(Latakia) Fadi[i] and Shadi were two brothers with a 3-year-old age gap between them, yet most people who met them immediately assumed they were twins. Their eyes, mouths, hands, their profession and even the way they used to speak were almost identical. In their school days, which they never liked, they often took advantage of their likeness to skip school.
Shadi always loved electricity and was fascinated by it ever since it reached their village, Saqiyat al-Kart (near Kansaba, in Al-Haffa district). After they moved to Latakia in the late 1980s, he joined at an early age a repair shop for electrical appliances in their new neighbourhood, the Al-Raml Palestinian refugee camp, south of Latakia. It was a clear attempt to get rid of his school and teachers.
Later on, he was employed by one of the largest industrial companies in the Syrian coast. His brother, Fadi, was no less passionate about electricity, but he specialized in home electrical wiring.
Their mother was a housewife who had not received formal education, but she nurtured in them a great sense of morality, and left a good impact on their relationship with their work environment.
Their father, Mustafa (60) was one of the oldest Baathists in their region. He indulged at a young age in ideological and partisan life, which parties such as Al-Baath often enjoy before being corrupted by power.
Despite becoming a prominent member of it since the 1980s, he remained idealistic about the party, and ultimately moved with his family to Latakia. And because the city was “ruthlessly costly,” he settled in a rented house in the popular neighborhood of Al-Raml.
The Uprising in the Eyes of a Baathist
Social turmoil escalated in Al-Raml in 2011, with demonstrations demanding the overthrow of the regime.
The family tried to stay away from what was going on. To them, what swept the country was but “an external conspiracy aimed at undermining Syria because of its political position… plain and simple.” The veteran Baathist father would explain that it was “a practical implementation of American directions to spread chaos in the Arab world, which [former US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice herself had publicly revealed."
Shadi remained hard at work, repairing refrigerators and washing machines, and getting around in a small car that the company had offered him. In the meanwhile, the coast was all set ablaze. Peaceful demonstrations spread into the city's Sunni neighborhoods, and the Syrian Army besieged Raml and brought in tanks in August 2011. Security forces, assisted by Baathists, took to the streets to clash with demonstrators.
No Sunni would have dared to cruise around the Alawite villages in the mountain. Nor would Alawite inhabitants, with the exception of a few leftists, have dared to approach the demonstration sites. At the time, as more electrical breakdowns occurred due to power failures and irregularities, the company could not find workers who could do repairs in rural areas.
Shadi stated his readiness to go up to the mountain, which aroused much fears that he might be kidnapped or killed by the shabiha (loyalist militants), who were mushrooming in that period. But Shadi was no stranger to the mountain and its people. He had been repairing their refrigerators and washing machines for years, and people there knew him very well. He had even married a woman from the mountains.
What was new back then, however, was the sectarian strife to which the uprising in Latakia had quickly spiraled. He is a Sunni, how would the Alawites accept him in their turf?
But his father's contacts helped him overcome the anticipated predicament. In fact, people in the mountain cherished him; they met a surprisingly Sunni loyalist whose views of the events were similar to theirs. Since then, they would ask for him in the company by name, even if they had to postpone repair jobs until he was available.
Back to the Village
Later, news spread in Al-Raml that Mustafa was a loyalist and a leading member of the Baath party. He recalls not having intervened in anything that was unfolding before him, but provoking him became a common practice among the youngsters ever since.
They once embroiled him in a confrontation in which he was severely assaulted. He then decided to return to his village, which he had left decades ago. Given the difficulty of maintaining their businesses there, his two sons had to remain in the city, while he returned to cultivating his land and caring for his trees.
In the spring of 2013, Syrian armed opposition took control of areas in the Latakia countryside, including Saqiyat al-Kart, with many villagers joining the rebellion. The father initially ignored the looks of those who joined the rebels. He had long viewed them as a smoldering fire, because of their unemployment and lack of education. It was all too easy to lure them with money, influence and social status, and to use religion to stir up their deep frustration.
To him, religion has always been exploited by whoever was willing to use it in social conflicts or against the authorities, if not by the state itself. He could still recall the Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in the 1980s, when he was a guard in the party’s division in Al-Haffa.
