Recent weeks have seen the Aleppo Souks Company start rehabilitation and restoration works in East Aleppo’s Souk Hanano, beginning with the removal and relocation of rubbles from the site. The restoration processes include the complete reconstruction of the market, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2023, with the market set to open its doors at the beginning of 2024.
According to the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, the souk will be designated after its restoration to support small and micro commercial and craft projects, with the aim of supporting production and the national economy, as well as providing job opportunities for people affected by the February 6 earthquake.
In 2008, the city council identified seven areas in Aleppo in which to establish popular markets. Then in 2009, the Aleppo Souks Company was established, in partnership between the Aleppo City Council and the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce. The company worked to equip and invest in plots owned by the city council in the ninth and 10th real estate districts in Aleppo city,, to establish two popular markets, among the seven predetermined locations, intended for leasing: Hanano and Dahret Awad Markets.
An official in the Aleppo City Council told The Syria Report that the Hanano Popular Market includes 409 shops covering an area of 3,646 square metres, established in 2009 on endowments properties and other properties expropriated by the city council.
The Dahret Awad market includes 184 shops, established on an area of 2,000 square metres that were private agricultural lands expropriated by the city council. Owners of the expropriated properties in the two markets were compensated with long-term commercial lease contracts in the market.
The council source added that, when construction of the two markets was completed in 2009, the shops were rented out with 20-year contracts, with the council and Chamber of Commerce sharing the collected rent payments via the Aleppo Souks Company. All the shops are rented under the old Tenancy Law No. 111 of 1952 and its amendments, which means tenants cannot be evicted as long as they continue to pay the rent. These properties are subject to compulsory extension, meaning the extension of the lease is obligatory regardless of the landlord’s wishes.
After 2011, the two markets came under opposition control and their shops closed due to the fighting. Between 2012 and 2016, when the Syrian opposition controlled the eastern districts of Aleppo, both markets were hit by the regime’s targeted aerial bombardments, leading to widespread destruction of shops, infrastructure, water, sanitation and electricity networks.
In 2016, the Aleppo Souks Company opened a new market, constructed in a similar manner near Aleppo’s branch of the Syrian Engineers Syndicate in western Aleppo, named Souk Al-Harir (“The Silk Market”). The Aleppo City Council provided some of the affected traders from Dahret Awad and Hanano with commercial shops in this new market, but there was little commercial success and business ventures there struggled. In 2019, the city council announced its intention to revitalise and reactivate the Aleppo Souks Company to alleviate the significant damages the markets in Aleppo had sustained during the war period.
The Syrian Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade had previously ratified the bylaws of Aleppo Souks Company LLC in its Decision No. 126 of 2009. According to Official Gazette Issue No. 43, part 2 of 2016, the ministry later issued Decision No. 1698 in 2016, which approved amending the company’s bylaws in accordance with the Companies Law, issued under Legislative Decree No. 29 of 2011. According to this amendment, the company’s objective is to establish popular and commercial markets, malls, exhibitions, and commercial and tourist events with multiple aims:
- Tackling the issue of the affected shop owners, street vendors, and stallholders in Aleppo.
- Providing job opportunities and commercial spaces for citizens, including the families of war “martyrs” and those with special needs.
- Maintaining the aesthetics of the Old City and conducting environmental awareness campaigns.
- Stimulating commercial and tourist activity in Aleppo.
- Establishing temporary and permanent commercial markets and malls on plots of land, whether owned by the Aleppo City Council or other entities.
Notably, according to the 2016 amendment, the founders of the Aleppo Souks Company are the Aleppo City Council and the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, both represented by their presidents. The company’s headquarters is in the Seven Seas area next to the Chamber of Industry in Aleppo city. The company’s capital is SYP 424,094,000, divided into 100 equal shares: 60 percent belong to the city council and 40 percent to the Chamber of Commerce. The company has the right to own real estate or fixed assets, while the city council provides the land for the souks and the Chamber of Commerce contributes to construction and equipment costs.
The company is managed by a four-member board of directors who are elected by the general assembly. Two members come from the city council and two from the Chamber of Commerce. The president of the Chamber of Commerce in Aleppo serves as the chair of the company’s board.
Limited information is available about the company’s management, but Mohammad Saleh Al-Mallah, the then-president of the Chamber of Commerce, managed the company until 2011. He was succeeded by Ibrahim Fatouh until August 2016. Today, the company is chaired by Amer Al-Hamwi, president of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce. According to The Syria Report’s sources, Hamwi is closely associated with Hussam Qaterji, who, despite being on the US and European sanctions list, is a member of the People’s Assembly, and the president of the international Qaterji Group. This group includes the Qaterji Real Estate Development and Investment Company.