Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxy militias in Syria have recently changed the names of streets in Deir Ezzor province as part of a broader effort to expand and consolidate Iran's influence, activists said.
They are changing the names of streets to commemorate figures that do not align with the culture or history of local residents, they said, adding that this is an attempt to change the cultural characteristics of the eastern Syria region.
Iran-aligned militias are deployed in the eastern regions, extending south of the Euphrates river from rural al-Raqa to Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province.
The Deir Ezzor region is undergoing "systematic demographic change" by IRGC-affiliated militias, media activist Jamil al-Abed told Al-Mashareq.
To this end, changing the names of streets is one of the main tools wielded by the militias, he said, noting that they have renamed some streets in the city of al-Mayadeen, eastern rural Deir Ezzor, to reflect sectarian and Iranian connotations in both Arabic and Farsi.
These include the Anas Bin Malik street, which is now named Imam Khomeini street; al-Jaish street, now renamed al-Imam al-Abbas street; and Abu Ghuroub street which was renamed Martyr Qassem Soleimani street and is adorned with a large portrait of Soleimani.
Former IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US attack at Baghdad airport in January.
Al-Abed added that Saqiyat al-Rai street also was changed to Fatemiyoun street.
The Fatemiyoun Brigade is an IRGC militia comprised of Afghan mercenaries fighting in Syria in support of the regime.
According to al-Abed, Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun (IRGC-backed Pakistani militia) also changed the names of the neighbourhoods they control to names of militia fighters killed in battle.
Weak governance in IRGC areas
"These changes are being made at a time when basic services are virtually non-existent, infrastructure is lacking and the rubble from buildings destroyed by the war with ISIS has yet to be removed," al-Abed said.
Meanwhile, the situation in other areas of Deir Ezzor under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and international coalition forces shows a stark difference with IRGC-controlled areas, he said.
The coalition, in co-operation with the Kurdish Autonomous Administration, has been providing vital support to the service sector in Deir Ezzor, such as the rehabilitation of several hospitals in the region, including the Hajin, Shaitat and Abu Hamam hospitals.
In contrast, IRGC-backed militias have taken over hospitals, such as al-Shifa Hospital, and reserved them for their own use, thereby preventing civilians from receiving treatment.
This is driving many families to move in with relatives living in SDF-controlled areas, al-Abed said.
Syrian journalist Muhammad al-Abdullah said the Syrian regime has not objected to the renaming of streets by Iran-backed militias, indicating its "tacit approval" of these moves.
Iran's main goal "is to normalise the use of the new names among the populace in an attempt to change the culture of the region", he said.
"This is accompanied by a broad campaign to recruit youth into the ranks of the militias and enroll them in intensive religious courses," he added.
He warned that if this situation persists over a long period of time, "the consequences will be disastrous for the region's social fabric".
Albu Kamal media activist Ayham al-Ali told Al-Mashareq that dissatisfaction and rejection prevail among the people of Deir Ezzor over Iran-backed militias' attempts to effect demographic change.
Their violations go beyond changing the names of streets and have reached the point of changing the names of mosques and turning them into hussainiyat and raising sectarian flags throughout the region.
In 2019, the IRGC converted one of Albu Kamal's most prominent mosques into a husseiniya.
Residents were startled to see the husseiniya open in the city's al-Jamiyat district, in place of Abdel Rahman bin Awf mosque, al-Abed said at the time.
"The militias have also taken control of many neighbourhoods, pushed their residents out and settled in their homes," said al-Ali.
Syrian regime forces colluded with the IRGC in this regard after giving residents a narrow window to return to their homes or otherwise face having them confiscated, he said.