As a part of a series of activities held by the Center of Civil Society and Democracy in Syria (CCSDS) and within its strategy of activating roles in civil society CCSDS – delegated by colleagues Renas Sino and Rajaa Altalli- visited Jabal Alturkuman and Jabal Al-Akrad in the Lattakia countryside for four days from the 4th to the 7th of January 2013. They were accompanied by Firas Berro, Rabie’ Berro, and Omar Aljablawi, a few of the trainees from the center’s media workshops, whose jobs were to further investigate all aspects of the current situation, especially to measure quality of life for the individuals in the Lattakia province. Poor weather conditions gave the delegation the ability to move freely in five different towns because there was no threat of air attacks from the Assad regime in such weather. The delegation’s notes, observations, and meetings from the visited areas are recorded as following:
– There has been a lack of electricity in the area for more than 9 months continuously. All the electricity generators were bombed and the wires and electricity pillars are severely damaged. Some people have electricity generators but they tend to ration usage due to the lack of fuel. Lack of electricity affects household commodities such as refrigerators and washing machines, women shoulder the extra pressures and burdens of these responsibilities.
– Lighting at night hardly exists, using flashlights or car headlights is considered a luxury, while only few people can watch TV or listen to radio. Everything goes dark after 6 PM.
– There is no tap water in houses. People bring their water from far wells or springs.
– The lack of fuel affects every aspect of life, it is reflected in moving, transportation, and delivering food, water, and fuel.
– People depend on wood fires to cook or heat water, which threatens forestry and the environment in general. There is only one room heated in every house.
– There are a lack of doctors because many have emigrated from the area. Some of them work in humanitarian aid or politics, and others have fled to adjacent countries.
– Health services barely exist; people complain about not being able to afford travel expenses to the nearest medical points which are supervised by Doctors Without Borders.
Agricultural work and production:
– Similar to other regions that live in armed resistance situations, this area is neglected and left without food services. People cannot work in agriculture because there is no fuel for irrigation, fertilizers, or pesticides. The lack of fuel has left orchards and crops such as apple and olives abandoned. Many farmers have been attacked by military tanks located in Burj al-Kasab while tending their fields prior to the opposition’s control in this area.
– Most of the apple crops were damaged and turned into bird feed. The Assad regime targets farmers who still work in their fields. Many forests and crops were burned due to shelling, which led people to fear working and instead sit around in their homes waiting for the arrival of humanitarian aid.
– The surge of weapon possession and driving dangerously fast in an attempt to avoid shelling have become the norm.
– Militaries contribute greatly toward humanitarian works and in all other domains of life, which has lead to military domination.
– Battalions’ goals for fighting the regime forces differ greatly. Some of them want “Syria free from the Assad regime”, others aim for “Islamic rule in Syria”, and others express their target for “Salvation from the monopoly of Alawite authority, and discrimination against the Sunni population in the Lattakia province”.
– There is diversity in the people’s general conversations, some believe in coexistence, while others have a tense sectarian point of view.
– Many of the armed men in the FSA battalion demonstrated their desire to go back to normal life after the regime falls.
– There is no actual civic activity, instead a severe lack of knowledge about the general concepts of civil society, democratic values, and the principles of human rights. However people are eager to listen and have asked to be educated by experts in the field who can teach them concepts such as coexistence and transitional justice or raise awareness about important issues that affect their life and ultimately their fate.
– During a discussion about civic activity, one FSA fighter said: “We should take graduated people into consideration, because they need training and rehabilitation in their specialty fields. Also they need edification about civil society and democracy and there should be specialized trainers and experts to play that role”.
Residents and shelling:
– Fear overwhelms the area, people are accustomed to live with explosive barrels – a metal container filled with explosives, shrapnel, and miscellaneous objects- shelled over residential areas from warplanes. These explosive barrels cause large scale destruction associated with violent concussions and noise.
– Due to the rain and fog, the delegation was not able to see planes or the detonation of barrels in the area. However, people described their experiences with shelling, “it causes the whole mountain to rattle, the noise that it makes is so loud it makes the ears deaf, and it causes the destruction of nine houses at a time”. One FSA leader said: “the barrel is made in civilian iron factories, not military ones, it contains explosives sometimes with fertilizers, and at other times they put in strange things like kitchen utensils. All these substances are put in a small or big metal container and that is what determines how much damage it causes”.
