Our source in Syria, Rund al-Huriya, writes from Izraa about how some Syrians she knows have discovered how to abandon their military posts and join the Free Syrian Army without putting their own families at risk. Read her account further below.
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By Rund al-Huriya, Izraa, June 20, 2012
Making the decision to defect from the regime is a long process for many people, no matter whether you are a conscript, a member of the security forces, a nurse in a military hospital, or a state employee. The longer it takes, the more Syrian lives we lose. The most recent and effective way to defect is by pretending to be abducted.
Making your escape look like a kidnapping has four different levels.
The simplest one, which worked in the early stages of the revolution, was to stop going to your work. When the authorities asked about you, your family simply said that the last time they saw you it looked like you were heading to your workplace.
“I was so ashamed that I knew one of those armed thugs. For me, shabiha (government militiamen) are abstract monstrous creatures. This may sound childish, but when I remember the images of the regime massacres perpetrated in my country, I can’t comprehend how a human being could do such things” – Rund al-Huriya
So, government officials could wonder if “the armed groups” have abducted your son or daughter. Of course, the regime could by no means refute such an assumption.
However, since the regime suspects that it’s a lie, it does not take what the family says for granted. After investigating the family members, especially the men, the family is placed under surveillance. This applies to many people who have whose family members have defected.
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The most extreme means of defection so far, in my opinion, is the path taken by my neighbor, a first lieutenant in the regime’s army. Every time he visited his family, his mother and his friends talked about how depressed and frustrated he was in the military during the revolution. He sometimes cried before leaving home for his post.
About three weeks ago, my roommate and I saw an Internet video in which the Free Syrian Army announced that they managed to capture him, calling him one of the dreaded government militiamen, a shabiha. In the video, my neighbor confessed that he had committed crimes against the peaceful demonstrators.
I was absolutely shocked and disappointed when I saw it. Could my neighbor do all of that? Considering all of the cruelty of the regime for these many months here in our neighborhoods in Izraa, how could he commit such crimes? Hasn’t he known some of those who were shot dead in cold blood by those thugs? Weren’t some of those victims his English teacher, his brother’s friend, his neighbor, the bus driver…?
Oh God, what a long, painful list! How could he?
I was so ashamed that I knew one of those armed thugs. For me, shabiha are abstract monstrous creatures. This may sound childish, but when I remember the images of the regime massacres perpetrated in my country, I can’t comprehend how a human being could do such things.
The next day was different. It was a ray of light in my gray sky. My mother told me she asked his mother if they heard any good news about him. She could not explicitly say what her son did, but she spoke with a calm and proud tone that they had no worries about him and knew that he was well.
Moreover, his best friend, who is a relative of mine, told me the lieutenant had been planning to defect for a long time and with the help of some Free Syrian Army soldiers, rehearsed and acted out this drama for a video. The way I see it, the lieutenant chose to be abducted to defect.
My neighbor is no longer a shabiha. He is again a human being.
Conscripts who defect to avoid frequent torture
A third way to defect is less dramatic and much less public. When a conscript, for example, takes a few days off to go home, before his leave ends, he calls his commanding officer to inform him that he is on his way back to his military service zone. By doing that, the conscript is hinting to his officer, “in case I do not show up, I did not defect.”
Before the revolution it was uncommon to make these phone calls. In those days conscripts would have done anything to please their officers. But now things are different: Officers are trying to keep the conscripts “emotionally connected” to them – Rund al-Huriya
He makes the call in the hope that his commanding officer will not suspect when he doesn’t show up that he did actually defect. That strategy offers protection for his family from the terrible consequences of his brave decision. Without that protection, security forces would start arresting his father, brothers, and children.
However, let me clarify the true nature of the phone calls between a conscript and his commanding officer. Before the revolution it was uncommon to make these phone calls. In those days conscripts would have done anything to please their officers. But now things are different: Officers are trying to keep the conscripts “emotionally connected” to them.
For example, when a conscript goes on leave, his officer asks him to call when he gets home to let him know that he got there safe and sound. That is why, when a conscript plans to defect, he calls and just disappears. I know a security member and a nurse in a military hospital who did it this way.
As for the fourth level, two brothers who served in Air Force intelligence – both are cousins of my mother – tried a strategy that demonstrates courage and creativity. They prepared a whole scene, a public one in which passers-by saw some armed men taking them into a car by force amid heavy gunfire. To be honest, I don’t know exactly who helped act out that street scene, but as their family, we do know that they were planning to join the Syrian Free Army.
Despite my deep reservations about any Syrian still cooperating with the regime, I need to point out that they had to do this to protect their many relatives who work in the regime’s security institutions where there is discrimination against some employees who are from certain governorates or towns.
At one time or another during their Air Force intelligence service these two brothers were not allowed to carry loaded guns. Several times, they were investigated, arrested, interrogated and tortured by their fellow officers because some of their relatives had defected.
This report was edited by Christina Howerton of the Middle East Voices staff.
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David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.