Despite having gained citizenship in 2011, many Syrian Kurds formerly stripped of their nationality still struggle to reclaim their properties. In addition, the restoration of their citizenship statuses was not accompanied by any measures to compensate them for their lost housing, land and property rights.
In 1962, the Syrian government of then President Nazim Al-Kudsi issued Decree No. 93 to conduct an exceptional census in the Hassakeh governorate. However, the census was conducted for just one day, giving residents no time to submit documents proving they had resided in Syria since at least 1945. Based on a proposal from the Minister of Interior, a decree was issued to form a committee to study the census results. The committee wrote up instructions for implementation for local administrative authorities and civil registration offices. In total, thousands of Kurds were stripped of their Syrian citizenship because of the census, an adaptation of the Syrian authorities’ discriminatory Arab nationalist policies against the Kurds during that time.
According to a 2018 study published in Suwar Magazine, Kurdish residents who were rendered stateless as a result of that census belonged to two main categories. The first category included those who became known as the so-called ‘foreigners of Hassakeh,’ to whom the Syrian authorities gave special civil registration certificates called “red cards.” The second category comprised maktoumin al-qid, or “non-registered” residents, who had Syrian citizen mothers and fathers considered foreigners of Hassakeh. Members of this second category were only granted an identification certificate issued by local mokhtars, or low-level government representatives.
In addition to their citizenship, their housing, land, and property rights were affected. Stateless Kurds were compelled to register their properties in the names of their relatives or acquaintances who did have citizenship to protect their properties, as Law No. 189 of 1952 banned granting many real estate rights in Syria to any non-Syrian individual. This measure caused numerous legal problems, especially property disputes between the heirs of original property rights holders and those who now held the properties in their own names.
Moreover, the delimitation and census work in Hassakeh after the 1962 census disregarded the rights of the stateless land owners, with those lands now registered as state property. The system of delimitation and census, outlined in Decree No. 186 of 1926, is meant to survey areas that have not yet been entered into the Land Registry. This process aims to start a Land Record for these lands, number the lands, and register them under the names of their owners in the Cadastral Affairs. In other words, stateless land owners whose lands were not registered yet in the Land Registry lost them to the state without compensation.
The stateless Kurdish residents were also retroactively deprived of their rights of usufruct for agricultural lands that had been distributed to farmers under Agrarian Reform Law No. 161 (issued during the period of Syrian-Egyptian unification from 1958 to 1961). As a result, they lost the right to own this land in the future, while other beneficiaries of the farmlands were able to.
Discriminatory policies against Kurds continued for the next five decades under Baath Party rule. Only a few months after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011, the Syrian President issued Decree No. 49, which granted citizenship to those registered as “foreigners of Hassakeh.” However, the decree had a clear political dimension as an attempt to appease the Kurds and draw them away from the revolutionary movement.
Syrians for Truth and Justice, a research organisation, reported that until the beginning of 2011, there were 346,242 “foreigners of Hassakeh” officially registered by the Syrian government. Most of them received Syrian citizenship after Decree No. 49 in 2011. However, Decree No. 49 did not explicitly include the maktoumin, who numbered 171,300 in 2011. Of them, 50,400 obtained Syrian citizenship after changing their legal statuses from maktoumin to foreigners of Hassakeh.
After gaining citizenship, many Kurdish citizens and their heirs could recover their properties from those who possessed them through mutual consent. However, the largest proportion of those Kurds was unable to regain their rights. However, one of the main issues with Decree No. 49 was that it did not stipulate compensating Kurdish citizens for the moral and material injustices they had faced over the five decades since 1962. The decree did not refer in any form to the housing, land and property violations that had taken place.