When the various institutions belonging to the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES) expropriate privately owned lands for the public benefit, they compensate the original owners, albeit only if the latter demand such payments. The lack of laws about expropriation and bodies to regulate the process contribute to this phenomenon. The same issue applies to damages wrought on real estate and land due to the conflict and the security activities of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
First, land or real estate owners must submit a complaint to one of the agricultural real estate sub-committees in Northeast Syria, a region known as the Jazira. These sub-committees operate beneath the General Agricultural Real Estate Committee, affiliated with the AANES’ agriculture ministry, the Agriculture Authority. The judges who serve on these committees are appointed by the Justice Authority, the AANES’ justice ministry, and settle disputes related to agricultural lands and other real estate located outside the zoning plans of the area’s cities. They study the complaints and issue decisions to provide or withhold compensation. Complainants may also file lawsuits before the People’s Courts affiliated with the AANES. These courts, in turn, issue decisions on compensation that municipalities must follow.
Expropriations for military use
In 2016, during the expansion of the Tal Baydar military base in the city of Tal Tamar, in the rural Hassakeh governorate, the Tal Tamar municipality expropriated some privately owned lands. The base consists of an airport, training facilities and warehouses. Both US forces and the SDF are stationed there. The owners of the expropriated lands submitted complaints and compensation requests to the Tal Tamar agricultural committee, which issued a decision to compensate them. Because AANES has no expropriation law, the payment was made similarly to an unlimited lease, with an annual value equivalent to the fertile agricultural seasons. At the same time, the landowners do not possess any actual lease contracts or expropriation decisions for their lands.
A similar case occurred during work in 2014-2015 to expand the Salman Bek Agricultural Airport, which is located in the city of Amouda in rural Hassakeh and is currently occupied by the SDF for military purposes. The Amouda municipality expropriated civilian-owned properties surrounding the airport and compensated them, in line with decisions from the General Agricultural Real Estate Committee, with annual “lease” payments.
Military and security damage to real estate
Privately owned real estate properties have been damaged due to war and security activities by the SDF in many border areas of the Hassakeh governorate.
Some farmers submitted compensation requests for damages during the 2019-2020 agricultural season due to the SDF digging trenches and tunnels beneath their fields. But the General Agricultural Real Estate Committee rejected the farmers’ requests, claiming that the SDF would fill the trenches and tunnels, thereby making the damages temporary. The farmers later filled in the tunnels at their own expense after the SDF abandoned any efforts to do so.
Digging such tunnels has harmed the foundations of homes in the villages along the Syrian border with Turkey and in the neighbourhoods of Al-Hilaliyeh and Al-Gharbiyeh in the northern part of Qamishli. Cracks appeared on the walls, raising fears amongst residents. Local administrative units, known as “communes,” rejected requests for compensation.
Municipalities within the AANES have rejected compensation requests for expropriations that occurred before 2014 on the pretext that they are not liable for such seizures, which Damascus carried out. However, the Syrian government’s municipal authorities are still active in some AANES areas, though they have minimal duties and budgets. For the most part, they certify certain documents that have previously been issued.
Some real estate owners whose properties in Amouda were expropriated in 2002 filed a lawsuit in 2019 before the AANES court after the municipality had refused to provide them compensation. In turn, the court rejected their request because the expropriation occurred when the regime was in control. Thus, the court found that the Syrian regime should have provided compensation at the time.