The Christian town of Suqaylabiyah is located in north Hama countryside and has been for a long time on the frontlines with the greater insurgent-held northwest of Syria whose epicentre is Idlib province. Recently, Syrian government forces and allies have mobilized towards these frontlines and airstrikes against the insurgent-held areas have intensified.
To discuss Suqaylabiyah's status further, I interviewed Hamam al-Abdullah, head of the Suqaylabiyah directorate of the Damascus-based Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP). Haman also heads an SSNP auxiliary force in Suqaylabiyah for the Syrian army called Nusur al-Zawba'a (Eagles of the Whirlwind). This interview was conducted on 2 May 2019. It has been slightly edited for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: First can you tell me a little about the locality of Suqaylabiyah? The number of inhabitants and what the locality has offered in defence of Syria during the events.
A: Around 18,000 inhabitants.. Suqaylabiyah has offered a number of military and civilian martyrs in all the areas of the homeland. It has received IDPs from the neighbouring villages that the armed terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist formations seized. And it [Suqaylabiya] has secured for them [the IDPs] a place to dwell, food, security and medicine.
Q: [Suqaylabiyah has] around 157 martyrs right?
A: 165 martyrs. Suqaylabiyah is Christian and is located between neighbouring villages that are Sunni Muslim and Alawite. And it has been on good relations with all, and has been a place of refuge for all and distinguished in knowledge, and most of the problems that have broken out in the al-Ghab region have all been resolved in Suqaylabiyah. And it has been known for its generosity and its people's courage and bravery. And Suqaylabiyah means in Syriac the stubborn, quarrelsome man. Suqaylabiyah has stood as one man with the Syrian state, from the beginning of the events in Syria, and has been with the state and Mr. President Bashar al-Assad, the beloved. Suqaylabiyah has been and remains a light for the one who wants light and knowledge and a fire for the usurping and hateful aggressor.
Q: How is the general situation in the locality from the aspect of security and economic life, and how have things changed because of the events?
A: Matters before the events in Syria were very good. All felt comfortable and at east and all we needed was present from all aspects: security, hospitals, education, agricultural and educational loans, and it [Suqaylabiyah] witnessed great developmental activity and great business activity. As for now, after it began to be bombed by the mortars of resentment, ignorant and hatred, the situation has become difficulty. And the missiles have prevented the neighbours from coming to Suqaylabiyah for shopping and treatment. So the sons of the neighbours have come like the breeze, taking their need and hurrying off in departure.
Q: Are electricity and water cut off sometimes because of the events?
A: We are in a state of war. Sometimes some of the mortars of resentment intentionally strike the electricity lines but we have an electricity directorate in Suqaylabiyah whose men are like the men of the Syrian Arab Army. They do not fear death and they repair in times of clashes. The armed groups have burned the ovens and phone lines in the areas they control.
Q: How do the mortars and missiles impact you?
A: When they come they increase our determination, power, and love and attachment to our land. The missile is like the match and lighters that start a fire. Like a room in which there is gas and a small spark has arisen in it. It explodes and gives rise to a much greater power than the spark. I hope the picture will have become clear.
Q: What were the first auxiliary formations in the locality? And what are the formations that defend Suqaylabiyah currently?
A: In the beginning, the Popular Committees. After that the National Defence Forces, and after that Nusur al-Zawba'a, and after that the al-Ghadab Groups [Local Defence Forces formation], and then the Ba'ath Battalions. Also there are the V Corps Assault and civilians contracted with the Corps.
Q: Yes, but in what year was Nusur al-Zawba'a formed in the locality?
Q: And how are the relations between the auxiliary factions?
A: Very good relations.
Q: There is an operations centre in the National Defence Forces base right?
A: Yes there is an operations room in the Natonal Defence Forces and [V] Corps base led by the jaguar Nabil al-Abdullah and it directs all the formations of the auxiliary forces in al-Suqaylabiyah and its periphery and it coordinates with our heroic Syrian Arab Army in all the military operations.
Q: Have the Russian and Iranian friends helped you in matters of aid, weapons etc. in defending Suqaylabiyah?
A: Yes, but we will never forget our heroic army that offered convoys of martyrs to protect the civilians. They [the friends] helped us through the heroic Syrian Arab Army.
Q: Are there organizations that distribute aid to the people of the locality?
A: The Syrian Red Crescent sometimes distributes some aid baskets.
Q: There are no other organizations that aid the people?
A: There are local associations that were born in the crisis to help those struck by missile mortars. Civil associations from the people of Suqaylabiyah.
Q: Currently there has arisen much talk about preparation for Idlib liberation operations. What are the latest developments on the ground?
A: God willing the news is true. Large mobilizations by our heroic Syrian Arab Army the men of God on the land.
Q: Do the people of Suqaylabiyah hope that the operations will begin as soon as possible?
A: Of course so that ordinary life can return in beloved Syria.
Q: Finally how has life in Suqaylabiyah been impacted by the gas and petrol crisis because of the American sanctions?
A: We are a living people accustomed to all circumstances. We have been steadfast for 9 years in the shade of systematic global terrorism. Why shouldn't we be steadfast in the face of sanctions? The sanctions only show the failure of the American project in Syria.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: All that is in us from the Ummah and all that is in us for the Ummah, even the blood that flows in our veins,, its source is not our property but the trust of the Ummah in us. Whenever it seeks it, it finds it. Syria will arise by the zeal of its heroic army just as Christ arose from the dead to life and will arise from the ashes like the phoenix bird, and it will return as it was. Long live Syria.
(Update 6 May 2019): final question and answer added with some modifications at the beginning of the interview by request of the interviewee.
(Update 7 May 2019): in light of some comments on this interview from the Nusur al-Zawba'a of As'ad Hardan's SSNP, some points that were supposed to be off-the-record have to be clarified, lest I be accused of distortion and fabrication.
Hamam al-Abdullah is part of the SSNP led by Elias Shaheen. Although his group in Suqaylabiyah takes the name of Nusur al-Zawba'a, Hardan's SSNP and its Nusur al-Zawba'a (also present in Suqaylabiyah) say that this is wrongful appropriation of the name of Nusur al-Zawba'a, since Shaheen's party does not have an authorized military unit under Syrian law. Therefore, Shaheen's SSNP does not possess arms as a faction, but rather any arms its members have received have been obtained through individual efforts.