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Interview with a Syrian Army and FSA Defector
mashriq / arabia / iraq | imperialism / war | interview Wednesday August 13, 2014 16:35 by Brandon Gray
In the apartment of a mutual friend I meet a young man from Aleppo I will call 'Ahmed' for his safety. His mood is lighthearted despite having part of a limb blown off by a grenade while fighting with the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo. We talk over tea and cigarettes while our friend Anarch translates. Ahmed takes a call from a friend in Syria with bad news: ISIS, the ruthless foe the FSA and other moderate brigades fought hard to kick out earlier this year, is back in Aleppo province. He puts down his phone and we begin the interview.
Interview with a Syrian Army and FSA Defector
In the apartment of a mutual friend I meet a young man from Aleppo I will call 'Ahmed' for his safety. His mood is lighthearted despite having part of a limb blown off by a grenade while fighting with the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo. We talk over tea and cigarettes while our friend Anarch translates. Ahmed takes a call from a friend in Syria with bad news: ISIS, the ruthless foe the FSA and other moderate brigades fought hard to kick out earlier this year, is back in Aleppo province. He puts down his phone and we begin the interview.B: What were you doing when the revolution came to you?
Ah: The first year and a half I was with the Syrian regime army then I defected from the Syrian Army and joined the FSA.
Why did you defect?
Because I witnessed everything. The howitzers of the Syrian Army shelled me when I was on the frontline and I heard the women screaming and the children screaming from the shelling. So I saw what was happening and after I saw what was happening I knew this is not what I should do in this world, this is not my life.
When you went over to the FSA, what was that like? Did they welcome you and who did you talk with to make that connection?
When I defected from the Syrian Army my aunt was working with the FSA so she granted me the welcome. The car came to get me and take me to the brigade's place. When I got there the guys who were there were mostly defectors from the Syrian Army. So marshalls, generals, those kind of guys so it was a warm welcome.
When was this?
Like a year ago.
So the FSA was in Aleppo then?
When the FSA get to Aleppo I was with the Syrian Army on the frontlines against the FSA. So I defected from the frontline of the Syrian Army and joined the other frontline.
Were you afraid or feel bad fighting the guys you were with? Did you have friends in the Army when you left?
After all, I was not pointing [my weapon] for killing, I was getting the other side to be terrified of him and both sides were terrified so it was not like a frontline after all.
How did fighting with the FSA compare with fighting with the Syrian Army?
Fighting with the Syrian Army controls your life. So you can't take vacations, you can't take a day off, you do whatever they tell you to do because they are an organized army. You can see the organizing, you can't do whatever you like. But fighting with the FSA means you are free to live your life but whenever they call you for attacking a place you should stay for the watch and you should go. Then after your watch shift ends you can go home, you can do whatever you want.
Did you see the FSA change in how they treated you or the civilians, as you were fighting with them? Did fighting with the FSA change as time passed?
As time passed, I saw that the FSA was trying all the time to convince the Syrian Army that they were brothers. They really wanted to convince the other side that they are not terrorists, they are fighting for their freedom but the Syrian Army has this outlook: either you are with us or against us. When you are with us you are Syrian, when you are against us you are terrorists. So after time they started not to go just for killing but to go to the frontline to convince the other side that this is not a conspiracy, we are not aliens, we are just like you—humans.
Even when they arrest some of the guys that are fighting with the Syrian Army, first of all they ask them “have you killed anybody?” If he says “no” then they give him options; if he wants them to take him to a secure area, if he wants to fight with them, if he wants to go to his home, but the only option they don't offer is fighting with the Syrian Army again.
When were you injured?
5 months ago.
Were you fighting alongside Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS? Did you talk to those guys?
I worked alongside (not with) Jabhat al Nusra but I didn't work alongside Daash [Islamic State, aka ISIS]. I saw al mujahideen (the Islamists that are from outside Syria fighting inside Syria) trying to convince the FSA of their prime goal which is raising the words 'Allah u akbar' in the Islamic states. They were trying to convince everybody in the FSA to join them for this goal, as they say it is a very noble goal to return the Caliphate but working with them means you are organized again just like the Syrian Army but you have time to go out but they say when you can go out--but you have time to go out. You can go home but they say when you go home. In the FSA you are free, if there is no fighting you can do what you want.
