Explained: The Exceptional Census Impact on the Rights of Hassakeh Residents Deprived of Their Citizenship
Kurdish people in the Hassakeh governorate who were deprived of their Syrian citizenship by the exceptional census of 1962 faced violations of their housing, land, and property rights as a result. Though many of these people regained their citizenship through Decree No. 49 of 2011, the negative impacts of the census are still felt today.
What challenges did people face after the census?
After 1962, many now stateless persons’ properties remained registered under their names despite the fact that these people could not dispose of them. The right of disposal includes the ability to sell, lease, bequeath, invest in, mortgage, donate, or use property, among other things. Some people solved this issue by registering properties they bought after having lost their citizenship in the names of relatives or acquaintances who still held Syrian citizenship. But this is merely a temporary solution. When these relatives or acquaintances will eventually pass away, it is unclear if their heirs may refuse to acknowledge that the properties are not theirs.
Many people also suffered from being unable to rent or invest in commercial shops and agricultural land. They also couldn’t obtain construction or restoration permits or dig water wells. Oftentimes those stripped of their citizenship resorted to partaking in these activities in the names of their citizen relatives and acquaintances. Such barriers constituted economic and legal discrimination against people targeted by the 1962 census.
One person, who had previously lost his citizenship due to the census, told The Syria Report that he used to own a house in the village of Dudan, located in rural Qamishli. The house was recorded in his name in the Land Registry. However, after the government stripped him of his citizenship in 1962, his real estate record was frozen, meaning that he was no longer permitted to dispose of the property.
Then, in 1976, he said a high-ranking government official offered to restore his Syrian citizenship and his real estate and civil registration in exchange for SYP 35,000. But the man was unable to pay this bribe, and so didn’t receive these benefits.
Challenges after regaining citizenship
Many people who regained their Syrian citizenship after the 2011 decree were able to recover their full housing, land, and property rights. Others, however, still suffer the negative impacts of having lost their citizenship.
After recovering their citizenship, some people filed claims in order to register pro forma sales contracts between themselves and those who had previously registered their own names on certain properties on the original owners’ behalf.
However, the delimitation and census work that took place in Hassakeh governorate in 1987 ignored stateless property owners and instead registered their lands as state properties. After regaining citizenship in 2011, some of these formerly stateless residents filed appeals against the real estate judge’s old decisions to list their properties as belonging to the state. Their properties were subsequently re-entered into the Land Registry under their names. But this process did not include everyone. For some people, properties wrongfully registered as belonging to the state were later sold in public auctions, or the government built certain projects on top of them.
Meanwhile, there were other stateless people who, having been informed of the real estate judge’s delimitation and census decisions in 1987, did not object within the one-year deadline and therefore lost their right to appeal today due to the statute of limitations.
Some people who regained their citizenship have also suffered from extortion while trying to formalise their real estate rights. One previously stateless person told The Syria Report that he had purchased a property before the 2011 decree to restore citizenship. He signed a contract with the seller without actually transferring ownership within the Land Registry. After the man regained his citizenship in 2017, the seller’s lawyer nevertheless refused to acknowledge the man’s ownership of the property or to register the sales contract with the court unless he paid an additional USD 500 fee, justifying it as a payment of “satisfaction with the seller and the attorney’s fees.” The man told The Syria Report that he had already paid the full price for the property and therefore should have the right to register the contract without bearing additional fees. He added that he cannot afford the USD 500 fee and does not wish to pay out of principle because it constitutes yet another unjustified restriction on his property rights.