SDF disavows; Who is responsible for frequent clan fighting in Raqqa?

Arab clans in Raqqa city - June 2018 (Hawar News Agency)

Arab clans in Raqqa city - June 2018 (Hawar News Agency)


Raqqa – Hussam al-Omar

Muthanna al-Khalaf, a 35-year-old resident of Raqqa, no longer cares when he reads news on local pages about the clan fighting that has been going on in his region for several years.

The young man in his thirties believes that the situation has been the same over the past years, and it is no longer unusual to see dozens of members of a particular clan attacking another clan and killing each other with firearms, resulting in a number of dead and injured people.

The city of Raqqa and its countryside witness frequent fighting between members of the Arab clans there, often starting with a quarrel between two or a few people and later developing into clan fighting, in which dozens participate without any efforts being made in the region to stop it or reduce its occurrence.

Clannism during the revolution 

Raqqa-native civil activist, Fadi al-Hassan, believes that the Syrian revolution had a role in reviving clannism and clan partisanship, given that several revolutionary factions and militias affiliated with the Syrian regime were founded on a clan basis.

The activist told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime was resorting to weakening any social or political gathering before the outbreak of the protests. Therefore, the regime, through its security services, has worked to eradicate any trend on which several people, including clans, gather since the Baath Party came to power.

According to testimonies from local residents of Raqqa interviewed by Enab Baladi, when in control of the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State (IS) worked to establish a special institution for the clans, which was called Diwan al-Ashair (Diwan for Clan Outreach), located in the Chamber of Commerce building near the city’s Black Stadium.

But for the duration of the organization’s control of Raqqa between 2014 and 2017, the city saw no clan fighting, nor did it witness any IS-unrelated armed manifestations, which considered clannism “the relic of the Jahiliyyah period,” according to the residents’ narrative.

SDF strengthened clannism

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have taken control of predominantly clan areas, such as Manbij in the eastern countryside of Aleppo and parts of Raqqa governorate, al-Hasakah, and Deir Ezzor, after battles against IS since it was declared founded to “combat the Islamic State” in 2015.

SDF and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) have established many institutions of a clan and tribal nature, such as Councils of Notables and Public Relations, to ensure the win over of the clans to their side and the rapprochement with the tribal sheikhs and residents of the region, according to the Raqqa-native civil activist, Louay al-Qassem.

Al-Qassem pointed out that showing clan elders as one of the parties to governance in the region and relying heavily on the attitude of the clan and its factions by SDF and AANES officials had strengthened clannism in the region.

The civil activist considered that the primary party responsible for the clan fighting that is taking place in the region at the present time is SDF and its security institutions because they have strengthened clannish tendencies, as well as the SDF’s feeble capacity to control security conditions in its areas, particularly those with a clan majority.

The population of the city of Raqqa and its countryside is predominantly clan-based, and it is inhabited by several Arab clans, most of whom have converted to civic communities since the 1950s.

The clans that inhabit Raqqa for the time being include: al-Afadila, al-Waldah, al-Bureij, al-Bukhamis, al-Halessat, al-Bussaraya, al-Sabkha, and other clans.

The city of Raqqa has also witnessed a series of migrations of residents from the countryside of Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and Idlib during the last five decades, which changed much of the population’s customs while preserving some clan customs and traditions such as those of making peace, consolation, and weddings.

AANES avoids intervention

An official of the Raqqa Civil Council of AANES denied accusations of SDF and AANES promoting clan tendency, considering that what is happening now is the product of Syria’s social fragmentation caused by the war.

The official (who refused to be named for security reasons) said during an interview with Enab Baladi that AANES gave way for all components in its areas of control to show themselves and establish their own social bodies, not just clans. “There are institutions for Armenians, Syriacs, Circassians, and other components,” he said.

The official said that the failure of the SDF and AANES security forces to break up any clan fighting was untrue but that security and military forces avoided clashing with clans in case they decided to break up the fighting.

In early May 2021, activists in Raqqa launched the hashtag “I am from the Raqqa clan” in a call to abandon tribalism in the city after repeated incidents of clan fighting and deaths and injuries.

Arms chaos and lack of awareness

Mustafa al-Abdallah (one of the al-Afadila clan dignitaries) told Enab Baladi that the arms chaos and the absence of legal and moral deterrent are the main reasons for any clan fighting taking place in Raqqa at the present time.

Al-Abdallah noted that the decline in the role of security institutions in the seizure of weapons allowed the “weak-hearted” to carry and use them without awareness of the risks of use, particularly in disputes that may occur between local residents.

Clans in Raqqa and its countryside have returned to follow the “blood money” (Diya) custom, following the decline in the role of security and judicial institutions in the region and the absence of a moral and legal deterrent.

In June 2021, elders and dignitaries of Raqqa clans held a meeting at the guesthouse (Madhafa) of Sheikh Huwaidi al-Shalash, the elder of the al-Bushaban clan, in which they discussed determining the “blood money” (Diya) for the injured, wrongfully killed, as well as for other killings.

The clan elders attributed the reason for the meeting to the identification of a new mechanism of Diya (blood money), seeing that there is a need for a genuine deterrent for perpetrators and criminals in light of the absence of a moral and legal deterrent.


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