The Syrian government allowed residents to return to the town of Heteitat Al-Turkman in East Ghouta in 2018, but much of the town, which sits along the airport highway, is still considered a closed security zone. In addition, many of the town’s properties have been confiscated from their owners.
Heteitat Al-Turkman is part of the Mleeha district, and since 1970 has been home to an Air Defence garrison tasked with protecting the Damascus International Airport. Because of the town’s proximity to Damascus’ Conference Hall Palace and Exhibition Centre, and its numerous orchards, it was a tourist area before the war. The town was home to many restaurants and parks, including the Damascus Gate restaurant that in 2008 entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest restaurant in the world.
Air Force Intelligence currently occupies the entirety of Heteitat Al-Turkman’s Al-Maydaniyeh residential neighbourhood–the entrance to the town from the airport roadside–as a security zone, preventing all property owners from entering to visit or live in their homes. The area is close to two checkpoints belonging to Air Force Intelligence’s Fifth Brigade –two of the largest checkpoints along the airport highway.
In recent months, owners of houses and other properties in the Maydaniyeh neighbourhood have submitted requests to the town’s Security Committee to allow them to return to their homes. None have yet been granted permission, despite the committee promising it would study the requests. The Heteitat Al-Turkman Security Committee was formed in 2018 and is composed of the secretary of the Baath party division, the mukhtar (a village chief), the mayor and Air Force Intelligence representatives.
Until 2011, the town was inhabited by around 7,500 people, according to local estimates. It remained empty from 2013 to 2018, after Air Force Intelligence took control. About 2,500 people later returned to Heteitat Al-Turkman, while 1,500 were forcibly displaced to northern Syria in 2018 as part of the bus convoys that left East Ghouta upon regime recapture of the formerly opposition-held pocket.
The town’s security committee is responsible for preparing lists of properties owned by opposition sympathisers and seizing them. Residents have nicknamed it the “wax committee” due to the red wax it uses to seal the homes of opposition sympathisers. In all these cases, the use of red wax is merely symbolic, as all these properties are looted and no longer have doors. Instead, the word “sealed” is written across their walls.
There are various types of properties that have been seized in Heteitat Al-Turkman. Those seized by Air Force Intelligence have been written over with the word “Confiscated” or, sometimes “Confiscated. Air Force Intelligence”. Other properties have been seized by the municipality under what it said are “official confiscation decrees”. The municipality sealed those properties and wrote on their exterior walls: “Sealed. Municipality of Heteitat Al-Turkman”. In none of these cases did Air Force intelligence or the municipality provide any documentation justifying the property seizures or why it referred to them as confiscations. Confiscation of private property is permissible only by judicial order, and includes forcibly removing assets or property from an owner and adding it to state property without compensation.
There has also been a new form of property seizures added to the list of seizures carried out by Air Force Intelligence and the municipality. In 2020, the Terrorism Court sentenced hundreds of young men from the town to death in absentia, though they had already been killed before 2018 while fighting alongside the opposition in East Ghouta. The civil registry refused to grant their families death certificates, without explanation. Most recently, the families were informed by the mukhtar and Baath party members that property owned by the men who had been given death sentences would be confiscated.
Syrian soldiers in Heteitat Al-Turkman
Source: RT Arabic