How Enclosures Contributed to the Escalation of Social Unrest in Syria

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This blog seeks to tackle the problematizing issue of enclosures and land grabs in Syria and how they contributed to the escalation of violence and tension among various religiously and ethnically diverse communities and conflicting parties. The information stated is based on direct observations, reports and media sources away from political or religious prejudice and bias.

Starting from the 1970s when the current regime led by Al Assad family took over, enormous tracts of farmlands and properties were coercively expropriated, by the ruling government, from Sunni owners; later turned into residential areas and military bases. This occurred in different Syrian governorates particularly the capital city of Damascus and its countryside. Examples of those residential areas are Ish Alwarwar (segregated from Barzeh area north-eastern Damascus), Yusef Alazmeh (detached from Al Moadamyeh area west of Damascus) and many others. Noticeably, those confiscated areas are located in different sides of Damascus city, whether intentionally or coincidentally. The majority of the inhabitants were of the Alawi sect (Alawites) with which, Al Assad family affiliated. For the past 50 years, an implicit, or even oppressed, tension and enmity between the indigenous inhabitants and the new ones arose. Yet, no explicit offenses, assaults or violations were recorded, most probably due to the so-called iron grip of the security and intelligence agencies in the country.

Following the outbreak of the social unrest in Syria, demonstrations against the ruling regime erupted in different governorates involving mainly Sunni protesters among others. Consequently, for variable reasons, the vast majority of Alawi people defended the regime regardless of their individual perspective of the president and his governance.

In that regard, the Alawi men, residing in the aforementioned expropriated areas, were stimulated to join the diverse security and military departments and formations; some of which were newly established such as the National Defense Force consisting of armed men whose tasks included checkpoints, security patrols and community control through intimidation. Simultaneously, Sunni men who are eligible to join the army for their compulsory or reserve services anxiously fled the country through legal and illegal ways; millions of which are now residing in the neighboring countries as well as in Europe.

In the same context, those expropriated areas were sealed and almost turned into military zones. No inhabitants, other than Alawis, were allowed to accommodate, possess or rent properties. The male residents, armed by the government, took effective part in the suppression of the demonstrations. Later, when the protests turned into armed conflicts, those so-called regime proponents fought at the battlefront against the local armed groups (known as the Syrian Free Army by their supporters and as terrorists by the government) in the very neighboring areas. This exacerbated the hostility and animosity between the neighboring communities and intensified segregation of lands and properties.

For the local armed groups, the fight had two dimensions: on one hand, they believed they were fighting against a tyrant, corrupted, unjust dictator and his supporting groups. On the other hands, they were reclaiming the ownership of their lands which were seized and inhabited by the Alawi people. They believed they were fighting, also sacrificing their lives, for the sake of their rightful properties and lands forcibly taken away by the government years ago. What also added to the escalation of tension is the kidnapping, sometimes ended in killing, of men, women and children, by both conflicting parties in addition to fatal attacks with explosives leading to massive causalities from both sides.

Another form of land grabs is the recent expropriation of territories and houses by the Lebanese Shia militias of Hezbollah in most Sunni areas along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Examples of those areas, all witnessed protests, demonstrations and armed conflicts against the ruling regime, are Bloudan, Qarah and Al Qusayer; the latest witnessed a military parade, hosted by Hezbollah on November 11th, 2016.

The confiscated houses and lands are now inhabited by Hezbollah militants and their families (wives and children). On the other side, the original local owners were obliged to search for alternative housing elsewhere. The land concession made by the Syrian government was a reward for Hezbollah’s intervention in favor of the Syrian regime against the rebels.

It should perhaps be noted that Hezbollah militants and their families are not obviously interfering or communicating with the indigenous people. Yet, the tragic turn of events and the excessive use of violence against the locals would not probably pass without consequences in the near or far future.

A final form of enclosures is practiced by the Kurdish people’s protection units (YPG) and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). A 38-page report by Amnesty International alleged that thousands of non-Kurdish people (Arabs and Turkmen) were forced out their regions by Kurdish militias fighting against ISIL. It was disclosed, by a fact-finding mission to northern Syria, that huge influxes of indigenous citizens were displaced and housing territories demolished – amounting to war crimes- by the Syrian Kurdish units controlling vast areas in the north of the country. Such allegations were declared untrue and “completely inaccurate” by an YPG spokesman. The overriding concern is that, if those claims are validated, potential unease, aggression and actions of vengeance would probably exist between the Kurds on one side and the other ethnical groups on the other one.

  • Photos by Amnesty International
june-2014

June 2014

 

june-2015

June 2015

Conclusion

Taking all the above mentioned forms of enclosures, their circumstances, immediate and prolonged impacts into account, the aspirations and efforts to accomplish social cohesion, community resilience and conviviality will unequivocally face serious challenges and complexities; there is a light at the end of the tunnel though. This posits an ethical question for which all local, regional and international players have to provide an answer.

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