Readers of my report on my visit to the north Aleppo town of Azaz near the
border with Turkey will recall that authority in Azaz is divided between two
bodies: the local council and the Shari'a committee. Broadly speaking, the
local council covers the realm of public services, while the Shari'a
committee, working with the Northern Storm Brigade as the police force, is
responsible for criminal law and order, family and public morality. Both
bodies are officially 'civil' (madani) and 'independent' (mustaqill), but in
particular, the Shari'a committee's own links with what was then the Islamic
Front in Aleppo (now the Levant Front) were clear during my visit with the
presence of the rebel coalition's flags at the entrance to the building.
This post explores in greater detail the activities of the local council in
Azaz, which is located in what used to be the regime's local security centre
that also held detained opposition activists. The local council's funds
primarily come from its own members and charging of locals for some services
it provides (e.g. street cleaning).
As the Syrian civil war enters into its fifth year, with so much attention on
the Islamic State (IS) phenomenon and its system of administration of
territories it controls (for an ongoing extensive archive of IS
administrative documents, seethis post on my site), one should not forget
that life and governance in Syria exist beyond IS, jihadi groups and the
regime. Though there is a Jabhat al-Nusra presence in the town that has a
base and controls one of the mosques, it still does not exercise governing
authority and thus has no presence in Azaz's local council or Shari'a
committee. An interesting notable Jabhat al-Nusra figure in Azaz who was
reportedly assassinated in January this year was Shari'a cleric/judge Abu
Shu'aib al-Masri, a defector from the Islamic State.
The Azaz local council describes its activities thus in a statement it
released earlier this year (beginning of February 2015):
"Local Council in the town of Azaz
Clarification statement on the activities and specialties of the local
council in Azaz.
The local council undertakes to guide civil affairs through self efforts and
very sparse financial support. Through this statement we clarify the
specialties that the local council bears on its shoulder as far as possible:
1. Cleaning/Sanitation: With all its burdens and requirements including
securing fuel for the municipality's vehicles, regular maintenance for them,
and securing 'nature of the work' for the cleaning/sanitation workers- whose
number is at 40- at a sum of 250000 Syrian pounds a month.
2. Electricity: That also through fuel for the electricity network's
mechanisms and regular maintenance for them in addition to supporting the
electricity network with maintenance necessities for the town's network as
far as possible, it should be noted that we have received from the Energy
Ministry real materials and necessities for the electricity network in the
town of Azaz but they are insufficient on account of the accumulation of
malfunctions in the network for 4 years and we have undertaken to restore the
functioning of the al-Asyana network whose malfunctioning has continued for
more than 3 years.
3. Education: We have begun our project on the education situation in a
self-effort with the help of some of the generous families and guarantee of
male and female teachers recruited from all specialties and the number of
schools' students in all study stages has reached 6500. Let it be known that
the schools in the town of Azaz have been interrupted in functioning since
the beginning of the revolution but Chemonics and the Syrian Promise movement
have moved forward in supporting us in restoring suitable furniture for eight
schools including doors, windows, fibres, heaters, and fuel to heat the
schools over the course of the winter season and work is now proceeding
excellently in the town.
4. Health expenditure: The local council has begun its work in maintaining
some of the drainage points with very simple capabilities and we are
continuing this project.
5. Water: The local council has undertaken to prepare uncovered wells and the
water main in complete form and to draw water from the Midanki Dam so we are
continuing to work and by all available means to prepare this project and
complete it in the nearest time possible to provide water for all the town of
6. Aid: We are now working to restructure the aid staff with areas directors
and organizing the distribution operation. As for the operation to distribute
milk and diapers, the local council is undertaking to verify children's
vaccination cards on account of the widespread existence of fake vaccination
cards and we have undertaken to publish the names of all the beneficiaries
for the distribution of milk and diapers on our page and we have asked
families to help us identify the names of those not entitled.
7. As for the issue of restoring roads, the engineering office is responsible
for this matter in the town in cooperation with the local council and the
military office and we will undertake this project at the beginning of the
spring because of the lack of possibility at the current time with the rain.
8. As for the bakery (reserve/relief), we undertake to secure aid-provided
flour for the bakery through aid of some of the organizations for us and as
for its functional management we have nothing to do with that at all.
The local council is ready to be held accountable and open up all to its
financial reports and our door is open to any citizen who wants to hold us
accountable and hold us to an inquiry by legal means and principles."
To give some context to the various points statement, sanitation operations
for Azaz are reportedly being implemented in cooperation with the World
Vision humanitarian organization. 'Nature of the work' (tabi'atu l-'amal)
refers to compensation for unusual work undertaken to complete one's job. In
another post, expenses are given as follows for various aspects of sanitation
in January 2015:
Municipality vehicles' fuel: 356275 Syrian pounds.
Vehicles' maintenance: 141600 Syrian pounds.
Vehicles' frames: 60200 Syrian pounds.
Oils for the vehicles' engines: 17590 Syrian pounds.
