Damascus’ Belt of “Unauthorized Buildings” Awaits the Imposition of New Organizational Schemes
At a time, where the people of the Damascene neighborhoods which witnessed battles are prevented from going back to their homes, the Syrian official media outlets are reporting a project, according to which studies are conducted about organizational schemes, covering the “unauthorized residential buildings,” in Qaboun, Tishreen neighborhood, Barzeh, al-Wurood neighborhood, “Mezzeh 86” and other areas.
Though all these areas have been classified as “unauthorized,” according to the Executive Office for Planning and Budgeting of Damascus governorate, the war effects are the common ground between all of them.
It is right that the definition of unauthorized buildings is clear in terms of content, to an extent that there is no doubt about it, but referring to whole areas as unauthorized, demands that the matter be studied and approached in detail.
New Schemes for “Unauthorized Residential Areas”
The Damascus Provincial Department has started conducting studies of organizational schemes for the “unauthorized residential” areas, ones that cover Jubar, Barzeh, Qaboun, Tadamon, Daf al-Shouk and al-Zuhoor neighborhoods, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency “SANA” on October 17, as quoting Faisal al-Surour, a member of the Executive Office for Planning and Budgeting.
Prior to the declaration of these schemes’ studies, the Council of Ministers in early September has charged the Ministry of Public Works of setting up organizational schemes for a number of areas in the surrounding of the city of Damascus, including Jubar, Barzeh, and the al-Yarmouk camp neighborhoods.
“SANA” has quoted al-Surour as saying that the study will cover four areas, in addition to “Mazzeh 86.” The first study will tackle the areas of Jubar and Qaboun and is to end early in 2019. The second study will cover the areas of the Tadamon, Daf al-Shouk and al-Zuhoor, which will start at the beginning of 2019.
The third area includes Dumar, al-Wurood and al-Rabwah, the study of which will begin early in 2020 to end with it. The fourth area, however, covers the Qasioun slope and the expropriated area of the town of Ma’raba, administratively following the Damascus governorate. The study of the last area begins early in 2020 and ends with it.
Early in 2023, the study of the organizational plan of the Muadamiyat al-Sham, a procured area, will start, also covering the area behind the Mazzeh airport to the borders of the rural Damascus governorate, according to the agency.
Al-Surour said that once the organizational schemes of the above-mentioned “unauthorized residential areas” are implemented, they will be presented before the Provincial Council for vote and adoption. Following this, objections about the schemes are allowed. Then, they are presented before the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment for adoption, explaining that these studies aim to set up the rules and the organizational foundations for each area, as to now how to approach them in advance.
The consultant architect Muzhar al-Sharbaji, former Director the Rural Damascus Engineers Department, believes that the declaration of the studies does not necessarily mean the immediate implementation of these schemes. It might be a rumor or an attempt to “feel the pulse.” In case, there was not a massive reaction to this announcement, the government starts executing these schemes.
A Step before the Declaration
The government of the Syrian regime, through its forces which spread in the areas it has recently controlled, is bombarding and removing buildings, especially at the areas of Qaboun, western Ein Tarma and the Damascene Jubar neighborhood, in addition to other areas in Darayya and the Yarmouk camp.
The official narrative says that these are bombardment and removal process which result of mines and the “gunmen’s” remnants, but crossed information given to Enab Baladi stressed that the Assad’s forces are intentionally bombarding buildings along the Almotahalik Aljanobi (Southern Highway), separating the city of Ein Tarma and the western part of the road at the neighborhood of Jubar.
The government is talking about cleaning the gate to Jubar, at the side of eastern Ghouta. This is not a literal cleaning, but it is an inspection of the tunnels, with the promises made by a number of officers, in control of the area’s checkpoints, of opening the roads according to a former interview with Mahmoud Idriss, one of Jubar neighborhood’s residents.
Idriss added, telling Enab Baladi, that the government is currently working to eradicate the al-Bashaer Compound, near the Southern Highway, through bombarding its buildings and removing their rubble, pointed out to what the neighborhood’s people, most of whom escaped the area to Ein Tarma, are saying, that the Provincial Department is talking about building towers in the place of the residential compound.
