Readers may recall my interview with the mukhtar of al-Karak al-Sharqi in east Deraa countryside prior to the Syrian government's military campaign that has now reclaimed the entire southern region. The case of the mukhtar of al-Karak al-Sharqi served as an interesting example of links between the Syrian government and areas controlled by the rebels.
However, a link between a rebel-held locality and the Syrian government via a mukhtar does not always exist. For instance, in the town of Azaz in the rebel-controlled and Turkish-occupied zone of north Aleppo countryside, there are no mukhtars who deal with the Syrian government. In December 2017, the local council of Azaz announced the appointment of 9 mukhtars for the various neighbourhoods of the town and the IDPs.
Azaz local council decree on the appointment of mukhtars for the locality in December 2017.
Over the weekend, I was able to interview Mawas Danun (Abu Firas), one of the mukhtars of Azaz. I interviewed him regarding his role as a mukhtar and the situation in Azaz. The two main takeaways from this interview are:
(i) There has been exaggeration regarding the influence of the interim government in the north Aleppo countryside, as autonomous local councils prefer to work directly with Turkey.
(ii) Issues of the future identity of the area: should it remain formally a part of Syria or instead become a part of Turkey?
Below is the interview.
Q: Firstly can you tell me about the role of the mukhtar in the locality? You work with the interim government, right? How many mukhtars are in the locality of Azaz?
A: The role of the mukhtars in the town of Azaz is to facilitate the matters of the citizens, prevent falsification, arrange the transaction in advance, and give credibility and an official mark to ordinary documents. We have no link with the interim government in principle. According to the law, we are affiliated with the local administration and deal with it. The number of mukhtars is 10 in the town of Azaz and this number is sufficient according to the number of inhabitants. I was chosen as a trustee over the mukhtars after all the mukhtars gathered and with the members of the local council. The vote was undertaken to choose me as a trustee over the mukhtars. My full name is Mawas Danun (Abu Firas).
Q: You are originally from Azaz? What did you work as before the revolution?
A: Yes I am from one of the oldest families in Azaz. I worked before the revolution as a blacksmith.
Q: What is the local administration in this context?
A: The local administration manages the affairs and matters of the locality.
Q: Yes. But not affiliated with the interim government?
A: No. Not affiliated with the interim government.
Q: So to which side is the local administration affiliated? I apologise but there is misunderstanding about this matter in media. They think Azaz is under the administration of the interim government. But it seems that the local administration in Azaz is independent and has relations with the Turks.
A: Yes it has relations with the Turks and no relation with the [interim] government.
Q: Yes. So what you mean with regards to the local administration is the local council and local institutions in the locality?
Q: So can we say that in every locality in the northern countryside there is an independent local administration?
A: Yes, all affiliated with the Turks.
Q: Yes. So in truth the interim government does not have much influence on the ground in north Aleppo countryside?
A: Yes. It has no relation.
Q: Meaning it does not have much influence in the area?
Q: Can you tell me more about your role? For example you are responsible for stamping ID documents? And you are responsible for resolving some of the local problems in the locality?
A: Yes, yes. In the town of Azaz I am responsible for stamping [documents] and any problem in Azaz and risks of internal conflict and I undertake conciliation and we resolve the matter between people. By God Almighty's permission we do not undertake anything without resolving it and ending problems [so] there are none praise be to God. And the local administration in Azaz undertakes its entire role in every meaning of the word.
Q: Before the revolution was there one mukhtar in Azaz dealing with the regime?
A: There were multiple mukhtars working with the regime, yes: 6 or 7 mukhtars were present, yes.
Q: And all of them have fled from Azaz?
A: Some of them are present in the town of Azaz. The other part, where by God I don't know where they have gone.
Q: Fine. How do you describe the general situation in Azaz today? How is the quality of life? What is your opinion about the Turkish role in Azaz and what are the main problems in Azaz today? For example are there security problems because of a multiplicity of factions? Or has security been regulated more or less? How are services, the issue of electricity and these things?
