People who have gone through the procedures report a politically skewed process overseen by Russian officers and rife with bribery.
The Syrian regime has launched what it terms a ‘reconciliation initiative’ in Deir Ez-Zor governorate to settle the security status of wanted individuals. The language used to describe it seems intended to evoke a neutral process, but numerous interviews with people who have gone through it reveal a political procedure – overseen by the regime’s Russian allies – which aims to rebuild its own social and security networks.
According to people who have been both ‘accepted’ and ‘rejected’ for reconciliation, Russian officers oversee the reconciliation committees deployed throughout regime-controlled areas south of the Euphrates river, with the assistance of tribal and community figures who have a following among locals in Deir Ez-Zor.
The reconciliation committees apparently have specified conditions regarding who may benefit from the initiative, including that participants cannot have ‘Syrian blood on their hands’; that they cannot be ‘part of an armed campaign or affiliated with an extremist Islamist group such as ISIS or the Al-Nusra front’; and that the reconciliation process ‘shall not overturn criminal sentences that are unrelated to current events in Syria, or which are related to the rights of other Syrian civilians’.
There are several locations in Deir Ez-Zor designated for the process, divided into subcommittees located near the crossing points connecting the areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and regime-controlled areas, and primary committees located in the security quadrant of the Ghazi Ayaash neighbourhood inside the city of Deir Ez-Zor.
In addition to Russian overseers, the reconciliation committees contain security officers representing different branches of intelligence agencies that operate in the governorate as well as local intermediaries. The committees have streamlined procedures for each person appearing before them. Requirements are a copy of both sides of their ID card and two personal photographs enclosed with their request. In some cases, the person is also asked questions regarding charges against them.
After the individual appears before the committee, they are given a document affirming the process of ‘reconciliation’ has taken place and warned not to travel outside the governorate until they receive a ‘no longer wanted’ document which must be issued within 7-10 days. After this period, the person in question has the freedom to reside in any area, government-controlled or not.
The reconciliation process for civilians differs from that which applies to military elements or security forces who have defected from the regime. The ‘status settlement’ for non-civilians who meet the conditions takes place immediately, and they are given 30 days to settle their affairs before they are taken to complete their military service in their previous contingent or in a new place.
Ahmed, a resident of al-Shmaitiya who defected from the army in 2013, underwent the reconciliation procedures and was conscripted to continue his compulsory service in the al-Hasakah governorate, even though he had served with the special forces in Rif Dimashq prior to defecting.
Although the announcement regarding reconciliation committees gives specific conditions that must be satisfied in order to resolve any problems with state security, the committees have also carried out ‘reconciliation’ with individuals to whom these conditions do not apply, in exchange for sums reportedly as high as 20 million SYP. Such individuals have included ISIS emirs and members of tribal councils affiliated with ISIS.
This money appears to be given as a bribe to the Russian officers overseeing the work and to the heads of intelligence agencies in the governorate. These transactions take place via local middlemen who are in contact with both sides, who handle the job of guaranteeing to the first party that the money is delivered and promising the second party that their security file will be closed and cleared.
The Russians and the regime have also ignored the stipulations of the reconciliation committee in cases of community figures who have influence in local or tribal circles, with the goal of winning them over and rehabilitating them to convince the residents of their area to return to the regime and undergo the reconciliation procedures.
Essam Al Ghadeer, a field activist in Deir Ez-Zor, told me, ‘The regime carried out status settlement for four tribal figures from the countryside around western Deir Ez-Zor; they were representing the “tribal office”, which is affiliated with ISIS.’ He added, ‘After different branches of state intelligence investigated these figures for a week, their security files were closed, and now they are working as intermediaries between those who want to undergo reconciliation and the Russians and the Syrian regime, even though some of these figures have been accused of killing innocent civilians.’