Following the outbreak of the first protests against the Syrian regime in 2011, with pro-democracy demonstrations organized in several areas of Damascus, including Midan, Barzeh and Kafarsouseh, the city was transformed into a security capital par excellence. Military checkpoints broke the city apart and separated it from its countryside, instilling fear in all residents, especially young men of military age.
"When I wore the military uniform so I could pass through checkpoints and escape from Damascus to Aleppo, I was afraid the regime forces would discover the truth and arrest me, but I never expected to be held captive by Islamist rebels for over 17 days … I was sure I was going to die," says Ahmed, a 26-year-old from Damascus.
Raids carried out by Syrian security forces would become part of daily life for the inhabitants of the capital, as the search for wanted men fleeing military service forced many into hiding.
"After I lost my identity card, the situation immediately became too dangerous for me, as I was already wanted for military service."
Ahmed described his escape from Damascus to Turkey after his city became a giant prison, where guards are routinely deployed at military checkpoints to arrest and detain those caught escaping mandatory service.
"I had a friend serving in the regime army. He told me that he wanted to defect and flee to Turkey, and that he could steal signed documents from his officer," recalls Ahmed, who was enthusiastic about the idea as staying in Damascus would likely mean suicide.
"My friend Shafiq brought me a signed form approving military leave. It had no name and date written on it, so I added my picture and personal information to the document. We agreed to leave together, but my father's sudden illness and his need for surgery resulted in Shafiq leaving without me."
Ten days later, dressed in a soldier’s uniform, Ahmed boarded a bus towards the city of Aleppo. Inside a secret pocket he hid the identity of a young man living in Turkey, which he bought from a friend residing there. He felt anxious at first, but he was determined to complete the journey. Without being suspected by regime forces, Ahmed managed to pass every checkpoint all the way to Aleppo.
"After I passed through the last military checkpoints, I got rid of the uniform and put my civilian ID in my pocket.” Ahmed communicated with a smuggler who sent him a car the next day. The car carried him from a hotel near Hamdaniya area to a building in the city of Sarmada. The smuggler was welcoming, said Ahmed, but his relative, Saed, a member of Nusra Front, would change all Ahmed’s plans.
"The problem was that he thought I was a real defector from the regime army. Even though I told him the truth, he was not convinced by my story," said Ahmed.
Half an hour later, a group of men surrounded the building and detained Ahmed. He was blindfolded and taken to an unknown location where he found himself inside a tent. "I was beaten before one of the men begin to interrogate me, asking me for my real name and trying to determine that I was not a regime agent. I told him the full details of my story, and that my goal was just to reach Turkey." Ahmed remained inside the tent for five days, but was released after his captors verified the story from information on his mobile phone.
"But I wasn't very fortunate, as the Nusra Front men released me in an area I did not know. I entered the nearest grocery store and asked the owner whether he knew how to reach Turkey. The man sympathized with me immediately and asked me to stay close to the shop," says Ahmed.
"After waiting near the store for about an hour, several militants from Ahrar ash-Sham Movement came and asked me what I was doing in the area, I told them that Nusra Front left me here after I was arrested for several days, so they, in turn, arrested me for seven days, before moving me to the security center in the city of Harem." Ahmed spent a further four days in a cell with Islamic State captives.
"When I was released, I begged them not to throw me on the street, so that some other party would arrest me again. One of the men agreed to take me by van to Khirbet al-Joz, and from there I took a bus towards the Turkish border," Ahmed added.
Ahmed now resides in Germany, while Syria’s youths continue to suffer from campaigns of forced conscription throughout the capital. Social media activists recently declared "general alarm" as rumors spread online of the mass-arrest of men born between 1973-1998 in Damascus and other provinces.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Syrian Observer.