– In one village in Jabal Al-Akrad there was an attempt to continue teaching children by volunteer teachers. The classes were conducted at night due to the fear of shelling, although there is no electricity. The school was shelled by a barrel and since then the teaching process has stopped.
– In another village one parent said, “I can’t afford 500 S.P. daily to get my kids to the school located in the far village, so I decided not to send them to school”.
– There is a constant fear of shelling. Noticeably people speak in front of their children about killing, executions, sectarianism, hatred, and shelling. This awareness in children will raise the need for long-term programs to help them cope so they can move on to live a normal life.
– In the village of Al-Yamadiya there is a four-year old child who listens every day to similar stories from different people – one storyteller has an amputated arm, another’s arm is paralyzed while the third describes the bad situation in the Urfa refugee camps – meanwhile the little girl just sits with her mouth open in surprise understanding every word and imaging the truth about the horrible stories she hears.
The behavior of FSA fighters and battalions:
– The code of conduct for FSA fighters was introduced to many battalion leaders in the areas of Jabal Alturkuman and Jabal Al-Akrad.
– This code of conduct was written by PhD. Nael Georges, lawyer and member of CCSDS and is derived from international laws. It defines the behavior that an FSA fighter should follow toward prisoners and civilians, with respect to law and international treaties in this field.
– There was also a discussion about transitional justice and the importance of documentation of human rights violations by all sides.
– Although there was diversity in the acceptance of the code of conduct, some of the leaders encouraged these ideals and demonstrated their willingness to work on spreading these concepts among FSA fighters and encouraging them to commit to these standards. There was an agreement to have a working plan and think tanks for establishing mechanisms of accountability.
– A discussion session was held with FSA fighters and was broadcasted by Al-Jazeera Live. The concept of transitional justice was discussed including many questions from the transitional justice survey by CCSDS.
Meeting with prisoners:
– FSA members willfully met with regime prisoners as part of this mission. The meeting was held on a farm in the mountains. The mission was able to sit with the prisoners and talk to them and ask them questions. The interview with prisoners found:
– Most soldiers in Assad’s regime army do not know the essence of the conflict or its dimensions.
– The imprisoned soldiers are frightened of going back home during this situation despite the hard efforts to send them home or to Turkey.
– FSA battalions have undertaken the responsibilities of treating injured prisoners.
– Prisoners help FSA fighters and residents in daily activities like collecting lumber and cleaning.
– Some Alawite prisoners have been exchanged with FSA fighters detained by the regime.
– FSA gave the prisoners the chance to contact their parents.
– The CCSDS mission prompted residents and activists to form a local council to organize their activities and humanitarian aid.
– The mission trained a select few on arranging miniature elections, and encouraged them during meetings to activate youth and women involvement. Our team worked to diminish negativity that arises due to the lack of resources.
– The situation as a whole in the Lattakia province has seen an increase in sectarian tensions. These tensions arose from policies followed by the regime that implemented sectarian aspects in their organization. These policies led to reactions from the Sunni culture who now believe that they are in a sectarian conflict with Alawites and Shiites. The Sunni situation calls for the need of mobilization by civil society organizations to increase efficacy in this province.
– Providing humanitarian aid, especially fuel and food, by humanitarian organizations will improve poor living conditions.
– Providing health care such as medical supplies and doctors in close proximity to those in need.
– Organizing residents through local councils so they may concentrate on providing and distributing supplies as well as encouraging team work to minimize the waste of resources.
– Encouraging local leaders to activate women’s roles and women’s participation in local councils.
– Provide any possible way for children to continue their education in conflict areas.
– Prompting military leaders to not counter civic activity; but instead to contribute in the formation of local councils, to commit to transparency and integrity in humanitarian aid and service domains. Finally, to commit to the code of conduct that defines rules for behavior when dealing with prisoners according to international legitimacy.
Center For Civil Society And Democray In Syria