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University of Damascus threatens to send absentee students to military recruitment office

Murad, a 25-year-old master’s student in economics at the University […]

31 January 2017

Murad, a 25-year-old master’s student in economics at the University of Damascus, only attends lectures once a week.

He works nine hours a day at a supermarket to support his family, earning about $75 per month—less than a third of a semester’s tuition.

He enrolled in graduate school last August to evade military service, Murad tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali.

Syrian men aged 18-42 are required to serve in the army for two years, with exemptions available for students and those with extenuating family circumstances or medical conditions.

High school, diploma and university students” are eligible to “delay their service for one year, subject to renewal,” according to a 2007 Syrian law.  

Murad says he is not the only male student in Damascus who is enrolled in school to avoid conscription while rarely attending classes.

“Most of the time, only 10 percent of enrolled male students actually attend—sometimes less,” he says.

The Faculty of Economics. Photo courtesy of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Damascus

This month, the university administration had enough of repeated absences.

“A list of frequently absent students will be sent to both the university president and the recruiting office,” read a January 15 statement from the Dean of the College of Economics at the University of Damascus.

These students “will no longer be considered enrolled.”

Q: On January 15, the Faculty of Economics issued a statement warning frequently absent students that if they did not start attending classes, the university would send their names to the military recruitment office. How will this notice affect you?

It will certainly have a big impact on my job and my schedule.

Before the announcement, I used to attend classes once a week. Right now, I’m on winter break, but once it’s finished, I think I’ll have to go to class every day. I still don’t know what will happen at the start of next semester.

Since I’m on break, I’m currently looking for a new job that will suit my class schedule. I have to find a night shift or a position with fewer working hours. The salary will of course be less, but there’s nothing else I can do.

Q: Is your salary enough, considering that you’re also paying for your master’s degree?

I’m doing the best I can. With my job at the supermarket, I make SP15,000 ($75) a month. But even this depends on how many days I work. University tuition is SP60,000 ($280) per semester.

I made a few changes so I can pay for school and support my family. I don’t go out with my friends and I only use public transportation. I’m very frugal, especially when it comes to my personal expenses.

Q: Why are you avoiding military service? Do you have friends who have served in the army?

I absolutely do not want to serve in the army because if I did, I wouldn’t be let go after my period of service ends. The military isn’t discharging any soldier. Also, the salary I’d get as a soldier wouldn’t cover my personal expenses. My family wouldn’t be able to help me.

[Ed.: Syria Direct interviewed a Syrian Arab Army soldier in March 2016, who said that salaries, some of which are no more than SP25,000 ($132) a month, do not cover half of his monthly expenses.]

Also, I had a friend who was deployed to Hama province, and I haven’t heard anything from him for more than a year and a half. His family also lost contact with him; they don’t know anything about him.

Q: As an able-bodied, military-aged Syrian man, do you feel pressure to join the army? How does society view you?

There isn’t any pressure because everyone, pro- and anti-government, knows what joining the army means. Very few people want their sons to serve, and those who claim to support military service are just bluffing. They know that joining the army is another form of suicide.

Q: Do you feel guilty for avoiding service?

Absolutely not, especially now. You could get killed, kidnapped or detained at any point. And if I did serve, although I’m neutral, my opposition friends would call me a traitor.

Q: When you do attend classes, are many male students present? Do you have male friends who also skip class?

The majority of students present are female; there’s a huge shortage of males. Most of the time, only 10 percent of enrolled male students actually attend class—sometimes less.

I can’t speak for my friends because most of them have left Syria.

Q: Why are you staying in Damascus? What’s keeping you here?

My family. I have three siblings. The oldest has a family and works in the Emirates. My little sister is in high school and my younger brother is in elementary school. I’m responsible, at least in part, for supporting them since my parents don’t work. I haven’t tried to emigrate because I can’t leave my family.

Q: Before the war, what were your aspirations? Have they changed?

I used to dream of working in a big bank. But now it’s going to be very hard to accomplish this. I want to find work related to my degree and eventually build a family. It will be difficult to do this in Damascus, where life is very hard.

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