Hassan is trying to protect his family’s farmland after it was recently listed by the Directorate of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform in Aleppo governorate among properties offered for investment in public auctions. According to the Directorate, these lands in the southwest countryside of Aleppo are vacant and belong to people they describe as “absentees,” which include displaced persons and those forcibly expelled to opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria.
Since 2020, regime forces have established their military control over the region adjacent to the Damascus-Aleppo road M-5 in the southwest countryside of Aleppo, extending to the southern countryside of Idlib.
Local sources told The Syria Report that the lands being offered for investment in the southwest Aleppo countryside are located near the international M-5 highway, and administratively belong to villages and towns such as Kafr Aleppo, Al-Kaseebiya, Al-Bawabiya, Jeb Kas, and Arada. The region is known for rainfed grain crops such as wheat, barley, and lentils, and irrigated farming from wells, such as cotton and vegetables.
The Directorate of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform, located in the Jamiliya district of Aleppo city, published a list earlier this month of “absentee”-owned lands in the southwest countryside of Aleppo, in preparation for offering them for investment in public auctions. This list included Hassan’s family land. The Syria Report’s sources confirmed that all lands were listed for the upcoming public auctions, even though many of their owners are not absent but live in regime-controlled areas. Notably, some villages, like Al-Bawabiya and Al-Kaseebiya, are still considered closed military zones, and regime forces do not allow the displaced to return.
Hassan, who lives in regime-controlled Aleppo city, had planted the land last season through intermediaries from the pro-regime National Defence Militia, which controls parts of the southern countryside of Aleppo. Hassan was recently surprised to find his family’s six-hectare plot of land on the auction list.
The surprise discovery came after the death of Hassan’s father last year. The land is still listed under his father’s name in the Land Registry, which means it is currently communally owned amongst the heirs and has not yet been subdivided. To subdivide the property – that is, to divide it amongst the heirs, a legal inventory of inheritance needs to be carried out, determining each heir’s share of the land. Hassan and his siblings visited the Directorate of Agriculture, where an employee asked them to produce an inheritance inventory document. This would allow them to invest in the land without entering the auction, as they are direct relatives of the deceased.
The inheritance inventory document pertains to those whose death is confirmed either by factual proof or by legal judgment, according to the Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953 and its executive instructions. It is a legal document intended to identify the deceased’s heirs who are entitled to inherit and their degree of kinship to the deceased.
The Council of Ministers had permitted, in its Decision No. 12011 issued in October 2022, for the first degree family members to invest in their vacant relatives’ lands intended for agricultural investment without entering public auctions. The council, relying on Ministry of Agriculture Letter No. 291 issued in September 2022, stipulated that immediate relatives – being the father, mother, daughter, and son – must announce the properties belonging to their relatives that they wish to invest in, 15 days prior to the date of the public auctions.
Indeed, the Directorate of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform in Aleppo announced several days ago the times and dates that they will hold special relative auctions for the lands being offered for investment in the southwest Aleppo countryside, according to local sources. The Directorate gave a deadline of October 5, 2023 for those interested in investing in their relatives’ lands to provide the necessary documents to enter the special auctions.
Huda, another area resident, is coping with a problem similar to Hassan’s. She is working to prevent the land of her father-in-law, that is, the father of her ailing husband, from undergoing public auction.
Huda went in early September to the Directorate of Agriculture in Aleppo to obtain a “No Objection” document to remove the land from the list being offered for investment in the southwest Aleppo countryside. The Directorate grants this approval if the landowner’s name is not listed in the wanted lists circulated by the security agencies to the directorates and institutions. This document allows the landowner to cultivate or lease the land, and its purpose is to account for the properties of those actually absent from the area, or those displaced outside the regime-controlled areas.
Huda’s father-in-law also resides in regime-controlled areas, but he is ill and unable to tend to the Directorate of Agriculture in person. During her visit to the Directorate of Agriculture, Huda had a property registration statement confirming her father-in-law’s ownership of the two-and-a-half hectare plot of land, as well as a copy of his ID. The employee at the Directorate refused to provide Huda with the “No Objection” document, insisting that the landowner must be present in person, carrying proof of his land ownership and identification. After much debate, the employee agreed that one of the landowner’s children or his wife could attend on their behalf.