In a sign of ongoing difficulties for the Assad regime’s military, authorities are cracking down on Syria’s public sector employees to conscript them into the army.

Damascus residents and public sector employees have told Syria Direct of the enforcement of a November 21 directive to public institutions to “terminate the employment of those avoiding mandatory military service or reserve duty”.

The reigme had also called in an October 2016 statement for the terminations, but this was reportedly not widely pursued. This time teachers and other public employees are being summoned to Government departments to enforce the demand.

Three Damascus residents told Syria Direct of their dismissals. Anas Muhammad, a 38-year-old teacher at a vocational high school, said he had completed mandatory military service in 2008, but had bribed an employee at the Damascus Recruitment Division to keep his name off lists of those wanted for open-ended reserve duty.

The employee could no longer protect Muhamad after the November directive by Prime Minister Imad Khamis. The teacher was fired “for dodging reserve duty, because I had ‘abandoned my homeland in its hour of need’”. He is now in hiding to avoid conscription or arrest.

All Syrian males between the ages of 18 and 42 must serve at least 18 months of army service as a “sacred duty”. Those who are studying at college or are the only son in a family are exempt. All those who complete their mandatory service may be called up for reserve duty until they pass the maximum age.

Despite the measures, the army was soon depleted after the start of the uprising in March 2011. The Assad regime began relying on paramilitary units, foreign militias, and the National Defense Forces militia which Iran began organizing in autumn 2012.

By spring 2015, after a series of rebel victories from the northwest to the south of Syria, Bashar al-Assad was acknowledging that the army was at breaking point. However, his position and that of the military was saved by Russia’s intervention from September 2015 with thousands of airstrikes, working in conjunction with Iranian-led units, Hezbollah, and Syrian paramilitary forces on the ground.

With the Russian-Iranian operations, the regime has reclaimed areas from the rebels such as Aleppo city. However, it still faces the challenge of holding the territory, and parts of Syria such as Idlib Province in the northwest are still beyond its control.

“Imagine Living Like This”

The regime’s “flying checkpoints” try to catch those avoiding conscription, and there are mass-arrest campaigns with door-to-door checks.

Tariq al-Malek, a 35-year-old grain silo engineer, is also staying indoors after he was fired.

“Every knock on the door, I imagine that it’s the security forces,” he says. “Imagine living like this, after a decision turns your normal life upside down.”

Some men have repeatedly failed college exams or not completed a course to avoid graduation and thus eligibility for military service.

Ahmad al-Sayyed, a civil engineer, had delayedhis graduation for a year. He finally completed, hoping to apply to a master’s program; however, he was immediately fired when his eductional deferment ended.

“For young guys who stayed in Syria, there is no escaping the military,” he says.

Teacher Muhammad says he will now join the National Defense Forces militia.

“If I volunteer for the NDF, I’ll get a paycheck,” he summarizes. “It’s better than being seized at a checkpointand put through a military court.”