The population of Idlib has more than doubled in recent years, as Syrians from across the country found safe haven. Finding the prospect of return to their homes a distant notion, many of them are looking to build new lives.
After a summer of violence, shelling and heavy airstrikes, the Greater Idlib region is once again witnessing tenuous calm. Since the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) took control of northern Hama and the city of Khan Sheikhoun, violence has gone down significantly, giving the Syrians here – both local and displaced from other areas – the time to recover. For Syrians displaced from other parts of the country in particular, Idlib remains the last safe haven.
Indeed, Idlib has welcomed or at times been forced to receive thousands of displaced Syrians from many other parts of the country. Many of those displaced came here as part of the “reconciliation agreements” that saw rebel fighters unwilling to surrender or civilians unwilling to live under the rule of Damascus. The population of the region has more than doubled even as the territories held by the Opposition factions have steadily diminished.
For many of the Syrians here, the prospects for return have become dimmer amidst the SAA’s military consolidation of former Opposition areas and political consolidation by Damascus. Instead, many of them have sought to make a new home in Idlib. Among those is Mohammed Tameem who was displaced from Homs in 2014. Since arriving in Idlib City, he has opened a coffee shop and does steady work.
While some people try to get back on their feet, others are trying to keep the flame of the initial protest movement alive. It is no secret that the successive defeats of the rebel factions have left many Opposition supporters demoralised. This is where Ibrahim al-Zayr comes in. A local of Idlib, he is involved with organising demonstrations in support of the Syrian Revolution. He emphasises that the initial protests were peaceful and motivated by the quest for rights and dignity. He denies that heis a terrorist or supports terrorists despite many media outlets linking Idlib with al-Qaeda linked groups such as Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which broadly controls the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) in the region. Organising protests here is a dangerous task, as the HTS has been known to attack activists that did not align with its goals.
In recent days, there have been rumours of renewed military offensives by the SAA. Shelling over the region, although significantly reduced, has not stopped entirely. Amidst these developments, the future of Idlib and many of the people who sought safe haven here remain uncertain.