The latest interviewee in this series is a resident of the Yarmouk Basin village of Koayia (Arabic: كويا) in west Deraa countryside. This resident had previously deserted from the Syrian Army.
Koayia is located right on the border with Jordan and is also in proximity to the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Prior to returning to the control of the Syrian government, Koayia was held by the Islamic State affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed (in its final days publicly declared as ‘Wilayat Hawran’).
This interview was conducted on 28 November 2018. Any parenthetical insertions are in square brackets.
|Photo from Koayia taken by the resident.|
Q: Can you firstly tell me a little about the village of Koayia in a general sense? The number of inhabitants, the main families etc.
A: Koayia has around 7000 inhabitants; renowned for agriculture: 90% [of the inhabitants] are farmers. And in it is a high rate of education. The Yarmouk Valley traverses through the village of Koayia. Services have been cut off for eight years: electricity and phone [lines], and now the services are returning gradually, after the Syrian army’s forces seized the south. The village lives for 4 years under the oppression of the terrorist Da’esh [Islamic State] organization.
Q: Yes. And who are the main clans in the locality?
A: The clans: the al-Sababiha clan, the al-Nasiriya clan, the al-Sharayida clan, the al-Hassanain clan, and there is a small portion of the Bani Khalid.
Q: There is talk that all the clans are of al-Manadhira but this is not true?
A: Yes, Koayia is generally Manadhira. And most of the clans are divided in two portions: half in Syria, half in Jordan.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the history of Koayia during the events?
A: At the end of 2012, the village was seized by the revolutionaries, and it was under the control of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. In around 2014 the brigade pledged allegiance to the Dawa’esh [Islamic State] and the Dawa’esh received the village on 8/1/2019 [sic: 2015]. The village was then besieged by the Free Army, and starvation arose until the regime’s forces entered.
Q: Yes. There was a local battalion affiliated with the Yarmouk Martyrs according to what I remember. But I forgot the name of the leader of the group in the beginning.
A: Yes, there was. His name was Muhammad Jazwan. But once there were Dawa’esh, he fled to Jordan.
Q: Yes, exactly. Did you live in the village under the Dawa’esh?
Q: How was life in those days?
A: A very difficult life.
Q: From what angles for example?
A: People abandoned their occupation and work and sat down to worship. And the Dawa’esh would say what they do not do. I man, we were forbidden to smoke while 99% of them smoke. They closed schools, and the clothing was as they stipulated. There was no women’s doctor. Government employees were forbidden from going outside the [Yarmouk] Basin.
Q: Did you yourself face problems with them?
A: Once, yes. They arrested me at evening prayer outside the mosque, and referred me to the Hisba. I was imprisoned for a day and reprimanded with 80 lashes in front of the people.
Q: By God? Why did they arrest you?
A: Prayer is forbidden except in the mosque.
Q: Ah. Do you have a document from the Hisba about your arrest and reprimand?
A: No, but I had a repentance document ID.
Q: You don’t have it [now]?
A: When the [Syrian] army entered, I was compelled to burn it. They made us undergo repentance courses, as they considered that we were apostates from God’s religion.
Q: I see. Yes. Did many of the people of Koayia join Da’esh?
A: From Koayia, around 70 people. But most of them died. And those who remained alive are currently in prison.
Q: Yes. For what reasons did they join Da’esh?
A: Firstly, enticement with salaries, and the pressures on the people caused by the Free Army.
Q: Is it true that most of the al-Ashasha clan joined Da’esh? Maybe I got the name wrong.
A: The al-Ashawasha clan.
A: A family, not a clan, affiliated with the al-Sababiha clan.
Q: Yes. Most of these people were with the Dawa’esh?
A: For the money.
Q: I see. Most of the members of Da’esh who were staying in the village were from outside the Yarmouk Basin?
A: Yes. 90% from Deraa, and 10% foreigners from outside Syria.
Q: Yes. Were there people from Koayia outside the locality and fighting with the Free Army?
A: Yes, there were.
Q: But fewer in number than the number of people who joined Da’esh?
A: Yes, much fewer.
Q: When the Syrian army entered your locality, did you remain in your house?
A: No, I left the Basin days before the battle and entered the village with the army. People left their homes and stayed in the Valley. No one remained in his house.
Q: Yes. And was there looting of homes?
A: Of course.
Q: But generally you prefer life now to life under Da’esh?
A: Of course, much more so. There is nothing like the regime.
Q: You mean the regime serves you. Is this what you mean?
A: Generally, life with a regime is better than a life of terrorism.
Q: Yes. And you prefer the regime to the Free Army?
A: The Free Army is a failure and militias, and they are not decision makers, and what became clear in the events is that they are all traitors and slaves of the dollar, except the one on whom my Lord have mercy.
Q: Yes. Regarding the youth of Koayia, have most of them in the village enlisted in the 4th [Division] and the V Corps?
A: Yes. And a portion to the regular army.
Q: No one has joined Hezbollah?
A: No, the party [Hezbollah], no.
Q: Currently all the services of water and the municipality have returned? While the national grid electricity has not yet returned?
A: Yes. The electricity needs time.
Q: Yes. I heard around a month or so [for the national grid electricity to return].
Q: Are most of the people in Koayia content now?
Q: From where does drinking water come?
A: Drinking water comes from the village of Ain Dhikr.
Q: As for the local elections, there was not great participation in them?
A: No, there were no elections. There was tazkiya.
Q: What do you mean?
A: There were ten nominees, they appointed one of them by mutual agreement.