Wed 12 Dec 2018

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How Is Hindering the Revival of Homs’ Old Market?

Homs City Old Market before and after being destroyed (Modified by Enab Baladi)

Homs City Old Market before and after being destroyed (Modified by Enab Baladi)

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The government of the Syrian regime sought to “annihilate” the Homs Central market, starting with bombarding it, then minimizing the role of its merchants, and finally by creating smaller markets that help the families in a manner allowing for forgetting the market based at the city center.  

The efforts to revive Homs Market failed, represented by the official media callas and Homs Governor’s statements which urged for the reopening of the market, following the United Nations Development Programme (UNPD) entry to it, for it is working on the third stage of the market’s restoration process.

Neighborhoods’ Separate Markets are a Call for the Old Market’s Death

Smaller markets proliferated within the city of Homs with the difficulty at reopening the shops of the Old Market at the city center, for the Old Market suffered massive destruction as a result of the battles between the opposition factions and the Assad’s forces in Old Homs. This situation triggered the merchants to establish shop compounds in different streets to help the people in some neighborhoods meet their needs for the difficulty of moving from one neighborhood to another, prevented by the military checkpoints and the operations in the city center, which turned specific streets in each area into shopping centers.

Hajj Jalal Abu Hasbo, a merchant at Homs city’s archaeological market, came back to his shop in 2017 upon hearing of the restoration workshops which the UN has started in 2016 (at the launch of the reconstruction of Homs Old Market program).

According to Hajj Jalal, the small markets that have been created in the city neighborhoods have been functioning for no less than five years now. It seems that the people have got used to them, even if they regret what happened to the Old Market and miss it.

It is hard to redirect people to the Old Market without closing the smaller new ones, and the government is aware of this fact, according to Hajj Jalal, if the government was serious about the revival of the Old Market, the governor would have shut down the spreading markets overnight.

Lawyer Abdul Ilah al-Droubi told Enab Baladi that the regime is pretending that it wants to revive and reopen the market, despite the very little and limited restoration operations conducted by the United Nations Development Program, with the funding offered by Japan and other countries.

According to the lawyer, the regime’s government preservation of the later opened markets is one of several phenomena that indicate the regime’s lack of seriousness when it comes to the revival of the Old Market and kills its importance and memory in the hearts of the people while time passes.

Obstructing the Old Market’s Merchants’ Return

Lawyer Abul Ilah al-Droubi pointed out that implementation of the “Homs Dream” Project is a lot easier under the current conditions if compared to former years.

The Homs Provincial Department has in 2010 officially launched the project which was met with a wide protest from the city’s population due to its ambiguity in dealing with the city’s center and the Old Market, and for its intention to turn the Market to trade buildings and centers and erasing its archeological features.

The current restoration process of the Old Market is limited to the covered part of it, without addressing the markets of Na’ura, al-Joura and others, the markets that destiny was indefinite when the “Homs Dream” project was proposed.

Hajj Jalal, one of the Homs Old Market’s merchants, described the status of his shop, located at the corner of two streets in the Market, saying that it consists of roofless pillars only. When he talked to the office of the United Nations Development Program about the restoration of his shop, the officials told him that he must erect the pillars and the shops’ roof, so it be covered by the restoration process, adding that they told him that restoration program is restricted to the shop windows only.

“After the reconstruction of the shop, which cost me about two million Syrian pounds, the UN team fixed a shop window, the cost of which does not exceed 100 thousand Syrian pounds. Then, my neighbor and I started the coating and decoration process, hoping to reopen the shops,” he said.

However, an armed group came to my neighbor, and after terrorizing and interrogating him about who allowed him to open the shop and do the coating process, they immediately destroyed what has been done, alleging that there are conditions providing for having the same pattern of coating for all the shops, according to Hajj Jalal, who explained that the armed group demanded the permits that allowed him to reopen the shop.

To issue the needed reopening licenses, the merchant or shop owner must get a permit from the Provincial Department and the municipality, in addition to water and electricity clearance documents, and similar clearances from the tax administration and the Police and Political Security Command. The shop owner estimated the cost of issuing these documents with about three million Syrian pounds.

Abdul Hafiz, a wholesaler of olive oil and soap, who for more than 40 years have been working in the family shop, for he started helping his father as a child, turned into an olive oil merchant at the pavements of one of Homs city’s streets after the destruction of the market, the shop being closed, and the commodities being lost or burned.

He said that he could not return to his shop because he cannot afford the demanded licenses or the cost of his shop’s restoration, pointing out that a specific inside-shop coating was imposed on him in case he wants to reopen it.

He added that even if he managed to afford the money needed for the licenses and the coating process, compensating the capital and the commodities would not be easy.

He says that opening shops within the new markets, launched in the neighborhoods, is more useful and less costly, stressing that these markets are the main thing preventing the revival of the Old Market.

The People Are the Old Market’s Spirit, How Would It Work soulless?

The city of Homs witnessed the displacement and the migration of thousands of people of its population during the Syrian revolution. Complete neighborhoods are empty and destroyed, except for a few ones, the majority of which are pro-regime.

The majority of the old neighborhood’s emptiness, in addition to recent ones, particularly at the center of Homs, fated the Old Market and the city center to isolation amidst destruction, after they used to be a throbbing heart being close to the old bus station, the life nerve of the hundreds of people coming from the rural parts of Homs, while similarly providing transportation within the city’s neighborhoods.

“It is difficult to eliminate the traces of the war in a short time, and the Market is called thus for being the people’s top shopping destination, and without whom it will not live,” the merchant Abdul Hafiz said.

At the same time, many merchants and people are trying to revive the Market, for the office owners at the al-Jundi Trade Building, near the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, close to the Old Clocktower square at the city center, and are attempting to restore the building at their own expense, knowing that it used to contain clinics, tourism and trade companies’ office.

The “Facebook” page, created by the al-Jundi Building Office owners, posts people’s calls for communication and restoration process on their expenses, as to bring life back to one of the most famous trade buildings in the Old Market’s area.

The archaeological markets in Homs date back to various historical eras, the most ancient of which is more than 1500 years old, throughout history it suffered many earthquakes and fires.

The newest of these is the covered market, adjacent to the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and is 250 years old, divided into different corners, each representing the crafts and the shops opened there.

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