In early 2020, Ibrahim, who resides in Sweden, sold his agricultural land on the outskirts of the city of Hassakeh, in northeastern Syria, to his cousin Shaffan. The sale contract was handwritten, and included details such as the real estate number, location, and surface area of the property. The contract also included Ibrahim’s and Shaffan’s fingerprints, as well as signatures of witnesses from their family, and the price of the land as estimated by a local real estate office.
However, Shaffan, who had appointed a lawyer to transfer the property to his name, was surprised that the Syrian government-affiliated Cadastral Affairs office in Hassakeh refused to register the sales contract. The office considered the contract to be unofficial because it was not certified by the Syrian embassy in Sweden. Because of certain security dangers for Shaffan, the two sides to the contract kept copies of it, along with the testimonies of some family members, without officially authenticating the document.
For residents of northeastern Syria, which is under the control of the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES), it is difficult to register real estate transactions and rights. The AANES did not develop a Cadastral Affairs directorate of its own to register such transactions, instead leaving such matters to the Damascus government’s Cadastral Affairs offices. However, these offices are no longer as widespread in northeastern Syria as they were before 2011. Today, they can be found only in a few larger towns and cities, within areas where regime security forces are present.
The process of registering real estate in AANES territory is fraught with irregularities and is often subject to various arrangements with the government in Damascus. Since the regime handed over many powers to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Hassakeh in 2012, many public institutions have nevertheless remained under Damascus’ purview, including Cadastral Affairs, civil status, consular affairs, and telecommunications. Since 2013 onward, as the AANES developed and expanded its authority, regime influence in northeastern Syria has been limited to a few city blocks run by security forces. Various regime administrative offices and public service institutions were transferred to buildings within these blocks.
Because these offices are in zones controlled by Syrian security forces, many residents avoid visiting Cadastral Affairs branches in Hassakeh and Qamishli. Within these zones, regime security personnel have full powers, which means danger of arrest, detainment and military conscription for residents who enter. Residents have turned to hiring lawyers to handle their transactions, instead of visiting the security zones themselves. A typical lawyer charges SYP 250,000 to 300,000 to complete a property transfer. Most people who end up hiring attorneys live outside Syria and can cover the costs.
However, this is not the situation in Amouda, a city west of Hassakeh, where the AANES has granted office space within its municipal building to the regime’s Civil Registry and Cadastral Affairs. The situation is the same in several small towns in the Hassakeh governorate, such as Al-Darbasiyeh and Al-Malikiyeh.
In the Raqqa governorate, which is also under the control of the AANES, the situation is completely different. Since the governorate was seized by rebels in 2013, all regime institutions and administrations there were transferred to Hama. Those wishing to register certain real estate rights in Raqqa must travel to the city of Hama unless they are wanted by regime security forces. Others turn to lawyers to complete such transactions. In most cases, sales and purchases are conducted in real estate offices in Raqqa in the presence of witnesses. The documents are then handed over to lawyers to follow up on registering them with Cadastral Affairs in Hama.
There is yet another process used in the city of Manbij in the Aleppo governorate. The city is considered a canton within AANES territory. There is no regime Cadastral Affairs office in Manbij, and former Cadastral Affairs offices present there before the war were not transferred to regime areas elsewhere in Syria. Real estate documentation in Manbij is conducted through contracts drawn within private real estate offices in the presence of witnesses.