It takes all sorts to make a revolution, even just to win a war. The four fighters of the Free Syrian Army profiled here each have their own stories, and their own hopes for the future. They worry, variously, about their children, about the organization and funding of their fledgling militia, about internal divisions within their ranks. Injury and death surrounds them everyday, and each has his own reasons to continue fighting.
Abu Bakr: The shepherd of Aleppo
Abu Mohamed is a commander in the Tawheed Brigade. He just returned from the frontline in Aleppo, where he took part in the critical Hanano Battle, from which the Free Syrian Army emerged victorious.
Before joining the FSA he was a lieutenant in the Syrian army. Three years ago, he defected and applied for asylum in Belgium. He attributes his defection to sectarian discrimination within the army, in which Sunni officers would consistently be marginalized.
When the Free Syrian Army was formed, he joined in Damascus, then in Homs, with the Sahhaba Brigade. Then he moved with the revolution to Aleppo, where he joined the Tawheed Brigade — one of the largest in the FSA today.
The brigade, he says, includes Arabs, Turks and Kurds.
“I was attracted by this diversity, and this made me feel comfortable about joining. You feel that these different people share their love for Syria and its revolution,” he says, expounding on how, with time, the brigade developed and became professionalized.
For him, the main challenge in Aleppo is with the Shabiha, President Bashar al-Assad’s informal militia, which he says numbered 90,000 in the city at one point. A more structural challenge pertains to the divided support of the FSA by different regimes outside of Syria.
“The Saudis are supporting Ahrar al-Sham. The secularists are supporting secular fighters. The right military action is one in which support is unified and coordinated,” Abu Mohamed says.
He adds that there is no will to support Syria seriously, and the proof is the fact that all anti-aircraft weaponry is kept away.
International donors always use the Nusra Brigade, which autonomously claimed ties with Al-Qaeda, as a pretext to withhold full support, he says, “while they are only part of the FSA and not the whole army.”
“There is an international agreement to witness Syria drown,” he laments, while insisting that victory is coming — one day.
“We freed Aleppo with 240 gunshots and a bunch of guns,” he says.
For him, there could be no alternative path to the militarization of the revolution.
“I was in the army, and I am well aware of the regime’s mentality. This revolution could have never been peaceful. The militarization of the revolution is a normal act of self-defense, at the very least,” he says.
He foresees staying in the army after Assad is removed from power, warning that an army which evolves out of the FSA will only collaborate with politicians who unconditionally supported the revolution, on the ground.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition along with Inside Aleppo: A glimpse of those fighting for Assad's fall.