The two Idlib Shi'i villages of al-Fu'a and Kafariya were completely evacuated of their original inhabitants in summer 2018 in significant part as a result of negotiations involving Russia, Iran and Turkey. The former two are the Syrian government's main allies, while Turkey is the main remaining backer of the insurgency. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)- the jihadist group that is the main insurgent authority in the area surrounding al-Fu'a and Kafariya- clearly consented to the evacuation of the two villages, which had been besieged since 2015.
However, al-Fu'a and Kafariya have not simply been left alone as ghost towns following the evacuations. Instead, the villages have undergone a demographic transformation as they have been resettled, primarily by displaced people from other parts of Syria. For its part, HTS has worked to remove traces of the villages' Shi'i identity.
To learn more about the situation in al-Fu'a in particular, I interviewed a person from Deraa who currently resides in al-Fu'a. He came to the Idlib area as he did not wish to remain in Deraa as the Syrian government retook the whole southern region in summer 2018. This interview was conducted on 29 July 2019. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: What is the number of inhabitants currently? And from which areas are the inhabitants?
A: The number of inhabitants exceeds 15,000. The inhabitants are mixed: from Ghouta, from Deraa, from Homs. And there are people from the countrysides of Hama.
Q:Are there also muhajireen [foreigners]?
A: Muhajireen from outside Syria you mean.
A: No, here there are none. If there are, one or two families only.
Q: I see. And all the people in the village are renting houses and apartments?
A: No, there are people renting and the majority don't pay. A small portion pays rent and the rest [reside] for free.
Q: So the Hay'a [HTS] settled them for free?
Q: Do you for example pay rent?
A: I do not. I fixed the house at my own expense. It was not ready.
Q: I see. How is life in al-Fu'a generally?
A: Acceptable. But the aid organizations do not enter and there are no services: the water is purchased.
Q: Why the aid organizations don't enter?
A: They say [these are] usurped areas.
Q: Right. And the water is not available?
A: Bought only.
Q: I see. So you have to buy from tankers.
Q: As for electricity from where it comes?
A: A generator you subscribe by amperes.
Q: So you have to pay a monthly subscription to the local council.
A: To the generator owner. Private generators the council has nothing to do with: private sector.
Q: Right. What are the most important projects that the local council has undertaken recently?
A: It is trying to get services from the aid organizations.
Q: Yes, but the aid organizations generally are afraid to deal with it?
Q: Are there schools in the village for children?
A: Yes, there are.
A: Yes, operational.
Q: But affiliated with the regime or Salvation Government?
A: No, the Salvation Government.
Q: Right. And now there are no traces of the prior Shi'i presence? I mean or example Husseiniyas [Shi'i congregation places] and this thing.
A: The Husseiniya is present and has become a masjid [i.e. Sunni mosque], praise be to God.
Q: Generally what are the benefits of living in al-Fu'a in comparison with the other villages?
A: The benefit: renting apartments is expensive. Here there is no paying of rent. But despite the lack of availability of services, it is still less of a burden than renting apartments.
Q: And what are the challenges from the realm of the humanitarian situation and daily life?
A: Fear of aircraft as these are areas they considered to be inhabited by terrorists.