After war destruction and UN’s restoration: Threats face merchants of Covered Market in Old City of Homs

Women walking in a destroyed neighborhood in the Old City of Homs - 3 June 2015 (Reuters)

Women walking in a destroyed neighborhood in the Old City of Homs - 3 June 2015 (Reuters)

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Homs – Orwa al-Mundhir

In the ancient market of Naoura, at the heart of the Old City of Homs, particularly on 15 November, a notice letter of two lines were hung on the door of the newly-restored shops, addressing their owners, “ You are requested to re-open your shops, and re-invest them within two months of receipt of that notification; otherwise, legal measures would be taken.”

 The shop owners had to close down their businesses in the ancient market nine years ago due to the conflict. In actuality, after the Syrian regime destroyed the market in a systematic military campaign until 2014, it spent two years performing restoration work. 

Recently, the Syrian regime has resorted to threats to push the merchants to re-open their closed shops in the most important areas of Old Homs.

Novel markets do not accept their disappearance

The old neighborhoods and markets of Homs are the main economic weight in the governorate. After Homs fell out of the Syrian regime forces’ control in 2011, shopkeepers suffered their first material losses due to losing their goods, which were attracting tourists and passers-by.

Talal left his electronic store in the Jurat al-Shayah market, heading to the Karm al-Shami neighborhood, far from the lines of contact between the Syrian regime forces and the opposition factions. “I closed my business, hoping to return to my shop soon,” he told Enab Baladi.

Talal and other merchants were not able to wait more for fighting to end. They established their own business in the areas they had been displaced in, the residential neighborhoods of Karm al-Shami, al-Hadara, and al-Wafideen Camp, into new markets. “Within three months, the neighborhood in which I live turned into a huge commercial market. What made the profits double, and I could buy the store that I was renting at the beginning,”

The emerging markets saw a “great boom,” with higher population density in a few neighborhoods that do not make up more than a third of the city’s area. Even after the fighting stopped, that population continued to grow much further.

After the Syrian regime forces re-established their control over the old neighborhoods of Homs, in mid-2014, the government, funded by the United Nations, began its attempts to restore the city, starting with the covered market in 2016. Besides, the Syrian government worked to rehabilitate the neighborhoods inhabited by the Christian community with church aid.

Yet, Talal is not thinking of returning to his shop in the ancient market after his new stores have gained a “good reputation and several customers that cannot be forsaken.” He highlighted that re-opening his store in the covered market is like returning to “square zero.”

He pointed out that those who have already returned to the ancient market were not among those who established new stores in other markets. 

He indicated that the neighborhoods surrounding the old market are empty of residents, given a lack of basic services such as water, electricity, services, and infrastructure.

Circumventing “procedures” 

Muhammad al-Sarmini is waiting for the old market streets to return to their past clamors, but today he sees only the cars that cross the main road between the old and the new clock towers towards the bus depot in the Naoura market, which is surrounded by destruction.

“Business growth in that area is associated with the population density in which it was concentrated before 2011,”  al-Sarmini told Enab Baladi, adding that less than 1 percent of the families returned to these old neighborhoods.

Al-Sarmini did not return to work in his shop, according to government instructions. Instead, he rented his shop out for a “symbolic” sum of money. Thus, the tenant will be reopening it before the expiry of the granted period.

In 2016, the United Nations, in coordination with the Homs Governorate, launched a restoration and reconstruction plan, which was not in line with merchants’ expectations, nor was it capable of attracting them to return.

According to the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in Homs, the number of shops before 2011 was 890 oriental, local, and heritage shops distributed in thirteen souks: al-Nouri, al-Hisbeh, al-Bazabashi, al-Mansoojat, al-Sagha, al-Qaisarieh, al-A’tareen, al-Arab, al-Faru, al-Nahhaseen, al-Khayyateen, al-Najjareen and Naoura.

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