Rebels in exile.

Author:Starr, Stephen
Position::Current Affairs/TURKEY

THERE ARE MILLIONS OF SYRIANS THAT HAVE been either forced into refugee camps or are displaced inside the country. Protesters and activists now sit around computer screens in Beirut and Cairo, exiled from their country and the ideas they fought for during the revolt of 2011. Their case has often been documented.

But what about those that took up weapons more than two years ago to fight back against the Syrian regime? Where are they now? What became of their ideals for a democratic, free Syria?

In a district of Istanbul where activists say over 1200 Syrian families now live, nine rebels are wasting their days away. The men sleep five to a room in a grubby apartment, their prosthetic limbs lined up next to them as they sleep.

Ahmed lost his right leg from below the knee. Ibrahim the same. Anas lies almost motionless on a bed in the corner of a small bedroom where six other men gather around a small television set. He seems to be suffering most and has lost the use of both his legs. He arrived in Istanbul just weeks ago.

Anas, from the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ez Zour, is bone thin. His body has lost almost its entire muscle mass. His hip bones pierce up from underneath a bed sheet. The other ex-rebels say he won't eat because he has "problems." He smokes occasionally and asks his friends to move or empty his urine bag. But other than that, he lies on the bed, his muscles wasting away. This is his life.

The men are from Aleppo, Deir Ez Zour and Idlib--all areas of Syria that called for the end of the Assad regime in 2011 and are today war zones. Some fled Syria for Turkey after being injured on the battlefield and spent time in refugee camps inside the Turkish border. Needing further medical treatment for their injuries--mostly bullet wounds and shrapnel blasts--they travelled the 1,150km trip north to Istanbul.

These ex-rebels are occasionally helped by Syrian activists also fleeing the war at home for Istanbul. Activists skilled in speaking English and fundraising have made connections with sympathetic local Turkish medical teams as well as aid-givers in Europe and the Gulf, explain the injured men. This, they say, is their only support.

One of the rebels pulls Christian icons from a small bag under the TV. "This is from my friend," said the man, who was blinded in his right eye by shrapnel and asked not to be named for the sake of his family that remains in Syria. "He is a Christian and he is fighting Bashar Assad." All nine men say they...

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