In wartime, there are three trades that thrive: drugs, arms and prostitution. The Syrian war is no exception.
These three trades have thrived across Syria and in the countries where Syrians have sought refuge over the course of the war. Trade in hashish is one of the major financial resources for the fighting groups in the northern "liberated" areas.
Az-Zawiah Mountain in Edlib on the Syrian-Turkish border was one of the first regions to take up arms against and be liberated from the Assad regime. Its advantage lay in its geographical location near the Turkish border, but soon afterwards, olive farming was substituted with hashish which the farmers consider a high pay-off product.
The governorate of Edlib consists of many close clustered villages. Most of them depend now on smuggling between Syria and Turkey for livlihood.
Ahmad, from Muarat al-Numan, explained how most of the goods in the region come from Turkey "because we have no work, no land and no trade, without smuggling, we would die of hunger," he said.
"Several people from the village have already started planting hashish because the income from hash is much higher than olives which needs care and farmers cannot take care of olive trees anymore,", Ahmad added.
Ahmad said that he and his family have been planting hashish to secure a better income for the family, but also confirmed that several armed factions are arresting hashish farmers, especially the Nusra Front, which has carried out many operations against hashish farmers and prompted many farmers to pay to smaller factions to protect their farms and smuggling operations to Turkey. One of these small factions is the Ikhlas Brigade which is located in Azmarin town on the border and is specialized in smuggling fuel and hashish to Turkey.
Residents from the area confirm that Islamist factions are trying hard to stop the hashish farming, but some small independent factions plant it and smuggle it. Residents of Harem said that one of the factions destroyed 20 tons of hashish there.
Abu Riad, a farmer from Haf Sarjeh, said that rebels with the Syria Front supervise the farming of hashish to maximise the profit. Abu Riad explained that "the fighters of the Front protect the farms and the hashish smuggling to Turkey, and in return they take 60% of the interest."
"The farmers pay this high percentage under threat. I planted 50% of my land with hashish, if we sell the whole crop, we will earn about seven million Syrian Pounds, four of which goes to the fighters".
But Abu Riad assured that many smuggling operation have been aborted, which lead him to pay to the fighters even though he earned nothing from the operation.
Despite numerous attempts to connect with the Front, it refused to comment on the matter and considered the charge of protecting hashish farms as an attempt to distort the reputation of the Front among the people of the region.
One fighter who supervise the land of Abu Riad which is planted with hashish and only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said that many of the villagers protect their farms by themselves, but that raids carried out by some armed factions push them to depend on and pay the fighters from other armed groups.
The fighter explained that there are two kinds of agreements: individual and the collective, and each of them has a specific price. The individual agreement is between a farmer and a fighter, in which case the fighter takes much less than the collective one. The fighter says he is paid 500 dollars per month when he works individually, but when the agreement is collective, meaning between the farmer and a group of fighters, the payment goes to the leader of the group and he in turn divides it among the fighters. The fighter refused to provide us with the names of factions and groups participating in the farming and smuggling of hashish, and also refused to allow us take pictures of the farm he is protecting.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer