“Before the war … I focused mainly on my family and volunteering at my church”
Before the war, I worked in the tourism industry, like many people in my region. I focused mainly on my family and volunteering at my church.Even though I had no previous military experience, I was among the first to join the popular committees, even before they became the National Defence Committees. I did this because, from the start, I knew that this was how it would all turn out. I fought in several big battles; during a battle at Menagh airport, one of my cousins was killed.I tried to encourage the men from my village and nearby villages to join up as well. But they weren’t very receptive, as they didn’t feel concerned by what was going on. All the while, an increasingly large number of Lebanese and Palestinian Jihadists were crossing the border to come support the rebels.“I am Christian and the majority of my men are Christian, but I am not the leader of a Christian militia”From week to week, the number of kidnappings and attacks against civilians was increasing rapidly. All the inhabitants of the region, whether Christian or Muslim, could clearly see that criminals were taking advantage of the reigning chaos to loot and kidnap innocent people. This ended up pushing many of our young men to join the ranks of the National Defence Committees.My unit’s range extends over 42 villages, including 33 Christian villages. Our men are all residents of the region; they were trained and equipped by the Syrian army. All volunteers receive the same benefits as any Syrian soldier, including support for their families. My unit works closely with the Syrian Chief of Staff , from whom we receive our daily orders.The majority of the unit’s men are Christian, it is not a Christian militia. Among the men, there are Alawites and Sunnis as well. For example, the men in charge of artillery are all Sunnis from the village of Hosn.Several rebel groups are active in our region: the Free Syrian Army, Jund al-Sham, which is a group of jihadists from Lebanese Palestinian camps, and the Al-Nusra Front [close to Al Qaeda]. Since there are all these different groups, we have a hard time negotiating lasting ceasefires. As a result, there is more and more fighting, both day and night.These groups have been able to replenish their supplies and hold their positions for over a year now. We lack the means to force them out, but we are trying to do damage control and protect the population. And we are not alone. There is an entire brigade from the Syrian army and the intelligence services situated in the region. The rebels have managed to stay because they have taken advantage of corrupt officers within our ranks [posted at the border] that allow arms and munitions to go through in exchange for a bribe.Religious leaders in our region are very reticent to openly support us, which I completely understand. We must leave the door open for negotiations, because in the end we will all have to sit around a table and talk. But for the time being, our religious authorities and our community members know very well that we can only count on ourselves to defend our region.