Located in Syria’s eastern regions, the city of Deir ez-Zour suffered immensely over the past year. ISIS militants took over more than half the city in 2014, imposing a brutal siege on the districts still held by the government forces. Remaining mostly unnoticed by the world due to developments elsewhere in the country, the people of the city lived under the constant danger of being caught in the crossfire.
Things have changed significantly since the government forces broke the ISIS siege over the city, subsequently securing the whole city from the militants. The breaking of the siege allowed aid trucks to enter the city for the first time in three years, allowing the city and its people to slowly recover.
For the students and faculty of the University of Euphrates (also known as University of al-Furat), the defeat of ISIS is particularly meaningful. The university campus is located on the western outskirts of the city and borders the Deir ez-Zour Provincial Graveyard, a large swathe of land that was contested between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and ISIS for much of the siege. Fighting was a daily occurrence not just around the campus but inside as well. The Faculty of Arts, in particular, witnessed heavy fighting between the militants and the government forces. The militants also frequently shelled the campus. Many of the buildings here bear the marks of the clashes and the bombardment.
Through it all, the students here persevered, continuing to take their classes and exams despite the adverse conditions, lack of supplies, shelling and daily militant threat. For them, remaining in the city and continuing their studies was their own way of resisting the threat. In many ways, their efforts to keep up with their studies despite the devastation around them is reminiscent of their counterparts in the University of Mosul in Iraq.
With the militants no longer a direct threat to the city, reconstruction is now the task at hand. Much of Deir ez-Zour has been utterly devastated by years of war and will need intense reconstruction efforts.