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Deir Ezzor : The forgotten Syrian province

 

Deir Ezzor city is historically regarded as one of the oldest cities and cradle of umpteen civilizations that once existed in the distant past across the banks of the Euphrates River, one of the biggest rivers in the world. Among the past civilizations whose remains are still apparent in the province are historical landmarks such as Duwar Orbus ( known today as Tel al-Salhiya), which lies in the east of Deir Ezzor city and it is 100 km far from the right bank of the river. The city of Mari is also one of the oldest cities in human history and it dates back to an ancient civilization that once emerged near the city of Albu Kamal, east Deir Ezzor.

 

The distant eastern province

 

Deir Ezzor is the fourteen province in the Syrian Arab Republic, situated in the eastern region of the country; and it is 500 km far from the capital Damascus. It extends on a geographic area that is estimated at 33060 km square. It is located between all the provinces of Homs, Hasakah, Raqqa, and bordered to the east by the Iraqi border. There are many cities within the province; among them are Albu Kamal, Muhassan, Al-Quriya, Hajin, Al-Shaheel, Al-Bassira and many other small towns and villages.

 

The climate of the province is a desert climate; and it is characterized by its dryness and high temperature in summer; coldness in winter with small amount of rain. Summer in the province is known by its dust storms, called locally “Ajaj”. Deir Ezzor is also characterized by the high fertility of its soil, mainly on the banks of the Euphrates River, which divides the province into two parts, the northern part which is called Al-Jazeera, and the southern part which is called Al-Shamiya.

 

Concerning the inhabitants of the province. Deir Ezzor is marked by its tribal demographic structure. Several tribes; notably Akidat and Baggara tribes, inhabit it. Its population, according to the latest statistics, has reached around one million and half.

 

The economy in the province is contingent on agriculture and herding. The most important crops grown by the people of the province are wheat, cotton, sugar beet and yellow corn. With respects to the livestock, they possess cattle, sheep and poultry, which are a main source of income for many civilians.

 

In the eighties, when oil was discovered in Deir Ezzor, it had no positive impact on civilians in the province who thought and  expected a strong economic boost and growth following the discovery of oil . The regime brought and employed workers and employees from other provinces in a time where the cadres of the province, including workers and engineers, were unemployed. It  preferred oil workers and engineers from other provinces , mainly from the Syrian Coast, over the cadres of Deir Ezzor, the thing that caused and forced many of them to leave either Syria for the Gulf countries or to move to other provinces to find a job.

 

 

Deir Ezzor’s civilians were marginalized and disregarded along with their province, which witnessed no industrial or commercial projects; and as a result, many of them volunteered and joined the army to secure a living. Many of them have lived in other provinces, mainly Damascus, Aleppo and others.

 

 

 

In modern history, during the Ottoman era, Deir Ezzor was among the first cities that resisted the French occupation and succeeded in becoming independent from it. The province witnessed the rise of several revolutions against the French, such as the Revolution of Al-Anabiza, which was led by the hero Hamoud al-Hamadi. There was also the Revolution of Al-Bukhabour, during which 13 French warplanes stationed at Deir Ezzor airport were burned and destroyed. The province offered huge sacrifices that included the fall of many martyrs for the sake of the liberation from the French colonizers.

 

Some notable figures of Deir Ezzor

 

Ramadan Basha al-Shalash, one of the military commander in Syria, whom the British leader, Winston Churchill, mentioned his name in one of his statements that says “Great Britain has two enemies in the East, Lenin in the north, and Ramadan Shalash in eastern Syria”. The poet Mohamed al-Furati, and the scholar called Mohamed Said al-Orafi as well as the left-wing thinker, Yassin al-Hafed. Jalal al-Sayed, a politician, and Sheikh Hamoud Khazam, who was known locally as “al-Arifa”, which is a term used for a person in charge of settling disputes based on traditions, tribal norms and Islamic laws.

 

In the sixteenths, People of Deir Ezzor occupied several important positions in both the government and the army. Before the coup, which was staged by Hafed Assad, the prime minister of Syria was Dr. Youssef al-Zain from Deir Ezzor.

 

During the rule of al-Assad, Deir Ezzor province faced a severe exclusion, as many civilians in the province were imprisoned and tortured for standing against his position as a new leader after the coup. Hafed al-Assad did not pay a visit to the province of Deir Ezor during his entire time of staying in power, which lasted 30 years. The province that was of key importance when it comes to agriculture , food and oil wealth , remained overlooked and ignored, with its infrastructure remaining obsolete and outdated, in addition to the total absence of any big industrial factories, which would have contributed to an economic renaissance in the province.

 

Throughout his time in power, no major facilities were built in the province, with the exception of a few small centers. There was no construction of educational institutions. There was only one single college that existed in the province which was the Faculty of Agriculture in addition to few other institutes. The people of Deir Ezzor were rarely accepted when it came to applications for sophisticated and decent jobs. Their applications to join the Military Faculty to become officers in the army were also limited to a certain degree.

 

 

Poverty that civilians in Deir Ezzor faced for a long time made it impossible for them to carry on their study. A few of them had to study in some institutes and the Faculty of Agriculture because of not being able to afford all the costs of their study. Despite the fact that they had obtained high degree, they were still denied access to faculties of medicines and enegineering. They were also in a position where they could not afford all the means of transport and rent. The traditions of the people in the province burdened and made it difficult for females to study outside their province as well.

 

Due to the lack of numerous faculties in the province, many of the people of Deir Ezzor did not have the opportunity and right to be employed in civil jobs.

 

This exclusion and marginalization was practiced on purpose by the regime, it was a systematic program meant to persecute the people of the province. Deir Ezzor was like an exile for those despised and detested by the regime, which was obvious even on the regime-run media.

 

Being excluded and marginalized in the province was one of the key reasons Deir Ezzor’s civilians rebelled against the regime since early days of the Syrian Revolution. Thousands of civilians marched against the tyrannical regime, many of whom fell martyrs after the regime took revenge from them by heavily bombarding everything that moved in Deir Ezzor, including trees and stones.

 

The problem of exclusion and marginalization remained even during the rule of some rebels-run institutions, although there were representatives of the province in the National Council and the Syrian Coalition. The exclusion was manifested in rebels-run media which ignored and rarely mentioned the name of the province, even its martyrs and those wounded.

This marginalization has pushed many activists from Deir Ezzor to demand the right to put the spotlight on what is taking place in the province, including the suffering of its people under a siege imposed by both Assad and Daesh. It is worth to mention that the province fought against Daesh for at least seven months with no support or assistance from any military factions from other provinces, while, in contrary, many Deir Ezzor’s men have joined the battles outside the province because of being fully aware that Syria is one and that the revolution cannot be divided.