Poor salaries and frequent delay: A policy to dissolve “National Army” or gain loyalty
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
“We are used to receiving delayed monthly salaries for years,” says Suleiman, a fighter in the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army.
Suleiman (pseudonym for security reasons) has recently received his salary for the past two months, along with tens of thousands of fighters, after waiting for more than 60 days without the increase promised by the Defense Ministry of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), the political umbrella of the Syrian National Army (SNA).
“The amount is only sufficient for a few days, and the greater the number of family members, the less sufficient it will be,” he said, adding, “It is only ten days until the borrowing and the search for day labor begin.”
The delay in the salaries of the SNA members in northwestern Syria has become a general situation without clear justifications, while the salaries of workers in other institutions, such as the local councils, the civil police, the Interim Government, and others, are not delayed.
Demonstrations and demands did not change the reality of the salary of tens of thousands of those involved in this military formation, as they live in difficult conditions, as is the case for residents in northern Syria.
The National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Syrian National Coalition) said that the number of SNA fighters reached 80,000 in 2019, while a report by the Middle East Institute in October 2022 stated that the formation gathers between 50,000 and 70,000 fighters.
In addition to his military work in the ranks of the Third Corps faction, Suleiman works in construction, carpentry, agriculture, and others, for a daily wage ranging between 30 and 50 Turkish liras, but for limited days during the month.
Suleiman is not only a fighter, but he is also a student at the Free Aleppo University in the border city of Azaz.
“Without the remittances, my situation is miserable.” Suleiman, with his family of four, is waiting for “what is available” of money that his brother, who lives in Turkey, sends him every month in order to secure the family’s basic needs.
His monthly salary of 700 Turkish liras (about $36) is enough for only a week, in addition to financial assistance from some friends.
The young man explained to Enab Baladi that the majority of the SNA members work for daily wages in various professions, and they subsist on debts from shops while limiting themselves to the necessary basic needs, and some of them have brothers or relatives abroad who help them a little.
Suleiman knows within his battalion about 50 to 60 members who have families consisting of six to seven people, whose salary is not sufficient for bread, milk, or baby diapers, and their salaries end with the first week of the beginning of the month.
The young man did not want to explain more details about the lives of his fellow fighters, pointing out that there are other compulsory costs paid by the military elements, which consume the entire salary at the time of receiving it, including electricity bills and house rent.
For his part, Hussein, another SNA fighter, told Enab Baladi that debts are haunting him and the members of his family, consisting of seven orphaned siblings, adding that he pays all his salary, after receiving it, to the food store from which he borrows.
Hussein lives with his family in a tent that was damaged by the rains and windstorms that hit the area recently, as is the case with hundreds of tents. He is still looking for a more durable alternative tent but to no avail.
With words mixed with helplessness and disappointment, Hussein asked how the sum of 700 Turkish liras can meet the basic needs of a family that requires from 3000 to 4000 TL per month, adding that he does not work outside the framework of military action and his family receives inconsistently every month or every 45 days a food ration.
“Unfulfilled” promises, low salaries
The SIG’s Defense Ministry said on March 4 that the Feb.6 earthquake led to a delay in the delivery of salaries due to the unification of all efforts towards facing the disaster. The ministry promised to compensate the fighters for the last month’s salary (February) and to hand them two salaries together.
Fighters with whom Enab Baladi spoke received two months’ salaries but did not receive the increase promised by the ministry, indicating that the matter applies to all fighters.
They considered that the non-fulfillment of promises of salary increases and the regularity of its delivery has become “an expected matter and a reality that will not change.”
On November 9, 2022, the ministry promised to raise the value of the financial grant provided to all SNA fighters and security forces with the aim of improving their living conditions, noting that the grant will be delivered on a monthly and regular basis.
The salaries of the SNA members vary from one faction to another and from one position to another, and in the way they are delivered, whether through the commander of the battalion or group or by hand delivery at the headquarters.
The Turkish-paid salaries reach the SNA operations room in Hawar Kilis village in the northern countryside of Aleppo. The room that is responsible for distributing the monthly salaries includes SNA leaders, and it works in coordination with the Turkish forces.
The employee’s salary ranges between 600 and 1,000 Turkish liras per month, and the salaries of administrators start from 1,200 Turkish liras and reach 3,000 liras, according to tasks and specialization.