What Are the “Unauthorized Buildings”?
The unauthorized buildings are irregular ones which have no organizational identity or a construction license. There might be organized areas with a few unauthorized buildings. The definition covers complete areas only in certain cases, for there are unauthorized buildings in organized areas and authorized buildings in unauthorized areas.
According to an engineer source, one of the engineers who worked on the “Great Damascus Region” project, planned in 2007, the government is one of the key contributors in the creation of the unauthorized areas, explaining to Enab Baladi that this was done by the government’s abstinence from issuing a license to the owners of some of the lands that are already included within authorized areas or through authority figures, in areas where they function, giving permissions to properties owners to start building in these areas and helping them escape the municipalities and the Provincial Department’s inspection during the buildings’ construction process.
This was confirmed by architect Muzhar al-Sharbaji, who added, telling Enab Baladi, that some areas, though they contain well-built buildings, which have accurate architectural designs, are considered unauthorized areas, such as “Mazzeh 86.”
Al-Sharbaji pointed out that when people violet the followed scheme, they are actually aware of it and know that there are penalties due to the violation. They also know the solutions to these problems, for violetears can annex the building to the organizational schemes through illegal intermediary, especially in the sized areas (classified as land-grab), such as “Mazzeh 86” and Aush al-Warwar.
With the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the absence of the censorship from massive areas throughout Syria, the non-licensed construction operations increased, especially in rural Damascus’ areas. The contractors, in the period between May 2011 and early 2013, increased their efforts to save time and money that is supposed to be payed in return for licenses, which enhanced the presence of unauthorized buildings.
According to Ahmad al-Homsi, General Director of the Development and Real Estate Investment Committee, the number of the authorized areas throughout Syria is about 157 regions, adding that the density of the unauthorized areas increased due to the displacement of the population as a result of the massive destruction caused by the Syrian war, according to what “NASA” has quoted in September 2017.
Al-Homsi said, according to the Committees vision as to address the issue of unauthorized residential areas, three scenarios exist: The first is demolition and reconstruction, similar to the area of al-Dukhania, rural Damascus, and the Gharbi al-Ansari, the city of Aleppo. The Second is upgrading or rehabilitating of the buildings, like al-Haidraiah area, Aleppo city. The third is an approach joining the former two scenarios.
Intact Areas Are Mixed with War-Afflicted Areas
Of the member of the Executive Office for Planning and Budgeting in Damascus governorate’s statement, it can be seen that the areas included in the declaration have not all witnessed battles, such as the “Mazzeh 86” and the al-Wurood neighborhood, though a huge percentage of them shared the element of being authorized. Al-Sharbaji said that ends are being sought through mixing the areas together and setting up new organizational schemes for them.
On top of these goals is the polishing of the regime’s image in the eyes of people from Jubar neighborhood, considered an extension of the Abbasiyyin and Al-Qassaa and to show them that it cares for these areas and seeks to give them new organizational schemes.
The second goal is not to give some of the residents of areas that are yet classified under the “Perceptible Acquisition,” where houses are built for people different from the original owners. Accordingly, when these buildings are categorized as unauthorized and included within the new schemes, the original owners would not get any compensation, similar to what happened in the lands of the Muadamiyat al-Sham, upon which the Western neighborhood and the al-Sumaria area are built, which the Ministry of Defense acquiesced and are so far classified under the “perceptible acquisition,” despite the activities of unauthorized construction in them.
Perceptible acquisition or seizure is future planning schemes that may or may not be realized. The areas are not actually appropriated, as their owners have not been compensated and no decree has been issued concerning them, according to al-Sharbaji.
Al-Sharbaji said that the acquisition is done after a governmental or military institution files a request of a land acquisition, and the process is achieved through a decision and a decree through procedures via which the citizen can object to the acquisition, and the area is not seized unless the property owner is offered a compensation.
Thus, the regime’s government is trying to pre-empt the reconstruction file by settling a number of expropriated or seized areas by developing new regulations and schemes for those areas and annexing them to those affected by the war.