Conclusion of our translation from Karin Leukefeld
Life is difficult for families whose breadwinner is missing or unemployed. Widows and old people stand in need of help. The sanctions of the European Union, the “unilateral punitive measures,” against Syria have an impact on each and every one.
Emergency relief from the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross has declined, explains Sister Bridget, who has been living in Syria for about 30 years in the Order of the Salesians. Alternative reconstruction programs do not exist. The sisters support families who have no money to buy milk for their children.
Thanks to donations, they can buy milk powder and distribute it to families, says the 80-year-old: “We can also ensure the transport to bring the milk powder to the families.” The cost of bus and taxi has become very expensive. “The families not only have no money to buy milk powder, they can not pay for the bus to pick it up here in town.”
The criticism of emergency relief programs is increasing among private and international relief organizations in Syria. Now that the war is ending, people need “not help, but work,” says a UN official, who wants to remain anonymous, in conversation with the author in Damascus. “We signal in all directions that we have to undertake more projects to help people,” but the donor countries “only give money for emergency aid.”
In fact, social coexistence would be stabilized if people themselves were helped to make a living. We need training programs, we need to strengthen the labor market, increase food production. This will improve the overall climate, and more people will return. The Syrians want to work to be able to reshape their lives themselves. The fact that there isn’t an even greater humanitarian crisis in the country, is mainly due to the internal Syrian social commitment, the employee continues.
Those who returned to their original places from Lebanon and Jordan, or even from other parts of Syria, got help from their families or neighbors. That was “part of the culture” in the Arab countries. There is a kind of “social contract” where the population assumes responsibility for what the state does not do. Every family, every town, every district is affected by the war and everywhere there are individual initiatives, small foundations or families that help.
Reconstruction as “best education”
The Jabbour family in Homs’ old town spent a year putting their energy and savings into restoring their home. Daughter Victoria proudly shows the rooms, kitchen, bathroom and balcony – everything is new. The family home is located on the outskirts of Hamidiye, which is separated by a road from Wadi Sagher, where armed groups took command in 2012. Two years later they withdrew from the old town of Homs.
When the author met the family in 2017, there were big holes in the walls of living rooms and bedrooms. The windows were blasted out of their frames, and the fighters had blown up a Syrian army tank right in front of the house.
Looking out of the living room of the Jabbour House, you can still see the ruins of Wadi Sagher. The remains of the destroyed tank are still there. However, the street in front of the house is cleared of war rubble, and electricity and water are reconnected. “Three families have returned here,” says Victoria. The neighboring house is being renovated. Wadi Sagher is empty except for a group of boys playing soccer in the courtyard of the destroyed school. The fighters had made it their military headquarters.
The US troop withdrawal is not as important to the Jabbour family as the question of whether other families will return to their neighborhood. Some of her friends are back, Victoria says. But those who went abroad would probably not come back. They lost other friends because they sided with the insurgents.
In the summer she will graduate from high school and then begin engineering studies at the university in Homs. One day, she hopes, she will be able to take over her father’s engineering office.
“Everything in our house we did ourselves,” she beams. “That was the best education for me.”
Fear of a Turkish invasion
Concern over the withdrawal of US troops and their allies from the “anti-IS alliance” outweighs where US troops control, east of the Euphrates. Turkey could try to follow in the footsteps of the US – a move that is being rejected in the region. In al-Hasakah and Qamishli, the population protested against a possible Turkish invasion and demanded the return of the Syrian army.
The Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG, YPJ) and their institutions of the “Federation of Northern Syria,” also known by the Kurds as West Kurdistan (“Rojava”), expressed their irritation. They had worked closely with the US-led “anti-IS alliance,” businessman Nwiran Ahmad said in an interview with the author in Aleppo.
Ahmad comes from Ain al-Arab (Kobanê) and is not convinced of the political model of the federations in Syria. In September, he was elected as a representative of Kobanê in the city council of Aleppo, where he lives with his family.
“They [the Kurds] got a lot of weapons and a lot of money, that they will have to do without in the future,” he says. Ultimately, however, the political leadership of the Syrian Kurds went through a communist school. Even if Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, “the Kurdish party cadres know that agreements with Russia could give them security.”
“We have to understand that the Kurds consist of two parts. On the one hand, there are the parties that are able to trade and maneuver, on the other, there is the population,” explains Nwiran Ahmad.
He himself was initially shocked when he heard of the intended withdrawal of the US troops. Of course, Turkey wants to exploit the situation for itself and “massacres, as we have seen in Afrin” (in March 2018, author’s note) are likely.
He was convinced that the majority of the population in the areas east of the Euphrates wished for a return of the Syrian army and the Russians: “They can protect us from a Turkish attack.”