Until just a few years before 2011, the sales of houses, commercial shops, and agricultural lands in northeastern Syria were done via contracts that were not officially registered in the courts or Land Registry.
There were various reasons for this. One was the reliance on personal trust between people due to tribal kinship relationships. Another was a limited understanding of legal matters. There was also a desire to avoid the financial costs of property transfer. Moreover, thousands of Kurds were stripped of their Syrian nationality under the exceptional 1962 census and were deprived of most of their housing, land and property rights, leaving them unable to carry out formal real estate transactions.
As a result, many properties and lands in northeastern Syria remained communally owned and undivided. Their ownership documents were unofficial sale contracts known as “barania contracts” – in Arabic, barania means “outside”, here referring to contracts being “outside” the legal system, i.e., informal. However, the accumulation of these issues over time led to many serious problems affecting housing, land and property rights.
Today, a number of factors — urban growth and zoning expansion, population growth with internally displaced families from other governorates, and multiple, overlapping authorities in control of northeastern Syria– leave the heirs in the governorate fearing they could lose their property rights. Decree No. 49 of 2011, which finally granted Syrian nationality to Kurds previously registered as “foreigners”, has contributed to a surge in demands from this group to formalise real estate transactions that occurred during the period in which they were deprived of Syrian nationality as ownership by foreigners is very restricted.
As a result, many people are now seeking to solidify their property ownership in the official land registries. To do this, an individual (or one of their heirs) wishing to confirm their property ownership, referred to as the “first party”, must present the unofficial “barania” sales contract to the original seller (or one of their heirs) — referred to as the “second party” — under whose name the property is still registered. The first party then asks the second party to acknowledge the validity of the barani contract in court.
In many cases, the second party unofficially demands a sum colloquially termed the “taradia” (or “appeasement”) in exchange for acknowledging the sale in court. Currently, this amount depends on the property’s size and location. One heir occupying a property in Qamishli told The Syria Report that he paid around USD 3,000 to the lawyers of the original property seller’s heirs (under whose name the property is still registered) to have them acknowledge the barania sales contract’s validity in court, even though the sale occurred 40 years ago.
If the first party’s lawyer initiates a case to validate the property sale for their client in the relevant court, and official notifications are made through newspapers, and the second party or their legal representative becomes aware of this, the second party often intervenes in the lawsuit. At this point, if the first party does not pay the taradia, then the second party usually obstructs the lawsuit’s progress. The second party may then resort to prolonging the lawsuit, either by denying the barania contract’s validity or challenging its authenticity, alleging forgery.
If the first party has lost the barania sales contract, the second party might demand a larger payment, asking for witnesses from the neighbourhood who can confirm that the first party indeed occupied the property before 2011. Thus, particularly if the property in question is commercial or residential, the first party might be compelled to yield to the second party’s demands.
For example, when Zuhair, one Hassakeh resident, conducted a topographical survey on a plot intended for construction that he purchased 30 years ago, he discovered that 30 square metres of it were public property. Nonetheless, Zuhair had to pay a taradia for the entire land area before the original seller agreed to confirm the contract’s validity in court.
In contrast, AbdulRahman, another local resident, didn’t need to pay any taradia when he filed a case to validate the purchase contract of his house, which he has lived in for 40 years. This was because the seller had emigrated from Syria years ago and didn’t delegate anyone to handle his affairs. The seller did not attend the court hearing, despite being notified through official newspapers. After listening to two witnesses and conducting a local investigation, the judge decided on the matter, issuing a decision to validate the contract.