Dozens of students held a protest outside the Directorate of Education in Suwayda city Wednesday, denouncing the mass firing of their teachers after they refused to serve in the Syrian Arab Army.
During Wednesday’s protest, high school students raised signs saying “The firing of teachers = the destruction of our future,” and “the teacher’s dignity comes from society’s dignity.” Security forces did not intervene and the protest ended without incident.
The demonstration is the latest expression of local opposition to mandatory military service in regime-controlled Suwayda province. Since June 2014, Suwayda Druze belonging to the Sheikhs of Dignity movement have repeatedly raided regime detention centers and freed young men slated to be sent off to the fronts [for Syria Direct’s coverage of Druze anti-recruitment activity, see here, here, here and here].
After Sheikh Waheed al-Balaus, the charismatic Sheikhs of Dignity leader, was assassinated under murky circumstances in September 2015, the movement continued to actively fight the recruitment of young Druze men, Noura al-Basha, a Suwayda citizen journalist close to the Sheikhs of Dignity, told Syria Direct Thursday.
An IED exploded next to Balaus’ convoy as he headed east from the provincial capital, killing him and a dozen of his companions. As the convoy approached the National Hospital in Suwayda, a second IED exploded. A total of 37 people died in the attacks, for which no party claimed responsibility.
“Despite the severe shock [that accompanied Balaus’ assassination], the Sheikhs are holding firm, and their position as concerns recruitment is clear—they refuse the arrest of any young man for mandatory military service,” said al-Basha.
Balaus’ Sheikhs of Dignity are a religious and political movement committed to protecting Suwayda from outside aggression. In Balaus’ own words in the months leading up to his death: “We aren’t against the state, but rather we’re against every corrupt individual in this state. If Jabhat a-Nusra attacks us then they’re our enemy. If the Islamic State attacks us then we’re also against them. If the state should aggress against us, then it too will become our enemy. We are the enemies of those who agress against us.”
The Men of Dignity—as are called the supporters of the Sheikhs of Dignity—surrounded a detention center in the province’s south this past January, four months after Balaus’ death, and freed young men inside who were slated to be sent off to the fronts.
In general, the regime is reluctant to arrest men wanted for army service in the province, says al-Basha. “Arrests inside Suwayda don’t occur, but rather security forces will detain youth as they head towards Damascus, or else on the province’s borders as they’re returning.”
Suwayda’s population is mixed in its support for the Syrian regime, but many Druze in the province want nothing to do with the civil war raging around them.
“Suwayda is not on any side in this silly war that has turned into a Sunni-Shiite war,” Ziad al-Asmar, the alias of a citizen journalist close to the Sheikhs of Dignity, told Syria Direct in April 2015, expressing a sentiment that based on Syria Direct’s reporting appears to remain true.
An estimated 14,000 young men in the province are wanted for mandatory military service.