that bombing?” al-Bitar asked.

Migration without return

As fighting escalated in the village, some people lost hope that they would return to their village and started selling their properties through intermediaries; the owners of real estate offices, especially after “the Supreme Court” in the northern countryside of Homs seized their lands, and offered to rent them out at a public auction during the control of the opposition factions on “Umm Sharshuh.”

Every year, Samer Salibi visits his village to renew his farmland lease after he settled down in Wadi al-Nasara permanently. 

Salibi does not think that the people of “Umm Sharshuh” would return soon to their village, “Until now, there are no government or church efforts to restore life to the village. It is completely destroyed, and the people cannot afford to rebuild it out of their pockets. ”

 Only a few people think about going back to their village, as estimated by Salibi. He told Enab Baladi that half of them sold their farmlands after losing the ability to cultivate them. He concluded his speech by saying, “I cannot sell my land because it is the last thing that connects me to my hometown.”

 

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