Five years after Syrian regime forces regained control over the area, the Lattakia Governorate announced the return to normal life in the villages of Al-Ghaneimiyeh and Wadi Sheikan in the rural northern part of Lattakia. This comes after homes damaged during the decade-long conflict were repaired with the help of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and after the Lattakia Governorate guaranteed that it would restore basic public services.
In an apparent move to deflect accusations of sectarian bias, Al-Ghaneimiyeh and Wadi Sheikan were both included in the restoration effort, despite their differing living conditions. Wadi Sheikhan residents were predominantly Sunni Muslims of Turkmen minority who fled their homes in 2012. Many of them ended up in Turkey, while some sought refuge in northern Syria. Only a few of them have returned home to Wadi Sheikhan since then, despite the Lattakia Governorate’s claim of normalcy in the village.
Meanwhile, most residents of the neighbouring Al-Ghaneimiyeh are Christians. As battles approached the village in 2012, residents fled to Lattakia city, where the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate provided them with aid. But the assistance was insufficient, causing displaced residents to continuously protest against institutions affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church.
In 2016, Russian-backed regime forces took control of Al-Ghaneimiyeh. However, displaced residents were not permitted to return home. Instead, many of them had to obtain security permits that only authorised short visits to check on their houses and lands. They were also barred from working on agricultural land they owned. Government officials justified these restrictions by claiming that returning to the village was too dangerous.
An official from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate told The Syria Report that the real reason people couldn’t return home was that regime fighters had taken up residence in the village. He added that, a year ago, the Church had pressured the Russians to convince security forces to allow residents to return to Al-Ghaneimiyeh without security permits. Enabling the return of residents would require that Russia intervene to remove regime forces from the village and that the governorate rehabilitate electricity and water networks. However, many village residents discovered that regime forces looted their homes.
Meanwhile, some returnees have complained that their homes have only been partially restored from the wartime damage. The Patriarchate official said that household necessities would be obtained at a later time with support from the Russian Orthodox Church.