The local council in the Idlib governorate city of Armanaz has called on residents to submit requests to inspect their homes in earthquake-damaged buildings so that the council could send earthquake damage assessment committees to check on the houses. According to The Syria Report correspondent, 650 such requests were submitted.
These committees were formed in cooperation with the Engineers’ Syndicate in Idlib, the Directorate of Technical Services and the Ministry of Local Administration, part of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) run by the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham hardline Islamist group.
The destruction in Armanaz extended across the newly-built parts of the city and the old city centre, composed of stone houses dating back to various historical periods. The oldest ones contain Byzantine architectural elements.
According to the damage assessment committees and the Armanaz local council, 11 multi-storey buildings in the city have fully collapsed, containing a total of 135 apartments. Another 36 old homes also fully collapsed. Three multi-storey buildings containing 26 apartments and 60 old houses became at risk of collapse and required demolition. Finally, 26 multi-storey buildings and 60 old houses are cracked, which now require evacuation and restoration work.
The old city centre: A special case
Destruction from the February 6 quake impacted several neighbourhoods of old Armanaz: Al-Talla, Al-Jabbana, Al-Khodhor, Al-Kharajia, Al-Wadi and Al-Karasi, all of which date back to more than 200 years ago. Three buildings in Al-Jabbana collapsed fully, alongside one home in Al-Kharajia. Meanwhile, Al-Talla, composed of 162 old houses, was the most heavily damaged neighbourhood in the old city, with 35 homes that fully collapsed. Another 45 homes in the area cracked, are now uninhabitable, and cannot be restored.
The layout of these old houses helped to limit the number of victims, as most of them contained an inner courtyard or garden where residents sought refuge during the earthquake. Al-Talla neighbourhood consists of old Arab-style stone houses with wooden or earthen roofs, though some have concrete roofs. The walls are constructed with what is known as “dak” stone, each about a metre thick and composed of small- and medium-sized stones and earth.
The alleyways in the old city centre are too narrow for heavy machinery to enter and remove the rubble. The architecture of the old houses there, which consist of arches and vaults, and the construction materials pose challenges to restoring them, some of which are historically valuable.
Removing collapsed or at-risk houses is also difficult, as many homes are attached and have shared walls. In addition, most residents of these neighbourhoods have limited income and may be unable to afford restoration work or rubble removal. Engineers have warned that leaving these old houses as they are and allowing further exposure to rain and other weather conditions will only exacerbate their disrepair.
Some engineers have suggested removing several neighbourhoods altogether, which other engineers have rejected. In the meantime, many residents cling to their houses. Local activists say the old neighbourhoods contain important historical sites, including houses, mosques and vaults that date back to various eras and represent the heritage of Armanaz. Some activists have launched a call for relief efforts to help restore the old city centre.
Some engineers have also suggested implementing the old zoning plans for Armanaz from the 1980s and 1990s, which include constructing wide streets in some old neighbourhoods of the city not classified as historic and compensating residents whose homes would be in the way of those streets.
Removing the earthquake rubble
Work is ongoing to remove the earthquake rubble in Armanaz. The streets have already been cleared, and debris has been transported to a designated dumping spot. The privately owned Green Energy company, which brings electricity from Turkey and supplies it to Idlib, has repaired electrical lines and replaced broken poles. The local water unit is also restoring the water network and sealing off water flow to demolished buildings to prevent leakage.
The International Humanitarian Relief Association (IYD), a Turkish NGO, has worked alongside the Syria Civil Defense (known as the White Helmets) to remove rubble from Armanaz and neighbouring Malas and Kafr Takharim and deposit it in designated spots. The IYD also employed around 50 workers to break down the rubble and extract iron and other valuable materials such as aluminium and wood. These were then sold, and the proceeds were given to the owners of those fallen buildings.
But as for restoring the cracked buildings and homes that can be restored, there still has not been any funding. The SSG-run Ministry of Local Administration issued instructions for repairing such buildings and homes, which must be done under the supervision of the Engineers’ Syndicate. Owners of damaged houses are the ones who must bear the costs of restoration work, while for multi-storey apartment buildings, the residents all share the costs.
Civil housing initiatives
Armanaz has led the way in social and civil initiatives and has prior experience in such work. In 2017, intense regime airstrikes damaged 127 houses in the city, 70 of which were destroyed, killing 56 people. Syrian expatriates from Armanaz donated to those impacted by the destruction and helped them restore their homes. A similar effort occurred after the February 6 earthquake, with expatriates from the city contributing to residents of damaged homes and victims’ families.
Armanaz residents, in recent days, also launched the “Seed of Goodness” project to direct aid coming in from donors, especially from expatriates. The project also unifies relief efforts for a permanent housing shelter for earthquake-impacted residents, especially the city’s lowest-income families. In its first stage, the project aims to construct 20 apartments. Volunteers also hope to license a housing association to manage the construction work, which is moving quickly as land for the project has already been purchased, and building and street plans are put in place.