Since protests in Syria began, the Syrian soldiers have been sent to fight against their own people. As the uprising escalated and spread across the country, many soldiers deserted the Syrian military. While some left because they feared dying in the conflict, others refused to fight and kill fellow Syrians.
Hayat is a 43-year-old from Latakia. Her husband, a colonel in the Syrian army, was killed in 2014 in a battle against the opposition in the Damascus countryside. “My son had volunteered with the Popular Committees in Damascus, but when my husband died, I decided that we should go back to our village and I forced my son to quit the Committees and come with me,” she said.
“I do not want to lose my son the way I lost my husband. He is the only thing I have in life. There is nothing worth losing him,” Hayat continued.
Wahib, who used a pseudonym for security reasons, is a 25-year old from Homs and was a first lieutenant in the Syrian army. “I was injured in a battle in the countryside of Daraa and I lost my left foot. Since I could not fight anymore, I was offered an administrative job in the army, but I refused it, and returned to Homs. I did not want to be a part of the army anymore,” he said.
Nabil was an officer in the Syrian army and he holds a master’s degree in law. “I joined the mandatory military service in 2011. In 2014 I was transferred from my administrative work to a checkpoint around Damascus. When the area around us was bombed and our checkpoint was targeted, I decided to leave the army. Early on, I was too scared to leave the army, but friends and relatives encouraged me, advising me to go into hiding in my mother’s village in al-Suwayda,” he said.
“Although I am stuck here, and I cannot continue my studies, my life is much better now. I am a civilian who works in agriculture. I have nothing to do with military life anymore,” he added.
Dirar was also serving in the military in the rural areas of Idlib. “I had already been thinking of abandoning my military post and leaving the country for more than a year, but I was scared that the government might threaten or harm my family,” said Dirar.
“Three months ago, when the battles intensified in the rural areas of Idlib, I realized that it was time to leave the army,” he recalled. “Just before the opposition attacked the city of Idlib, I paid 10,000 Syrian pounds [currently around $33] as a bribe to my commander to obtain sick leave, and I left for my home city.”
“Now I don’t leave the house except in emergencies. I fear that someone might inform the authorities about me. However, even though my life is limited and I don’t receive a salary, life now is better than it was before. At least I am safe,” Dirar remarked.
Ahmad, who had volunteered in the National Defense Forces in Hama two years ago, left his position for other reasons. “When I joined the National Defense army, I was convinced that it was my duty to defend my country, but after a while, when I witnessed their corruption, I started to changed my mind. I volunteered to protect people, not to rob their houses. Therefore, I terminated my contract, and I am back to work as a fruit and vegetable seller,” he said. “I receive daily threats from colleagues who are involved in corruption. They are afraid that I might expose them, but this was my decision, and I take full responsibility.”
Ali, who was a volunteer in a Syrian air force intelligence unit, recalled the moment he decided to leave his post and flee the military. “We used to raid houses frequently in Daraa, searching for wanted people. I also participated in several battles. The fall of dead and wounded people never affected me. But one thing happened and completely changed me,” he remembered.
“During a raid, we entered a civilian house in the town of al-Hirak. While all my colleagues were busy breaking furniture and stealing whatever electronics they could find, a boy came out of the bedroom. I asked him about his father and he said that his father had died in a bombing. For some reason, I lost my words,” Ali said. “I left the house and all I was thinking was, what if my daughter was in the place of that boy. I could not take his picture out of my mind and I could not stop thinking about the many other kids who were orphaned at the hands of the Syrian army. I decided to desert and go back home, and I did not care about the consequences.”
Roni, from al-Suqaylabiyah fought with government forces in the area around al-Madiq Citadel. “I was convinced at the beginning that the army was defending my country, but when I witnessed the air force intentionally destroying entire neighborhoods, I realized that the regime was not fighting terrorists, but rather destroying people’s lives,” he said. “I am ashamed of that period of my life. I was defending a regime and a ruling family, not my homeland, Syria,” he added.
Ismael, who used a pseudonym, is 38 years old and was a physician in one of the military hospitals in Damascus. “I am from Daraa. Since the very beginning of the protests, I always tried to mediate between the regime and people in Daraa in order to come up with nonviolent solutions, but violence escalated and I could not help any more. Additionally, the security officers at the hospital did not trust me anymore because of my good relationships with people. For that reason I decided to quit my job,” he said.
“I opened a private clinic in Damascus, but some opposition members from my city accused me of supporting the regime, and I received many threats from extremist groups. Although I am a gynecologist I am suspected from both sides. Therefore, I decided to stay away from both sides for a while, hoping that one day, at least one side will finally listen to reason.”
A version of this article was originally published in Arabic at Suwar Magazine. It has been translated, edited and republished with the original photos at Syria Deeply with permission.