In July 2022, the municipality of Qamishli, which is part of the majority Kurdish-controlled Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES), began work to beautify and expand the western entrance of the city, known as Amuda Road. However, property owners on both sides of the road raised grievances that the project violates their property rights.
The road expansion will follow an old detailed zoning plan issued in 1994. It will be 600 metres long and nine metres wide. Four of the nine metres will be designated for sidewalks and five for a green strip. The expansion will cut into properties 34 and 36 in the Halalia No. 408 real estate zone. Some 31 individuals, most of whom bought their shares before the 1994 zoning plan was issued, own these two properties. Since then, some of the owners have built homes or shops on their shares, which are now threatened with partial or full demolition.
One of those property owners told The Syria Report that their 100-square-metre house is located directly on the road, which will eat into 90 square metres.
The AANES established its municipalities in 2014 and seized most of the municipal buildings in the parts of northeastern Syria it controls. However, they preserved the old archives and documents, as well as engineering plans, surveys, topographical charts, and zoning plans, which they relied on to grant construction permits and conduct urban planning tasks. Meanwhile, the municipalities still operating under the Damascus government’s Ministry of Local Administration moved to new, smaller locations in Qamishli, Hassakeh, Amuda and Deirek. There, they have a small staff, and their work is limited to authenticating old documents they issued and providing some administrative data.
In 2022, AANES’ Qamishli municipality twice issued eviction notices for property owners along the road expansion area. However, the notices had no legal basis and did not include a signal for expropriating the properties under eviction. They also failed to include any compensation for the property owners. The owners rejected the eviction notices and prevented municipal workers from carrying out preparatory work on the road project.
Nevertheless, in July 2022, municipal workers began demolishing an earthen wall surrounding a house in the eviction area. But the residents gathered and confronted the workers, halting the demolition. Afterwards, affected residents submitted a collective complaint to the municipality against the project and presented their ownership deeds. In addition, they demanded financial or in-kind compensation for the damages they would incur due to the road project.
One of the residents, whose property was at risk of demolition, told The Syria Report that municipal employees in Qamishli, some of whom are part of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), responded to the protesters with rhetorical language and party slogans. The employees said that people from the majority-Kurdish Afrin region of Aleppo governorate had seen their properties seized, looted and extorted by the Turkish-backed National Army. They criticised the Qamishli residents for demanding compensation for the road expansion project.
Still, the municipality temporarily halted work on the project and tried to persuade residents to get on board. In September 2022, the municipality formed a committee to study and prepare a proposal for compensating the affected residents based on current property prices in that real estate area. The committee included employees from the municipality’s Violations Department and Topographical Department, as well as from the Real Estate Offices Union, a part of the Federation of Professions, an AANES-run organisation aiming to regulate certain labour in the market. The Federation of Professions is responsible for estimating property prices and resolving some real estate disputes.
That December, the committee concluded they must provide cash compensation to residents affected by the road project. It estimated the price per square metre of land in the area to be between USD 500 and 800. However, the Municipalities Authority for Al-Jazira region, one of the AANES institutions tasked with supervising the area’s municipalities, rejected the committee’s idea. According to a correspondent for The Syria Report, this rejection was given verbally and without any justification. The Municipalities Authority invited the affected property owners to a meeting and tried convincing them that the area adjacent to the proposed road expansion would become commercial property and its value would increase. Still, the residents rejected the offer and demanded cash payment. The authority continued with administrative procedures to approve the road expansion project and sent this by mail to the Office of Municipal Affairs at the Council of Northeastern Syria. But the concerned residents returned and proposed a new idea for in-kind compensation via subdivisions of state-owned land to be coordinated between Qamishli’s government-run and AANES-run municipalities.
More recently, on February 10, the Qamishli municipality’s executive office issued Administrative Decision No. 13, which states that the “green strip” along the road expansion zone will be converted into a setback to remain under the current residents’ ownership and that the zoning classification of the land will change from residential to commercial. The executive office considered this sufficient compensation for the property owners, who would benefit economically from what it said would be a better use of that land area. They could construct four-storey buildings per the commercial zone’s building codes. The new commercial classification will also increase the square-metre property prices. The Qamishli municipality’s technical office also affirmed that Decision No. 13 was submitted to the Municipalities Authority for Northeastern Syria, which will review it and either approve or reject it.
The Syria Report’s correspondent said that if Decision No. 13 is approved, those who objected to it will only have the option of filing a lawsuit to the judiciary to demand compensation.
Article 41 of the AANES Social Contract Charter, issued in 2016, serves as a constitution. It states that private property is safeguarded and must be fairly compensated in cases of expropriation. Meanwhile, Article 88 says to resort to Syrian law and apply it in “legislative gaps” cases. In this case, with the absence of a specific expropriation law within the AANES, Syria’s Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983 could be applicable, as it stipulates fair compensation for public benefit expropriation projects.