A: Dear brother, security is stable in the town of Azaz by the security, the criminal police, the commandoes. At the roundabouts there is a patrol in place day and night and police patrols undertake tours in the town of Azaz day and night, moving about in their cars. And the role of Turkey does not fall short in the town of Azaz, and the schools are running, with renovation of the schools ongoing. And from our Turkish brothers there is no shortcoming at all, they have no shortcoming with regards to the town of Azaz. I am speaking about the town of Azaz only that I live in. Our Turkish brothers undertake all their regular role, with no shortcoming on their part. And praise be to God security is stable among us. As for the factions outside Azaz, we have no relations with these matters: that is, the personal relations between the factions.
Also, dear brother, the Turkish government has renovated the large national hospital in the west of Azaz town and has opened clinics, while offering medicines for the hospitals and clinics. And from the realm of security, the security foundation is running in a regular sense. I told you security praise be to God is stable and the patrols are running day and night for 24 hours by the grace of God, Almighty and Exalted is He.
From the realm of the streets of Azaz, the local council will lay asphalt on [the streets of] the town of Azaz soon God willing, and water is being pumped from Midanki and Qastal: so in one neighbourhood the water is connected, and in another it is not yet connected: soon all of Azaz will be supplied with water: the water of Midanki soon, God willing. And asphalt will be laid on the streets of Azaz town. The local council, may God reward it best, head of the council and members of the council, there is no shortcoming on their part at all. If any person wants to submit a complaint to the local council, the local council responds to him, responds to his complaint and addresses the request of the citizen. And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds, the people are grateful for the council, the municipal office and souls. Electricity, God willing, after Eid we will have connected with electricity: an electricity company is repairing the network in Azaz, and God willing, after Eid, after ten days, the electricity will come to the houses, and for every house we have repaired the electricity line. We say God willing, and God give them sufficiency and reckon them for their good work.
From the realm of relief, of course there are organizations providing aid relief. So the official responsible for relief in the local council, on the day in the morning he goes to supervise and the designated portions of relief are distributed for every house: a basket of relief reaches every house, and the official for relief in the local council is entrusted: daily he goes and sees what was distributed and oversees what was distributed from the designated relief portions.
In my name, the mukhtars of Azaz, the people of Azaz, the local council, the municipal office and souls: we thank the Turkish government as a people, government, army and president.
Q: Most of the people of Azaz are with the idea of the Syrian revolution, or is there a portion supporting the regime? Also, what is the opinion of the people of Azaz about separating from Syria and merging the north Aleppo countryside into Turkey: that is, the north countryside becoming a part of Turkey instead of Syria? Maybe the people say the services offered by Turkey to the people of Azaz are much better than the regime, even before the war. What is your opinion?
A: Dear brother, separating and joining Turkey is a matter of the international states, not a matter of the people and Turkey, but rather a matter of states. As for the Syrian people, the people in the northern countryside in their majority, hope to join the Turkish government and Turkish state, the people as a whole- or I can tell you 80% or 75% of the people desire to join the Turkish government and separate from Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian people are cultured, civilized, and desire dignity, desiring their dignity and freedom. And when we were in the time of Bashar, the Syrian people did not live with dignity or freedom.
Q: So if all the inhabitants of the north Aleppo countryside were to become Turkish citizens, you have no problem with this?
A: Of course from my perspective, I have no problem. But this goes back to the choice of the people dear brother. This question goes back to the citizen present, in voting, if he wants to become so or reject it- this I have no idea about. From my perspective, I have no problem. I swear, I will be the first person in the north countryside to be Turkish and be affiliated with the Turkish government, and be Turkish in origin as well. But as for the rest of the people I have no idea. There are people with an opinion: people who agree, people who oppose. But the majority [opinion] I hear from the people: they hope to be Turks and not return to the regime.
Dear brother, to add to your information: that most of the people hope to be of Turkish identity or guaranteed under the Turkish government. Because Turkey has a democratic state. The regime among us: the Ba'ath Party and its ilk: whoso has a baccalaureate and is a Ba'athist receives an administrative directorate. A university guy, a teacher, graduate in university, lawyer...the important thing, a university guy, cultured and not with the Ba'ath Party may be a corn salesman. His children cannot live and his qualification is of no use to the security or the Ba'ath Party.