Damascus: Where Jasmine grows into barbed wire
Before the Assad family took power in Syria in 1970, the population of Damascus consisted of 97% Sunni Arabs and 3% Christians, but soon after, Hafez al-Assad put in place his plan to consolidate his reign by gradually pulling the Alawite minority toward the capital, Damascus, in order protect his regime against any attempt of military coup or a popular revolt by Sunnis, who represent the vast majority of Syria’s population.
Damascus was among the first cities that participated in the demonstrations against the corrupt Assad regime and its dictatorial security apparatus. In fact, the first protest in Syria took place on March 8, 2011 in Al-Hamidiyah Souq, the central market of Damascus, where more than 20 civilians were arrested by the security men. As the countryside of Damascus rose dramatically, many areas around Damascus like Eastern and Western Ghouta and the southern countryside, as well as some areas in the northern countryside, soon went out of the control of the Assad regime. The city itself witnessed a huge number of demonstrations in different neighborhoods but Assad regime’s violent security grip was always there.
Now, almost six years into the Syrian Revolution, Damascus has become a security fortress. Getting inside or outside the city, Syrians need to go through procedures similar to those when travelling to a foreign country, as if Damascus were an independent state. There are only three corridors of entry and exit: One to the south for people moving from and to Daraa and Quneitra, the second to the west for those coming from or going to Lebanon, and the third is for those coming and going to Syria’s north.
Everyone who enters the city of Damascus are subject to inspection of their cars and their clothes. They are forced out of their cars to go to the security room at the check point where their IDs will be checked on the computer to identify whether they are wanted by security branches. There is no street in the city without a security barrier. Furthermore, the city is divided into spheres of influence. The south part of Damascus is controlled by the Shiite sectarian militias belonging to Iran: Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis. As for the West, it is under the influence of the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist militia. The northern part is under the control of the so-called Shabiha gangs, members of the Alawite sect.
At the beginning of this month, there was a serious security incident in the capital, Damascus. Leaked information talked about targeting a convoy of a number of Russian officers in the city with more than 8 Russian officers being killed and several others wounded. This event made clear that there are parties displeased with the Russian influence especially within the capital. It is likely that Hezbollah terrorist militia is behind this leak, prompting the leadership of the Russian operations in Hmeimim airbase to change the pattern of protection of Russian officers in Damascus, by pulling forces of up to two hundred soldiers of the Chechen military police from Halab (Aleppo) to take over. It has been confirmed to me by my sources within the capital, that Chechen military police is deployed in many sensitive places inside Damascus.
My sources also confirmed that a number of officers affiliate to the Russians together with some retired officers of the “army” who were not involved in military actions during the previous six years, were called for a meeting in the Russian Embassy in the presence of Russian officers. The meeting focused on a joint cooperation for the stabilization of Russia’s influence in the Syrian capital.
Despite all this talk of Damascus’ security, the simple Syrian citizens remain firewood to the raging fire. No less than four millions of Damascus citizens live below the poverty line, surviving on assistance provided by the United Nations and charities. Under these dire conditions, they also suffer from the hand heavy hand of the Assad regime security, risking to get arrested anytime on prefabricated charges. At the same time, young people are pulled from their universities and forced to join the “army” which suffers from a severe shortage of human resources. In short, the capital, which was the epitome of safety, goodness and generosity turned to be the capital of hell in the hands of Assad regime and its allies.
Eva J. Koulouriotis is Greek political analyst specialized in Middle East. Twitter: @evacool_f, Facebook: @evakoulouriotis