'Nature of the work' for workers: 220000 Syrian pounds.
Sanitation workers' salaries: 78000 Syrian pounds.
Rubbish collection in Azaz by the local council. Accumulation of piles of
rubbish in the open in the town is a notable problem.
Besides World Vision, the local council has also received assistance from GIZ,
a German international development organization, claiming to receive 350
As regards electricity, al-Asyana area mentioned here is a part of Azaz that
has suffered from a lack of electricity over long periods. In December 2014,
the local council claimed to fix technical problems with the network for the
area, including by extension of new cables, but the February statement
suggests malfunctioning is still an issue. More generally, problems with
electricity will have begun since the outbreak of unrest in Azaz in 2011 and
become more acute since July 2012 when the town fell out of regime control.
Electricity has since that time come almost wholly from private generators.
The "Energy Ministry" that has provided the local council with some aid is
that of the opposition-in-exile's declared Syrian "interim government," which
has been hoping to supply electricity as a public service to rebel-held areas
viaconnection with Turkey's electricity grid using the town of Azaz as the
main link. That said, there has been no sign of real progress on these plans
The education system is one of the areas in which the Assad regime maintains
leverage in Azaz as public school teachers still receive salaries from the
regime, which they must collect from regime-held areas of Aleppo province.
The system is also disliked by the Jabhat al-Nusra presence in Azaz, which
set up its alternative in the Mus'ab ibn Umair mosque it controls in the
town. The local council has mostly advertised maintenance and repair of
school furniture and equipment as well as provision of appropriate materials
for heating in the winter. For example, this statement from mid-February
"Local Council in Azaz
Intended recipient: Syrian Promise Movement
Thanks to the Syrian Promise Movement
The Syrian Promise Movement has provided a financial sum of $500 as simple
aid (for month of February) from the movement to meet the guarantee of fuel
for three primary schools in the town- the well-being of the primary schools
have precedence since they have a large number of children whose bodies
cannot bear the cold of winter.
Head of the Local Council in Azaz
Initiative by Local Council in Azaz working with the Islamic Relief to
provide winter clothing for children.
On the plans to secure water, it is of interest to note the local council's
mention of the Midanki Dam, which is located in the Kurdish PYD autonomous
canton of Afrin. Northern Storm and the PYD were once enemies, and tensions
between the two sides meant that water, which before the civil war would come
from the Midanki pumping station two days a week, was subsequently cut off.
However, there was some limited cooperation of convenience in the fight to
drive ISIS out of ISIS' declared 'Emirate of Azaz' once wider infighting
broke out between the rebels and ISIS in January 2014. Since Northern Storm
returned to Azaz officially under the authority of Liwa al-Tawhid and the
Islamic Front in Aleppo (now the Levant Front), there has been official
neutrality despite suspicion that reinforcements come from Afrin to the
regime-held Shi'a villages of Nubl and Zahara.
Securing water from Afrin would therefore require greater outreach to the PYD,
which may be one of the underlying reasons behind the agreementpublicly
announced in February between the PYD's military wing the YPG and the Levant
Front, stipulating a united judicial system, establishing joint Shari'a and
da'wah offices in Aleppo and Afrin, and working together to crack down on
crime. Of course, Jabhat al-Nusra is opposed to any such arrangements with
the PYD/YPG, which it considers to be apostate entities.
Provision of aid and vaccinations has also been advertised by the local
council in Azaz. For example, in January, the local council's aid office
claimed to distribute 3500 packs of milk to locals, while also noting the
problem of those not needing the milk but receiving distributions to sell for
profit. On 24 February, a notification was put up for a polio vaccine
campaign for children in Azaz running from 28 February to 5 March. This
vaccine campaign was also advertised by the Azaz Media Centre that exists in
a single room on the second floor of what was once a café, now otherwise
Outside the Azaz Media Centre: in solidarity with the people of Raqqa living
under Islamic State rule. The image alludes to 'Raqqa is Being Slaughtered
Perhaps more notable is the omission by the local council of mention of
hospital services in Azaz, likely because the local council has no influence
over such services that are private in nature. This similarly applies to the
mention of only one bakery for which the local council provides flour, for it
is public in nature whereas the other three bakeries in Azaz are privately
In sum, it can be seen how the council wishes to present itself as an
accountable body caring for local needs. Some sense of order has also been
brought to the town particularly as Northern Storm is no longer an
independent group but must answer to a higher rebel coalition authority (the
Levant Front) if trouble arises. The opposition-in-exile, despite its
unpopularity with locals on the ground in Azaz and more widely in Syria,
maintains limited indirect influence in Azaz through its "interim government"
provision of some aid.
Yet by the local council's own admission, resources are still highly
strained, undoubtedly further pressured by the internal refugee influx into
Azaz and the wider district. In comparison with direct Islamic State
administration that spans significant contiguous territory and has greater
financial revenues, the Azaz local council's administrative system is much
less complex and also suffers from the inherent problem of localization of