The salaries of the factions’ fighters are the lowest in the SNA-held areas, which include the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain in northeastern Syria, compared to all salaries of employees in the specializations of health, fatwa, justice, customs, and others.
The lowest salary in the region, after that of the SNA fighters, is the salary of the muezzin (crier) and sanitation workers, which amounts to 1,140 Turkish liras for bachelors, and 1,225 for married persons.
A cause of corruption, chaos
Despite the financial constraints, the National Army fighters stick to their work for two reasons.
The first is that the member is accustomed to military action and does not want to leave his weapon, and the second is the lack of job opportunities, as the area is small and densely populated, Suleiman says.
“When a fighter stationed at the frontiers cannot find the price of a loaf of bread for his family, you push him to quit his duty or to steal,” he adds. The options are “narrow” for the fighter, with salaries continuing to be delayed and their value declining.
In his turn, Hussein considered that the deteriorating living conditions of the fighters are matched by luxury, opulence, extravagance, and collecting money in the lives of the leaders, which pushes the fighter to commit violations such as theft and others until he becomes corrupt in his work.
The military analyst, Major Tariq Haj Bakri, told Enab Baladi that the salary of a fighter in the National Army is his only source of livelihood, and the delay in handing it over means that his family has been exposed to hunger, and the rent of his house has been threatened, and his life and residence have become threatened.
Haj Bakri, who is also a lawyer within the Free Syrian Lawyers Syndicate, considered that this situation leads to the fighter resorting to illegal methods to obtain money, and this results in security chaos, which is noticeable in the north, and leads to great psychological pressure that may push the fighter towards drugs, crime, and abuse.
The salary delay leads to the fighter’s negligence of his duties, such as training, shifts, or guarding, and his indifference and disregard for many mistakes that he must control and stand firmly against, and may become part of these general military mistakes, according to Haj Bakri.
Violations and attacks committed by the security services affiliated with factions or military entities and institutions operating in the areas controlled by the National Army are repeated until it has become a general situation in the region.
A study by the Geneva Center for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) stated that if the wages of the personnel are much lower than those they can earn in other jobs, some will justify unethical or inappropriate behavior on the grounds that the employer does not treat them properly.
For people who are underpaid and facing financial problems in their lives, it is difficult to resist the temptation of corruption, according to the study entitled “Toolkit on Police Integrity.”
The study recommended that individuals and elements should receive their salaries regularly and reliably, and when their working conditions are less than ideal, the possibility of corruption increases, and salaries are considered the main cause of corruption.
Pressure card or to earn loyalty
The region has witnessed demonstrations by SNA fighters over the past years and months, the most recent of which took place on March 13, when members of the National Army and activists organized a protest in Marea town in the northern countryside of Aleppo, to condemn the delay in handing over the salaries of the fighters.
Activists and fighters who participated in the sit-in told Enab Baladi that they now feel that the issue of delaying salaries is intended for various reasons, including political motives aimed at “pressuring them,”, especially with the disbursement of salaries to other parties operating in the region.
Military expert Haj Bakri believes that delaying and decreasing the salary pushes the fighter to give up military work and turn to civilian work and leads him to a state that makes him prefer the Syrian regime over the faction in which he works.
Haj Bakri thinks that the delay is intentional in some cases, in order for everyone to leave the gun and thus influence the revolution militarily and weaken the resistance and the revolutionary spirit in the opposition-held areas in northern Syria.
The expert considered that several parties, whether external and with their own agendas or internal, such as the regime, seek to abort the revolution and force civilians and military personnel to abandon the revolution and weapons and accept any solution imposed on them in exchange for material gains or in return for a stable living.
Salaries vary from one faction to another in an incomprehensible way, and some rewards are given to some elements close to the leaders or “affiliated” with them, which creates a desire among the fighters to change the faction and join another faction that provides support, rewards, or aid.
Delayed salaries and discrepancies in their value lead to military chaos and lack of commitment and discipline for the fighter to his faction and his transfer to another, and becomes a card manipulated by the commanders who control this matter, who in turn exploit the elements in order to gain “their complete compliance and their blind obedience,” according to Haj Bakri.
The lawyer and military expert believes that loyalty is the first and greatest goal of the leaders who control the fate of their members and gain it by pressure on the fighters, which pushes them to shift from revolutionary action to loyalty to the leader.
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