The anti-regime militants in the village finally confronted the middle-aged man. They surrounded his house and demanded that he declare his “defection” from the regime,” or else he would be beaten up and chased out of the region. Before that, unknown assailants had cut down his walnut trees, and his sons were accosted and insulted several times at the village checkpoint during their visits. He tried to argue with them in his usual calm, but to no avail.
One morning, he found a red X sign on his door. He realized that neither being a Sunni, nor having a good reputation and a history of serving the region would benefit him now. He had no other choice but to pack his bags and leave his village once again, this time to the 7th Project neighborhood in Latakia.
Drafted for Reserve
A few days into the year 2017, Shadi returned from a repair mission in the Jableh countryside. The university checkpoint stopped him to make sure that he was not wanted for military reserve. He did not find that peculiar. This checkpoint, like many others, had always found justifications to look people up in their databases, and to make sure they were not wanted.
This time, however, it was different. The young man on the computer told him something he had never expected: “You are wanted for reserve.”
He who has lived through such a moment knows the difference between what was before and what comes after. A new life starts following that moment, after which one has no clue about his fate, or whether he would return alive or dead to the life he is about to leave.
Shadi pleaded for only one call to his father, but his pleas went unheeded, as he was prevented any access to communication. After taking his mobile phone, the soldier kept him in a room reserved for those wanted.
As the van used for military transportations was full by the evening, they were taken to the military police in Latakia. After spending a night in a tiny cell without food or water, they were transferred to the capital in the next morning. They found themselves inside a military barrack.
One of the officers welcomed them with a barrage of swearing and insults, and accusations of abandoning their homeland at a fateful moment. Shadi responded to him, stressing that he was not a fugitive, and that was a mistake for which they would pay. The swearing creature was quick to slap him across the face.
Within a few days, Shadi found himself a fighter on the Hama countryside front, yet harboring no grudges; this was his “duty and destiny.” After he was handed back his mobile phone, he told his family what had happened to him. As his father intended venturing into fervent communications to rectify the mistake, Shadi dissuaded him from doing so. He wanted to fight, just like others alongside him.
A month later, the same checkpoint captured his brother Fadi, who was not wanted for military reserve either. He was similarly taken to the capital, from which he was sent to fight in the then intensified battles of Aleppo province. He was told about a general mobilization that necessitated more soldiers to be sent to the fronts.
When Fadi learned about what happened to his married brother Shadi, he recalled the law that forbids two brothers from serving in the army at the same time. He asked his father to start a petition for Shadi's dismissal, since he was married and had two kids.
Torn between his belief in the need to fight the Islamic State (IS) and all "terrorists," and his fear for the fate of his only two boys, the 60-year-old man lived a month of anxiety and loss.
He aged years in a few weeks, growing increasingly frustrated by the way his sons were being treated. The law that was supposed to respect citizens turned out to be nothing but ink on paper.
Furthermore, moving to his new neighborhood in the 7th Project was a burdensome turning point in his life. Although thousands of Sunnis had settled in the Alawite neighborhoods, most of them were displaced just like him. In the meantime, by January 2016, the Syrian army had retaken full control of the Latakia countryside. Mustafa still could not forget his village and his trees and harvest, which had been commandeered by the National Defence Forces (NDF) militia, meaning he would never get them back either.
The man could barely argue with his party’s leadership in regards to the dismissal of one of his two sons. He heard through the grapevine that Baathist leaders had either "smuggled" their sons outside of Syria, had them serve in nearby checkpoints, or enlisted them in the Baath Brigades, a civil faction that is not deployed to remote fronts. A popular joke suggests that the party secretaries, customs officers and religious leaders would never be wanted for reserve lest the number of deserters increase.
Hama countryside suddenly became a hot zone again. Ahrar al-Sham attacked the Syrian government forces stationed in the countryside from several axes, and Shadi, who had been mistakenly wanted for reserve, was killed in action. A few hours ago, he had called his brother Fadi and asked him to take good care of their parents.
In such moments of death, certainty vanishes, and disbelief becomes a sincere reaction. Shadi’s mother, his wife, his father, his kids and their uncle were all stricken by his loss. The family’s petition had come to a final decision to discharge him, and the order had been released the night before that battle. The mail, however, had been delayed 24 hours, taking with it the rest of Shadi’s life.
[Main photo: Fadi and Shadi's father after receiving the discharge letter (Comic4Syria/SyriaUntold)].
[i] Pseudonyms were used for security reasons.