“If you own a house in Aleppo and left for some reason, you have two options – either sell it or leave it to the Shabiha and the security forces to do whatever they like with it”, says Abu Abdu, an Aleppo resident who refused to be named for security reasons.
The people of Aleppo did not expect their homes to fall into the hands of the Shabiha (regime gangs) and security officers. There is little choice for those who receive threats other than to sell or accept to hand over their home.
After rumors circulated about the Shabiha taking over houses in Aleppo after the city was retaken by the regime late last year, Enab Baladi contacted local sources in various parts of the city to find out the details of this issue and its implications.
Municipality investigative committee
Abdul Karim A, 54 years old, told his experience with the Shabiha to Enab Baladi. The gangs took his house in the semi-destroyed al-Zubdiyeh neighborhood in the eastern part of the city because he could not prove ownership. He is now forced to live in a rented house once again.
Abdul Karim is a merchant in the Old City market whose shop was destroyed due to clashes in the area in mid-2012. He is unable to re-open his business there pending completion of reconstruction works in the area.
About four months ago, he returned to his home in al-Zubdiyeh after he was temporarily displaced to the New Aleppo area. Around two weeks ago, he was surprised to find three people in front of the door to his house. They said they were from a “municipal investigative committee” and told him to leave if he could not prove ownership of his house, although he told them that all the papers proving he was the owner had been stolen as a result of displacement.
Abdul Karim later found out, after returning to New Aleppo, that another family is now living in his house and that the committee that visited his house had no connection to the municipality. He hired a lawyer to follow up the case and get his home back if possible, considering that it had been “stolen by the Shabiha.”
Even western areas are affected
Some people believe that this takeover of houses by the Shabiha is focused only on the eastern parts of the city, which were taken over by the Syrian regime last year, as a form of revenge against the inhabitants of these areas. However, the phenomenon has also affected western districts and high-class neighborhoods.
Abu Abdu, 29, told Enab Baladi that his neighbor had been subjected to a similar operation in al-Furqan neighborhood, and was told to leave his house within 24 hours because he could not prove ownership.
Al Furqan is one of the most affluent neighborhoods of Aleppo, located near the university campus and the faculties of medicine, economics, literature and architecture in the city center. However, unlike Abdul Karim, Abu Abdu’s neighbor was a relative of the owner of the house, currently residing in Europe, and was not the original owner.
The neighbor’s ordeal began when a member of the Shabiha who lived in the same building reported him, knowing that he was not the owner of the house. Security agents came and asked him to prove ownership of the house or provide a registered rental contract proved through the presence of the owner or his agent or, otherwise, vacate the property within 24 hours. The neighbor was thus forced to leave. This was confirmed by Abu Hossam, a 23-year-old resident of al-Firdous district in eastern Aleppo, who refused to be named due to security reasons.
Abu Abdu wonders how a resident can prove ownership of a house he does not own or bring the owner of the house who is outside Syria. He says that the purpose of these measures is “to pressure homeowners to sell their houses to members of the Shabiha – and, behind them, those who are responsible for the Shabiha, since it is difficult for them to return to the country after the majority sought asylum abroad.”
The contract is the highest authority between the parties
To obtain more details of the legal aspect of this phenomenon and whether a house can be evacuated on the grounds that its inhabitants do not have documents proving ownership “to protect security”, Enab Baladi contacted a legal expert, the lawyer Abdul Razzaq Alloush, who explained the legal details of Rental Act No. 20, which was last amended in 2015. He explained that no house can be evacuated as long as it does not violate public law and there is no complaint from any of the parties.
The rental contract is a bilateral agreement between two parties to use the property for a specified period in exchange for a rent under agreed terms, as long as these do not violate public law. The same law sets out the conditions in which evacuation is permissible. The general principle is that the contract is the highest authority between the parties and, in the absence of a complaint from either party, the contract remains in force. Any interference by a third party is a breach of the right of ownership provided for in the Syrian Constitution.
The phenomenon of the Shabiha taking over homes in Aleppo is not uncommon. People are suffering from it, whether in the countryside or in the center of the city. Rafeh Sultan, who is known as Umm Ammar (67 years old), was forced to leave to move to Turkey with her family. She told Enab Baladi her story and how she moved to Baghdad Street near the town of Hreitan about two years before the start of the revolution in Syria. She experienced an attempted burglary on her house by individuals from a group considered to be among the opposition factions. The group’s commander, Mustafa Jabara (Abu Mahmoud), is known to be from the region. He was a developer for a housing project that she dealt with before the war.
Abu Mahmoud Jabara formed a faction that he claimed was part of the opposition and, together with what he called a “legitimate institution”, attempted to take possession of her house and place his soldiers in it on the pretext that they were “defending the area”, she said.
Consequently, Rafeh brought one of her acquaintances to stay in the house to protect it and its contents. She was forced to bring more than one family, until the house was eventually confiscated.
Zaki Dahan, a resident of the same building and professor at a Belgian university who returned to Syria before the war and left for good almost a year and a half ago told Enab Baladi that “Jabara, who took over the house, looted all he could from the area. Then, he fled to Sweden and applied for asylum with his two sons and the rest of his family there, where he has been for around a year now.”
The professor, who has Belgian nationality, told Enab Baladi that he had met Jabara and his family in Europe by chance and reported him to the Belgian authorities.
Hadeel Shaheen, 16 years old, told her and her mother’s story to Enab Baladi. They were prevented at a security checkpoint from entering Hadeel’s home in the al-Shaar neighborhood in the center of Aleppo, near the old city of al-Madina, on the grounds that they could not prove that the house and its contents belong to them. They left the town in 2015 after her brother was killed under the rubble of their home.
Hadeel returned two days later to find that the contents of the house had been stolen and that nothing remained. She described it as “stealing in broad daylight”.
The incident coincided with the return of some displaced families from the eastern opposition-held regions. Hadeel begged the checkpoint officers to allow her and her mother to return to live in their partly demolished house but they were forcibly prevented from doing so, causing the mother to have a nervous breakdown.