What ISIS did to my village

By | April 29, 2019

Hassan Hassan writes:

When I was a teenager, in the 1990s, I spent my summer breaks herding sheep from sunrise to sunset. My daily routine was nearly always the same. I released the sheep from the barn, steered them along the village’s main road, grabbed a watermelon from a shop to add to my packed lunch, and turned to the desert. Once I left the populated section of the village, I directed the few dozen animals along the desert cliffs to the open fields at the mouth of a little valley.

My family had two lines of business at the time, farming and livestock trading, so we did relatively well. We owned some 1,000 livestock and had an orchard of about 900 pomegranate trees that was leased annually to merchants from Aleppo, who arrived at harvest time to ship the produce from several orchards in the area to their city. Along with my eight siblings, I helped in farming and herding not only over the summer but on weekends and holidays throughout the year. I didn’t venture outside my home village until 1996, after finishing my ninth-grade exams. At that point I went to the city of Albu Kamal to study in the area’s sole high school.

My village, Ash Sha’fa, lies on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, in the province of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. The Iraqi border, mostly a sand berm eroded by desert winds, is only a short drive from the village. Most of Deir Ezzor’s population descends from one main Arab Sunni tribe, the Egaidat, to which my family belongs. Like most tribes in the Middle East, the Egaidat has members in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

This eastern region, commonly referred to in Syria as the Remote Provinces, is distinctly tribal, rural, and marginalized. In the 1990s, life there was generally simple and uneventful: The state’s presence was minimal, and villagers sustained themselves through farming and remittances from relatives working in the Persian Gulf. Even in retrospect, nothing in those days indicated that my home province would become the main transit hub for jihadists moving from Syria into Iraq after the 2003 invasion, or the site of the Islamic State’s final battle as a caliphate.

As someone who studies the Islamic State for a living, I still struggle to connect images from my past with the reality of today. They are simply two different worlds.

A little over a month after ISIS seized Ash Sha’fa, one of my siblings sent me a picture of our father. I froze at the sight of him with a gray beard. He used to be clean-shaven. But he, like other men living under the caliphate, was forced to wear a beard as a sign of his adherence to the religious principles of his jihadist rulers. This was five years ago, by which point I was already studying ISIS’s every move as a journalist in Abu Dhabi; the photograph made me feel the group’s terrors and daily humiliations in a new way. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

The fugitive Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has appeared in a propaganda video for the first time in five years, in which he recognises the terror group’s defeat in the Syrian town of Baghouz.

The appearance is only Baghdadi’s second on video, and comes weeks after the remnants of Isis were ousted from their last organised stronghold in the eastern Syrian desert. Looking heavier than when he proclaimed the existence of the now collapsed caliphate in mid-2014, Baghdadi blamed its demise on the “savagery” of Christians. [Continue reading…]

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Category: War

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