New Draft Zoning Plan in Polarised Damascus District
Ibrahim Diab, Damascus governorate’s director of urban planning, said in a radio interview on February 2 that a “draft zoning plan” for Barzeh, including the informally built Ish Al-Warwar district, was nearly ready. He added that the governorate is also working on a draft plan for the neighbouring informal district of Tishreen.
It is not clear what exactly is meant by a “draft zoning plan”, as neither the Urban Planning Law issued by Legislative Decree No. 5 of 1982 nor its subsequent amendments mention such a document. However, Decree No. 5 of 1982 did refer to administrative units developing a preliminary concept for general zoning plans based on the land area proposed by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. It is possible that this initial document is what is meant by a “draft zoning plan”.
Barzeh was once a village considered part of the Damascus Countryside governorate but has administratively been part of Damascus governorate since the 1960s. Barzeh extends over an area of 550 hectares, and forms Damascus’s northern entrance. The area consists of Barzeh Al-Balad, Masaken Barzeh (“Barzeh housing” in Arabic) and Barzeh Musbaq Al-Sonaa, (meaning “Barzeh prefabricated homes”), as well as the informally built neighbourhoods of Ish Al-Warwar and Tishreen. Masaken Barzeh and Musabaq Al-Sonaa neighbourhoods were built in the 1970s and 1980s on lands expropriated from Barzeh. Several state institutions were built on expropriated lands there, including three hospitals—Ibn Al-Nafis Hospital, Tishreen Military Hospital, Hameesh Hospital, the teaching centre of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), and the Teaching Resources Building affiliated with the Ministry of Education.
Despite these large deductions from its lands, and expropriations by the state, the majority of Barzeh Al-Balad remains outside any zoning plans, while Tishreen and Ish Al-Warwar are overcrowded and poorly served. The two informal housing areas began appearing in the 1970s, on the outskirts of Barzeh Al-Balad.
Ish Al-Warwar is inhabited mostly by Alawi people originally from the Syrian coast, the families of low-income public sector workers and low-ranking police, army, and security personnel. Tishreen, on the other hand, is split into the majority-Alawi Al-Baath neighbourhood and the majority-Sunni Hayy Tishreen neighbourhood in which most of its residents are police personnel from Idlib and Qalamoun. The population of each of Ish Al-Warwar and Tishreen informal neighbourhoods reached over 100,000 people before 2011, according to unofficial reports.
Since 2011, there has been sharp polarisation between Barzeh Al-Balad and Hayy Tishreen on one side, and Ish Al-Warwar and Hayy Al-Baath on the other. The area saw sporadic battles and killings before regime forces and allied militias from Ish Al-Warwar and Al-Baath besieged Barzeh and Hayy Tishreen. The neighbourhoods witnessed two reconciliation agreements: the first in 2014, and the second in 2017. Barzeh Al-Balad did not witness large displacement convoys after reconciliation, as occurred elsewhere in Syria where reconciliation agreements took place. However, Hayy Tishreen, where many residents had defected from the police force to form pro-Free Syrian Army factions, saw the complete displacement of its residents. The district was destroyed after regime forces took it over. Residents of Ish Al-Warwar and Al-Baath remained in their homes, with a Russian military barracks established in the latter. Meanwhile, Masaken Barzeh and Musbaq Al-Sonaa were affected relatively little by the conflict and have a population that is socially more mixed.
The issue of drawing up a zoning plan for the area as a whole raises questions over whether residents of Ish Al-Warwar and Al-Baath would accept such a plan, as well as over demolishing the area and the difficulty of securing alternative housing for residents, amid a lack of government funding and delays in other alternative housing projects. Diab’s assertion last week that “issuing the drafting zoning plan for these [housing] violation areas does not mean immediate implementation,” is a sort of reassurance to residents, who form a base of popular support for the regime. The draft, he said, is only “to inform the citizen who wishes to build, and owners of housing blocks prepared for construction, of the conditions that the plan contains, in the event of subsequent implementation”.
Damascus governorate’s districts