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Conversations: A Defected Assad Soldier Ekes Out a Living

At 32, a Syrian army deserter from Hama finds himself without a passport, eking out a living as an amateur trader, selling clothes between Turkey and Syria.

Written by Karen Leigh Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Below is a conversation between Syria Deeply and a 32-year-old Syrian army deserter from Hama. Before the revolution he had spoken against the government, and for that he spent two years as a political prisoner in Syria. He was later conscripted into the army, then deserted his post. He was smuggled into Lebanon, then to Turkey, where he lives on a quiet street in the far outskirts of Istanbul. He ekes out a living as an amateur trader, selling clothes between Turkey and Syria.

I was conscripted into the army when I was 29, after I finished my studies. I had to serve my mandatory duty in the army. There were many of us who were late: 28, 29 years old. I served until November 2010. I’d stayed a year and eight months.

I went first to serve in Deraa for about 45 days, then they changed my post, because it became a military zone. Because I had been a political prisoner, I couldn’t serve in a military zone. I was in charge of protecting the kitchen, lower tasks like that. Anyone who had been arrested as a political prisoner … the government doesn’t love you after that, so they send them to those sections, guarding army resources.

First, they sent me to a place where I raised chickens to feed the soldiers. [Laughs.] I paid money to change my post. They sent me to Damascus, to a more comfortable job after that, guarding the fuel supplies. In Syria, especially the army, if you have money everything will be great.

The revolution started and a lot of my friends who were in the army stayed in contact with each other, talked about what was happening. Some friends defected from the army before me. I didn’t [leave sooner] because I was afraid for my parents, who were in Hama. In Syria, a former political prisoner, defecting from the army, could cause a problem [of retaliation] for them.

One of my friends defected. I asked, “Did the government or the shabiha do anything to your family?” He said, “Nothing at all.” So I told my parents that I would be going. I couldn’t stay. Almost everyone in my army zone was Alawite. They were wondering amongst themselves, “He was in prison, he’s from Hama, maybe he’s in contact with the Free Syrian Army. And they will come and he will support them.” One of them, who was a friend, warned me and said I must be careful.

I was going every night to my rented home in Damascus. One day, I just felt it was enough. Each day they kept watching us, more and more closely. So I felt that something would happen, and I preferred to leave at that time.

The FSA is the [same as the government]: when they notice that you have a military ID, they think you’re supporting the government. I preferred to leave Syria, to start a new life. Our service was for a year and a half, but they didn’t release me [when it was up] at that time. After the revolution started, anyone who joined the army wouldn’t get released [once their service was over].

Friends in the FSA around Damascus helped me get out of Syria. They drove me out of Damascus and gave me a civil ID to go to Yabroud, which is close to Lebanon. I went to Lebanon through the mountains, the illegal way. I don’t have a passport.

When I arrived in Lebanon, I waited for four months and I got a [fake] passport. Friends who were working helped me to leave from Beirut airport. I left Lebanon and came to Istanbul Ataturk Airport. But they wouldn’t let me through: they said it was a false passport. They sent me back to Lebanon. General security was waiting there and I was arrested for two and a half months. Then they released me and gave me an illegal sheet of paper saying I have to leave in two weeks.

So I left the illegal way and went to Turkey. Back into Syria, and to Turkey [by land] the illegal way. Now I’m here and I am selling and trading clothes back into Syria. It’s not my specialty, but I have some money, and friends [work on the trade business with me]. It’s not a huge amount of money, but we can manage with it. I’m still looking for a passport, at least. I have to be able to work [legally] here. So now I’m praying to do something better.

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