Syria Deeply, an English-language website tracking that country's grinding civil war, has been compiling a series of testimonial writings from civilians caught in the conflict. Over the weekend the series featured what it says is a Damascus resident's essay on leaving the embattled city.
The statement from "a 22-year-old man from a prominent Sunni family" covers the Syrian kidnapping economy, the role of government checkpoints, and the atmosphere among civilians who are anti-Assad but still living in a regime-controlled neighborhood day-to-day. The series is a useful window on quotidian circumstances, and an unusually clear presentation of how the complexities of rival militias, ideological rifts, and the constant threat of sudden violence affect the average person in the country. What follows are some excerpts from this past weekend's entry.
To start, the unnamed author alleges broad support for anti-Assad efforts among the Syrian upper class:
More than half the [prominent] families in Damascus hate the regime and how brutal it is. But they can’t say a single word because they know how the regime reacted when someone revolted against them in the 1980s. For these 30 years, you couldn’t say a word about the regime or the Assad family. My dad used to tell me, don’t you ever say the word “regime,” at school or anywhere. Don’t say this word.
He describes being fearful of arbitrary checkpoint police. Each neighborhood in the capitol has a checkpoint:
So if it was 11 or 12 at night, it was dangerous for people with the revolution to be out. They have names on lists. It was scary, many of my friends had their houses broken into, or they were detained because they were with the revolution.... You can’t talk to the soldiers as humans : if you say a word he doesn’t like, he can detain you. Checkpoints are the worst nightmare.
He discusses the evolution of a kidnapping racket in the capitol, which can bring a quarter million dollars and more in ransom:
My cousin was kidnapped seven months ago. He was tortured. In Damascus, there are many people who are wealthy. The kidnappers are a network: it goes, “I know a rich family, I’ll go kidnap their son, and they have rich neighbors.” The rich neighborhoods are known. After they put my cousin in the car, they passed a checkpoint without stopping. So that’s a big sign that they are cooperating with security forces.
It’s not politically motivated, it’s about money. They wouldn’t kidnap a rich Alawite family, because they’d be punished or maybe killed. So they just target the rich Sunnis. My cousin’s ransom was around $200,000. And that was at that time. On today’s rate, it would be $400,000.
No source is given for the $200k and $400k figures, other than the claim that the author's family paid his cousin's ransom. We can't independently verify the story. It's worth reading to judge for yourself. The rest of the account above and the other items in the series are here.