“They turned us into killers”: Young men in regime’s historic stronghold refuse to join army

Head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and members of his forces in Eastern Ghouta Suburbs - June 26, 2016 (Syrian Presidency)

Head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and members of his forces in Eastern Ghouta Suburbs - June 26, 2016 (Syrian Presidency)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

Four years have passed since Amer visited his family in the al-Ghab Plain in the central Hama governorate. The 41-year-old man lives in a rural area of the coastal Baniyas city, where he works as a farmer in the greenhouse projects.

Amer (Enab Baladi withheld his full name) cannot go far from the village for fear of being recruited into military service, as he has refused to join it since he was called up for reserve service.

His mother died about a year and a half ago. This was the harshest thing that the young man who dreamed of starting a family away from the specter of war and death experienced. He said that he did not stop seeing her in his dreams, as he could not be present with her neither during her illness nor the moment of her death, while he used to see her just by video calls.

Many young people on the Syrian coast refuse to join military service after being called up for reserve, and they resort to circumvention and escaping from the widespread military checkpoints, where IDs are requested exclusively from men and young people, not women.

The reasons are varied, such as poverty and abuse, the desire to preserve a future away from death and battles, and fear for the family of displacement and orphanhood, especially since the regime does not provide any guarantees or benefits to the families of the victims it throws into war to protect itself, and then leaves them and their families to their fate.

“I refuse to die”

“Why should we die of hunger or fire, to lose our future and dignity?” said Amer, who lost one of his cousins in the war and who witnessed his children’s orphanhood, poverty, and hunger without anyone caring for them, neither the state nor charitable organizations.

Amer, who got married a few months ago and his wife is pregnant today, stressed that no matter what events or circumstances he has experienced, he will not go to military service, and he will not leave his next child or his wife alone in life for nothing, he told Enab Baladi.

“I don’t want anything from them (regime). They didn’t provide me with a job even though I am a graduate of a business administration institute. Why should I die so that they can steal us and send our children away to enjoy our money and the money of our country? I will not leave my family even if I remain imprisoned in this village all my life,” he concluded.

For his part, Mohammad, 39, a graduate of the Translation Faculty of Tishreen University, does not believe in the idea of war or fighting. He did not dream of anything more than a small house and a warm family. However, ever since he was called up for military service, he has been confined to his house in the coastal city of Latakia. He goes out only when necessary, and if he sees a military checkpoint, he tries to escape and change his route quickly.

Mohammad, who works in translating content with an Arab company, said that he regrets how the regime succeeded in turning Syrians into mere “criminals” fighting among themselves over nothing.

He added that what hurts him most is that the residents of the coastal region were an example of peaceful people, but the regime turned them into mere “murderers and a tool to protect those in power.”

Mohammad does not see an end to the war that Syria is experiencing, and according to his point of view, even if the war ends tomorrow, the wounds will not heal, considering that the leaders (from the regime circle or the opposition) are the real criminals.

Left to face their fate alone

Salim (pseudonym), 47, was injured about eight years ago in one of the battles near Idlib while fighting within the ranks of the regime forces. He lost the ability to move his legs or feet, and today, he is bedridden without any help or strength.

The man, who lives in a remote village, was told by the doctor that with physical therapy he would at least be able to move his hands, but his poor physical condition prevented him from doing so.

Although this type of treatment was provided free of charge, it requires a large transportation fee that is beyond his means. He needs a private car to transport him because he cannot use public transportation, and his salary is not even enough to pay for medicines or food and does not exceed 300,000 pounds ($1=14,000 pounds).

Salim is impatiently awaiting death today, as he put it, while his sisters, wife, and mother take turns serving him.

For years, the Syrian regime has classified its wounded forces according to the degree of physical disability of each of them to determine the size or value of the “rewards” that it grants to each of them according to frequent decrees, granting a person no more than $30 once.

Since the Syrian regime followed the security option and took the army to the streets to confront the demonstrations demanding its departure since 2011, it has issued a number of cosmetic decisions and decrees that granted wounded members of the regime forces or auxiliary forces some of what it considered “privileges.”

The president of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, and his wife, Asma, frequently visit the wounded in their homes in several governorates, with the aim of showing interest in them for what they provided to the military or security institutions.

Since 2013, Syrian state television has also begun broadcasting a program entitled Statures of the Oaks, in reference to members of its forces who have suffered permanent injuries, causing them disability or the loss of a body part. The episodes of the program are nothing more than “emotional support,” portraying these losses as a sacrifice to the country, not to the regime.

Low recruitment and temptation to reserve service

The regime’s army suffers from a lack of recruits joining its ranks, as their number has fallen to record levels, according to sources familiar with recruitment numbers interviewed by Enab Baladi.

In December 2022, an informed source in the General Staff who has access to the numbers of those enrolled in the military establishment told Enab Baladi that the number of officers joining the ranks during the year 2022 was only about 1,500 people, while in 2021, there were about 11,000 enrollees.

The source attributed the small number of recruits to the lack of specifying the duration of military service, and the inability to cover its expenses. The newly joined conscript receives 17,000 pounds ($2.5) as salary during the compulsory service period of one and a half years, which is not enough for one-time travel between the governorates.

Last July and August, al-Assad issued two administrative orders to end the military personnel retention of non-commissioned officers and reservist soldiers according to specific standards and conditions.

Despite ending retention, the Syrian Ministry of Defense continues to announce calls for volunteering, the most recent of which was on November 21st, and the call was different from what came before it. It included a set of incentives for those wishing to volunteer within specific contracts, as non-commissioned officers and personnel.

Among the conditions for volunteering are that the volunteer must have held Syrian citizenship for five years, be between 18 and 32 years old when applying, be of good behavior, not be convicted of a felony or heinous crime, and not be imprisoned for more than three months.

The volunteer contract, which was called a “fighter contract,” included two periods of service, five years and ten years, and the salary of the volunteer contracts for the two periods reached one million and 300,000 pounds with compensation, in addition to bonuses, including the start of service, an annual bonus, and a non-refundable marriage grant worth 2 million pounds.

The Flag (Military) Service Law does not specify a period for reserve service or military retention in Syria, nor does the Defense Ministry disclose the number of conscripts in the army and the details of those retained and those serving in reserve, but international websites, including Global Fire Power, estimate their number at 150,000.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Latakia, Linda Ali, contributed to this report.



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