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Doha Hassan

In liberated Raqqa: a second revolution?

NOW visits Syrian regions liberated from Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces, including Raqqa and Aleppo

Al-Raqqa
Al-Raqqa.
Al-Raqqa
Al-Raqqa.
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Al-Raqqa.
Al-Raqqa.
Al-Raqqa.
Al-Raqqa.
Al-Raqqa
Al-Raqqa.

RAQQA, Syria – A counter-revolution has started in the Syrian province of Raqqa, following its liberation from the Assad regime’s control. Everything in Raqqa points to this fact: graffiti on walls across the city depict the unease over militant groups, and black flags have replaced independence flags as slogans from the revolution are now being pitted against the al-Nusra Front and the Ahrar Ash-Sham.

 

This is what life is like in the liberated city. Ahmad, who shouts slogans during protests in Raqqa, told us that scores of masked armed men in black clothing entered the city on March 4, 2013, chanting “Our leader forever, our Prophet Mohammad” and calling for one to exclaim “Allah is great.” He went on to say: “Back then, we felt happy for a few moments when regime troops and security forces fled the city, but this happiness soon vanished when we had to look for the independence flag among the liberators. We went to the Della roundabout and chanted ’No Sunnis, no Alawites, but one Syria with national unity. We did not realize back then that those who liberated our city would occupy it.’

 

During the first week following its liberation, Raqqa turned into a ghost town where armed men and the few remaining residents dwelled. “The majority of inhabitants left Raqqa from the first week due to the constant shelling by the regime’s air force. Extremist newcomers then imposed their will on the walls and streets of ’our‘ Raqqa: They forced people to implement their Sharia, bullied women into ’wearing the veil,’ controlled all official buildings and government administrations, and had their special methods to punish all those opposing them,” Ahmad complained.

 

Ahmad is a 20-year-old business student at the Ittihad University. We sat down with him in the building housing the Raqqa Youth Coordination headquarters, and I realized that this young man and the “Raqqa joker” whose voice had long resounded in anti-regime protests are one and the same.

 

Ahmad tells me about Raqqa, about the struggle pitting civil youths against the Al-Nusra Front and the Ahrar Ash-Sham movement: “When Raqqa was liberated, I spread the independence flag all over the building where I live. I was immensely happy as I was seeing those who were arresting and killing us run away like rabbits. I began looking for Free Syrian Army brigades, for revolution flags, and I tried to listen intently to the newcomers’ slogans. But who were they?”

 

Ahmad had been arrested before the liberation by Syrian security forces in Raqqa, and he was taken from one provincial security to another for two months (including the Military Security in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour). Following which, Ahmad was transferred to the Tadmor Prison and then to the Polish Prison in Homs. He was also imprisoned in Damascus at the Military Police prison in al-Qaboun, as well as in Branches 291 and 295 and the Palestine Branch. From then on, Syrian security forces took him by plane from the Mazzeh military airport to the Aleppo prison and he ended up in the Raqqa civilian prison. During this period, Ahmad received the same harsh treatment as many Syrian revolutionary youths – security forces subjected him to all kinds of torture.

 

Citing the history of his confrontation with the Syrian regime, Ahmad says: “The majority of Raqqa’s inhabitants are ready to confront the new regime. We have indeed been able to stand against the al-Nusra Front and the Ahrar Movement who immediately retreated to their positions in the city. We stood against the Syrian regime all this time, and we will not let extremist soldiers to impose their tyranny on us. Ever since then, they changed their behavior with us, and they broke all contacts with civilians.”

 

Ahmad began carrying weapons as soon as he came out of regime prisons. He went to Tal Abyad and joined the al-Nusra Front, which gave him weapons, ammunition, and full authority. However, Ahmad did not stay with al-Nusra long, after no more than ten days he put down his weapons and went back to shouting with peaceful demonstrators in Raqqa.

 

“We went out in protest on Al-Wadi Street under the slogan of ‘pre-liberation’ in an attempt to remind everyone of the principles of the revolution for which we took to the streets. We called on everyone to brandish revolution flags, and to take down all other flags. Ahrar Ash-Sham then refused to bring down theirs under the pretext that ‘Allah’s name should remain up high.’ We called out for freedom and civil [power], and they chanted for Allah’s rule. We raised our voices to cover theirs and this was our first clash with this movement.”

 

Many protests were held against the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar Ash-Sham to retaliate against the violations committed against civilians in the city. The latest such event was held on Monday in front of the province’s building, which is serving as the headquarters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Ash-Sham, in order to call for releasing those arrested and to oppose the arbitrary arrest of peaceful demonstrators.

 

Life in Raqqa today is nothing like what the media portrays it as. Young men are roaming the city normally, and women walked down streets and go to cafés until late into the night. One of them, named Reem, told me: “I wore the veil during the first days of the liberation. I did not know how the al-Nusra front would react. Then I took off the veil on day five and no one objected. We imposed our conditions and I am now sitting in a café with my friends and it is past 11 PM.”

 

Many other girls in the city who organized protests in the city, are still protesting to this day against the al-Nusra Front and the Ahrar movement.

 

People today are voicing a mixture of frustration and anger against the current dominating power, but at the same time they are proud of the city’s liberation and the way events will soon turn out. They tell their pre-liberation stories with happiness and optimism. Most young men and women in Raqqa chant the same phrase: “This is our revolution and we will allow no one to steal it from us. They are fighting their second revolution against a new regime, which is nowhere like the residents’ dream of “their” liberated Raqqa.

 

This article is a translation of the original Arabic.

NOW in Al-Raqqa.

“'We went out in protest on Al-Wadi Street under the slogan of ‘pre-liberation’ in an attempt to remind everyone of the principles of the revolution for which we took to the streets.’”

  • Carly

    Please get real I think the rest of the world is now fully aware of the true face of this "liberation" movement. The telling actions of its fighters and supporters from the cannibal FSA militant eating a lung to the recent murderous treason of pop star turned blood thirsty sectarian terrorist Fadel Shaker. Even your own sympathisers are trying to explain to the west that the main goal of FSA is to Islamise Syria under Sharia. How much does Saudi Arabia and Gulf pay the FSA (Free Salafi Army) and its apologetic journalists/supporters who are living mostly in their comfy secure homes while they egg on and fund these fanatics to terrorise the syrian people and impose their extremism. Regardless what we think of Assad lets not pretend the FSA is something they are not.

    June 28, 2013