Jandares in Rural Afrin: The Most Severe Earthquake Damage in Opposition Territory
Jandares, located in the rural Afrin area in the northwestern Aleppo governorate countryside and controlled by the opposition-run Syrian Interim Government (SIG), was almost destroyed in the February 06 earthquake, which rendered the town an uninhabitable disaster zone. The sheer number of people who died beneath hundreds of partially and fully destroyed homes indicates serious construction issues and a lack of even minimal earthquake safety standards.
Around 800 people were killed in the town, with operations still underway to search for and remove bodies trapped beneath the rubble. Statistics released by the opposition-run Jandares Local Council indicate that 257 buildings fully collapsed, while 1,100 others have partially collapsed or now feature cracks. After operations to search for remaining survivors ended a few days after the earthquake, committees from the Civil Defense and Free Engineers Syndicate, which are active in opposition-held areas, began to study the conditions of all remaining buildings in the town. They identified which buildings were at risk of collapse and which would pose a critical danger to residents returning home.
Temporary shelters were also set up for survivors from Jandares, within the town and the city of Afrin. However, most survivors sought refuge in the camps along the Syrian-Turkish border.
According to Syria’s 2004 census, about 14,000 people lived in Jandares, most of whom, like residents of Afrin, were Kurdish. In 2012, the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) took over Jandares and most of the Afrin area. Later, in 2018, Turkish-backed National Army rebel factions took over the town in Operation Olive Branch, displacing many of the original Kurdish residents. Meanwhile, many IDPs were forcibly displaced to Jandares from other parts of Syria that had formerly been under opposition control, especially from rural Damascus, Homs, and Hama. By 2022, the town’s population reached 115,000 people, according to local council estimates.
Most buildings in Jandares were unlicensed. Historically, the town is remote and has received little government or municipal attention. Jandares’ zoning plans are old and not adhered to by any local municipality, just as structural safety standards for construction were not followed during any period of control over the town, given its remote location.
Jandares could be divided into three main parts, according to a local correspondent for The Syria Report: the part built before 2011, the part built during YPG control in 2012-2018 and, finally, the part built during the current period of opposition control. Meanwhile, the first and second parts consist of mostly informal housing surrounding the old town centre. The third part is the largest and the most damaged by the earthquake.
The informal settlements built in Jandares after 2012 were primarily constructed on private agricultural lands owned by the area’s original residents. After 2018, people newly displaced to the area bought some of those lands and built near-identical, unlicensed, multi-storey housing. Some other displaced people also seized some of the lands owned by those absent from the area and built on them similarly. In both cases, construction is done with the help of building contractors known locally as “building experts” or “concrete carpenters”. Such workers are people with construction experience but lack formal educational qualifications.
Though the earthquake’s destruction centred on informal homes built after 2018, the damage hit all parts of Jandares. A structural engineer in the area told The Syria Report that, during the various periods of control over the town, no local municipality or independent engineering committee conducted soil tests or studied soil mechanics. Such studies help evaluate and analyse the physical and engineering characteristics of the soil in the given area and its ability to bear the weight of buildings. These studies could also determine the appropriate type of building foundation to avoid the risks of collapse while considering certain factors for earthquake protection.
The engineer added that most of the building foundations in the town did not reach the rocky layer beneath the soil and that appropriate engineering methods were not followed. Multi-storey buildings, especially during the opposition control, did not take into account the additional load on the soil and did not feature appropriate foundations. Finally, the engineer added that, during no period of control of Jandares, no local authorities enforced mandatory construction permits that would take into account The Syrian Arab Code for the Design and Implementation of Reinforced Concrete Structures, which implement earthquake-resistant concrete reinforcements. Such reinforcements would have protected many buildings from collapse and limited the loss of life and property.
The Free Engineers Syndicate branch in Aleppo governorate has tried since 2021 to impose a technical entity that would monitor licensing and construction in SIG-controlled areas. However, their attempt was unsuccessful amid an uncontrolled scramble to build homes amid pressure and high demand for housing in the area.