A Turkish-Russian agreement last month forestalled a potentially disastrous Syrian military attack on the country’s northwestern Idlib governorate, the Syrian opposition’s last major stronghold. Yet the agreement also required Turkey to “remove” the Syrian jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other hardliners from much of the northwest, a possible first step toward separating them from the rest of the opposition. So far, results are reportedly mixed. Whether the group continues to comply, and how it resolves its own dual transnational-local identity, could be a matter of life or death for the northwest’s nearly three million residents.
A recent video release from Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, helps show how it has integrated into Syria’s opposition, and how it translates its ideological worldview into the language of Syria’s war. The Sept. 17 video features a roundtable discussion between three of the group’s top leaders and members of its advisory Shari’a Council as they expound on what the Syrian government calls “reconciliation” — the negotiated surrender of opposition-held areas. As they do so, they also engage in a seemingly unscripted discussion of politics, war, and religious law. And they repeatedly touch on language, and how the vocabulary of Syria’s war corresponds to their particular religious-jurisprudential lexicon.
Sam Heller, Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups.
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