Syrian FSA fighters graduate from universities after years out of school

Factions of the Free Syrian Army are supporting their fighters to return to school and graduate, as part of efforts to promote education among their fighters.

al-monitor Members of the Free Syrian Army attend a graduation ceremony in Azaz, Syria, Jan. 14, 2021. Photo by Khaled al-Khateb/Al-Monitor.

Jan 24, 2021

ALEPPO, Syria — The Third Legion of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Jan. 14 held an event to honor several of its fighters who graduated from universities in opposition-held areas in northeast Syria, mainly the International Sham University, the University of Aleppo in the liberated areas (in reference to the areas under the control of the Turkish-backed factions) and the International University of Science and Renaissance. 

Several commanders of the Turkish-backed FSA and officials in the opposition-led interim government as well as fighters who graduated attended the event held in the Cultural Center in Azaz in Aleppo’s northern countryside.

Al-Monitor’s correspondent was present to see the joy on the faces of the graduates and their families. University of Aleppo President Abdul Aziz al-Daghim said at the ceremony, “There have been great accomplishments in the opposition-held areas in the field of science, and they have produced results that were unexpected years ago.”

Mahmood Talha, a journalist who works for Thiqa News Agency in Aleppo’s countryside, told Al-Monitor, “With the onset of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the widening stretch of protests calling for toppling the regime of Bashar al-Assad, it has become difficult for many opposition Syrian young people to pursue their education in universities [in regime-held areas] out of fear of arrest and the risk of moving between Syrian provinces. But the dream of returning to college never left them. As soon as they got the opportunity, dozens of them resumed their studies and benefited from the facilitations offered by their factions, amid the relative stability in the opposition-held areas in northwest Syria.”

Hoda al-Abssi, the education minister of the opposition-led interim government, told Al-Monitor during the ceremony, “Education generally is quite important, especially for the fighters of the FSA, because it allows them to develop their capacities and teach other members who could not pursue their studies. This will reflect well on the development of their fighting capacity and applying their knowledge in the military field.”

Al-Monitor also met with ceremony organizer Ismail Barakat, the head of the Training Department of the Third Legion. He said that 55 fighters in the Third Legion were honored in the ceremony “after graduating at the end of 2020 from several disciplines, including graduates from the Arabic language faculties and departments, Islamic sharia, law, economics and other scientific disciplines.”

He added, “We offered the graduated fighters gifts and symbolic financial sums. We held the ceremony to thank them for their efforts, and we hope they will encourage their peers in the FSA ranks to pursue their university studies, because education is the cornerstone to developing any country, and these young people will build a free Syria. We promise to support any fighter who wants to pursue his education.”

Al-Monitor also met with Mustafa al-Khatib, a fighter in the Third Legion who graduated. He said, “Since I am an opposition figure who participated in the peaceful movement and later became a fighter in the FSA, I could not pursue my studies at the regime-affiliated University of Aleppo. I am now a fighter in the Third Legion, which helped us financially and encouraged us to pursue our studies by paying our tuition and giving us permits to attend lectures and sit the exams at the University of Aleppo in the liberated areas.”

Firas Hamasho, an officer of the education bureau in the Third Legion, told Al-Monitor, “Helping fighters receive private education allows them to understand the difficult scientific material and to attend lectures and prepare for exams. One of the key facilitations is paying the annual university tuition of the institution where the fighter is enrolled. Tuitions vary depending on the university, from $100 (300,000 Syrian pounds) to $300 (900,000 Syrian pounds) per year. The annual tuition also differs depending on the discipline.”

Imad Karsho, a fighter who graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Aleppo in the liberated areas, told Al-Monitor at the honoring ceremony in Azaz, “I had not been to any school for seven years, but in 2018, I decided to return to school and complete my education at the Faculty of Law of the University of Aleppo affiliated with the opposition in Aleppo. Indeed, I was able to fulfill my dream.”

He added, “I tried to juggle between carrying weapons and education, as I participate in battles when they break out and take exams on time. Being dedicated to fighting without receiving knowledge is one of the biggest mistakes. We cannot promote Syria without knowledge, and a fighter without education becomes a scoundrel.”

Ahmed Raslan is a fighter who was in his fourth year of studying at the Faculty of Information Engineering, specializing in software engineering, at the regime’s University of Aleppo when Syria's civil war erupted in 2011.

He told Al-Monitor, “I had to drop out because all of my family members were threatened with arrest. We could not enter the regime-controlled areas in Aleppo, and I later joined the FSA.” Seven years later, Raslan returned to complete his education at the University of Aleppo in the liberated areas and received a degree in informatics engineering.

Abdul Hakim al-Masri, the minister of finance and economy in the opposition-led interim government, told Al-Monitor, “As we know, the fighter must be educated, because education alters their way of thinking and conduct. The initiative of the FSA factions and their support for their fighters in returning to education is a great step. It is also important to employ these graduates in suitable positions for their specializations to have a trained and educated army.”

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