Opposition authorities established their Department of Cadastral Affairs in 2018 in the Afrin region of the Aleppo governorate’s northern countryside. The legal office of the opposition-run Afrin Local Council supervises the Department of Cadastral Affairs, while the more than 30 department employees receive their salaries from the Turkish government, as do employees of other local councils in opposition-held rural Aleppo.
Historically, Afrin, which hosts a majority Kurdish population, never had its own Department of Cadastral Affairs, unlike other areas of the Aleppo governorate. Instead, real estate registries in Afrin were performed in the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs in Aleppo city. In 2009, the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs opened a subsidiary office in Afrin, though the office’s role was limited to merely documenting transactions and contracts and sending them to the Aleppo headquarters.
The lack of any Department of Cadastral Affairs in Afrin caused delays in the delimitation and census process for properties there, which also delayed the process of zoning large parcels of land in Afrin. In addition, a security circular from the 1970s historically prevented owners of lands within 15 kilometres of the border from disposing of their properties without prior security approval. Furthermore, the delays of subdividing lands in the area has also meant that large portions of real estate remain classified as jointly-owned common properties. All of this has pushed residents of Afrin to conduct real estate transactions informally, without documenting them in the Land Registry.
In 2012-2018, the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) took control of Afrin, which subsequently came under the authority of the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES). This authority established a real estate registry division, subdivided many common properties to owners, organised new real estate transactions, and documented old transactions.
However, during that same period, Afrin witnessed rapid urban expansion, most of which was building violations and the influx of displaced Syrians from elsewhere in the country. The AANES-run real estate registry division recorded around 20,000 new apartment sales in Afrin during this period, though the sales went unregistered in the regime-run Directorate of Cadastral Affairs in Aleppo city. In effect, there is no formal documentation of those 20,000 apartment sales except through sales contracts approved by the AANES courts.
In 2018, when Turkish-backed opposition factions seized the Afrin region during Operation Olive Branch, many local residents, the majority of whom were Kurdish, were displaced. The military operation was accompanied by a slew of housing, land, and property rights violations. Meanwhile, the over 100,000 people who had been forcibly displaced from their homes in rural Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo arrived in Afrin; many took up residence in homes belonging to displaced Kurds.
Since then, the opposition in Afrin has struggled to address real estate issues for three main reasons. First, the pre-2011 real estate database for Afrin is available only at the regime-run Directorate of Cadastral Affairs in Aleppo city. Second, the AANES left behind many real estate documents, though most of them are for building violations. Third, Afrin witnessed rapid urban expansion, most of it containing building violations, after the opposition took control, and particularly since 2021.
In 2019, Afrin’s opposition-run Department of Cadastral Affairs established a surveying office, which in turn began to build a database of real estate properties, owners, and occupants. The office conducted a survey of Afrin city and is now completing another survey of the surrounding countryside. As part of the process, the office is assigning a number to each street and property, with the aim of tallying local properties and documenting occupants and their addresses.