Wael, twenty-two, was taking a picture of his friend as he held up a Russian rifle. While taking the picture, the weapon suddenly fell from the friend’s hands and went off, firing a bullet into Wael’s chest and claiming his life.
“It was a painful incident which has not left my mind,” says Omar, who did not expect that he would one day kill his close friend, who was due to be married just days later. Since that day, Omar has suffered from severe depression. His family also had to pay three million Syrian pounds to Wael’s family in compensation.
Many households in Idlib city have obtained light and medium weapons for security and protection, due to the deteriorating security situation over the past few years and have kept them in a state of permanent readiness. However, buying guns for personal protection has caused a number of painful incidents.
Fatima al-Qassem, twenty-three, had her life destroyed as a result of being hit by a bullet shot by her husband during a dispute with his relatives. The bullet from his rifle, which he fired by accident, hit Fatima in the chest and completely paralyzed her.
Recounting the story of what happened to her, Fatima says: “My husband often brandished his weapon in any confrontation he faced. I had long warned him that one day he would kill someone accidentally with this behavior, but I did not expect that I would be the first victim.” After paralyzing Fatima, he went on to divorce her to avoid paying for her treatment and care.
Stores that sell and repair various personal weapons have proliferated in opposition-controlled areas in the north. These establishments stock everything their customers could want in terms of weapons, equipment, or military clothes, operating with great ease and under no controls.
Ahmed al-Abd, forty, a weapons dealer and owner of a store, explains this phenomenon by saying: “We are in a state of war. Weapons are necessary—if not to fight the repressive regime, then for personal defense against kidnapping and theft.” He adds: “I opened this store given people’s demand for weapons at the current time. At the same time, it is a trade that creates a good profit.” With regard to the deaths and injuries caused by the proliferation of weapons, he believes that this happens accidentally and is not his responsibility. He sees it as the responsibility of those who own the weapons but are unaware of how to use them or how dangerous they are for their children and people around them.
Bilal, eighteen, is one of the young people who carries a weapon on the pretext of being in a rebel group, but also as a show of strength to his friends and the people around him. Bilal was recently arrested by security agencies after shooting at one of them, seriously wounding one member of security forces.
Abou Mohamed, thirty-eight, a resident of the region, says this is very dangerous as, “these young foolish people do not hesitate to show off their weapons, even for unknown reasons.” Abou Mohamed blamed rebel commanders and security agencies in the area for not being able to control the spread of weapons or prevent violations and the terrifying behaviors that are occurring.
Abou Mohamed asks, “Is it not enough that Syrian citizens could be killed at any moment by regime warplanes? Now they also could be killed intentionally or by accident by the many unscrupulous people carrying weapons in the area.”
Abou al-Abbas, thirty-one, a commander of a rebel group, said that they were not able to prevent citizens from carrying arms to protect themselves, and said: “We often find the bodies of victims of thefts and assassinations here and there, and therefore normal citizens are concerned with protecting themselves against any possible danger they face.” Abbas says that there are security personnel to control this type of crime, but that killings and revenge attacks take place in secret in unpopulated areas, and so everyone needs to carry arms as long as “we are in a state of war and chaos,” he says.
Many residents of the Idlib countryside have demanded an end to the proliferation of weapons among civilians out of fear of intentional or accidental injury during the many fights that break out in public places.
With rebel groups failing to act against this phenomenon, activists have launched the campaign “No to Weapons Among Civilians,” to stress the danger of arms proliferation among residents. The campaign has included posters and awareness pamphlets distributed in schools, medical centers, mosques, public parks, markets, and residential areas.
*The Arabic version of this article can be found here.