Did you ever see the fighting as a religious war or you never saw if that way?
No, I didn't see this war as a religious war. In the first place it's a revolution against Assad, they want to throw away Assad and live with freedom but when Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamist groups came the other people looked at it this way: they want the authority for them, so if it's the old Sunnah state then we have the authority, we can be rich—Assad rich—so they are convinced by this idea, not the ideology of Islam, it's the ideology of controlling people. It's the idea that we have everything. That's why other than Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic groups everybody else didn't have this idea that it's a religious war between Sunni and Shia.
The people who are working with Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic groups, I see them as rednecks. They are convinced that if Jabhat al Nusra take power in Syria they will teach people how to pray, they will teach people how to be close to Allah, to be religious and that sort of thing and after they leave we can do what we want. After all, being an Islamic state, the people were happy about the idea that if Jabhat al Nusra take power then we will be organized, we won't be such 'hippies' [laughing]. People were happy about the idea that you work as Allah tells you just because they are Muslims.
In the first place, Jabhat al Nusra was saying to them we are not going to rule you we are just coming to help you throw away the dictatorship. Then after a while they came to them and said 'we want to get married, we want to have wives here, have kids, and after all we are helping you so help us.'
If you were not injured would you still be fighting with the FSA?
Before the injury I was thinking about leaving the FSA because I saw that even the FSA did want to win the war just to take the authority. Every single one of them wanted a seat, a role. The brigade leader was happy that his word was heed by all of them, he can tell the people what to do. When I saw this I knew I must leave the FSA and go out of Syria.
Are you happy in Turkey? Do you feel you have a life here outside of Syria?
After all, the first thing is that here I am not frightened of death every second of my life. Secondly, Syria has turned into a jungle where the strong eat the unlucky and I didn't want to be an unlucky person. If I want to live there, I should know the leaders of the brigades, or I should know that guy or that guy so I can live my life. After working with the Syrian Army and the FSA, I know that both of them are liars, both of them are robbers, both of them are killing people. That's why I want to live a life with dignity, I didn't want to rob people or kill them. So I'm here, I'm living my life, having a job right now and it's not home but it's better than home.
It's not just the Syrian Army that you are frightened of, now you have Jabhat al Nusra so you can't listen to music. One time my friend and I were listening to music and Jabhat al Nusra seized the place asking us “what the fuck is happening here?!” and my friend and I were scared for our lives. Then came Daash which is much worse. So there you are going to be killed or you are going to be killed.
Do you ever want to go to Europe or Canada as a refugee?
I don't want to be a refugee. In the first place, after I left the FSA, my family told me to go to the camps in Turkey and be a refugee there where the government is responsible for your feeding, for your housing and I told them, “no, I want to stay as a normal person in a normal place.” That's why going to Europe, living as the government wants you means that whenever the government doesn't want you they can kick you out. So I don't want to live in that danger. I want to live in dignity, I want to have a job, I want to have my place that I pay for, not the government. I want to feed myself. I don't want the government to pay for my feeding.
The most important thing is that since I defected from the Syrian Army I don't have an I.D., I don't have a passport, I don't have nothing to prove my identity. So going there means you are lower than shit. They could throw me in the garbage and nobody would care.
What do you think will happen to Syria?
I don't know, but have you seen the map of Daash? This will happen and those areas that were painted black will be the Caliph's areas and the Syrian regime will stay in Damascus as it is now. So you will have a part that is under the Islamic State and the other part that is not under a non-Islamic state. Of course the regime and its supporters will be happy with this and they will find their place with this Islamic State.
What do you think of this guy being an anarchist?
I'm ok with a moderate life, being against all authority makes sense because all authorities are the same shit. If you are with one the other will kill you because you are against them, if you are with the other than the former will kill you because you are against them. So being against all those [authorities], maybe I won't be rich, I won't be Bill Gates, but I will be happy. All the supporters of the authorities inside Syria will die because whenever Bashar al-Assad wins or the other side, they will die because they are with somebody and against the other. So being anarchist is much easier than being with that.