Is the PYD-led self-administration confiscating property in Al-Hasakah?

AMMAN: The Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led self-administration has taken private properties belonging to departed residents in recent weeks, Kurdish activists, residents and a police officer from Qamishli in northern Al-Hasakah province tell Syria Direct, while one administration official dismisses the claims as rumors.

The controversy around whether the self-administration has the right to confiscate the real estate of residents no longer in Al-Hasakah began last September, when a draft law was presented to the Jazirah Canton Legislative Council authorizing the PYD-led government to take control of, and administer the property of residents who have fled the canton in northern Al-Hasakah.

The Council is made up of representatives from an array of political parties governing Kurdish-held territory in Al-Hasakah province.

The law was passed two months later. Facing widespread criticism, canton authorities insist the legislation is meant “to protect the property of emigrants and absentees until they return,” Legislative Council co-president Hakm Khalou said in a November interview with the body’s press office.

Under the law, real estate and other property belonging to residents who have fled the canton will be held by self-administration authorities, with any income, such as rent, generated by the holdings going to “develop the society.”

 Members of the Jazirah Canton Legislative Council in a meeting this week. Photo Courtesy of Jazirah Canton Legislative Council.

“The law is temporary, tied to the circumstances of the war,” Hakm Khalou, the co-president of the Legislative Council told Syria Direct earlier this month, emphasizing that its stated purpose is to prevent vandalism and misuse of vacant properties.

“There is no change in original ownership, and the property will be returned to the emigrant or absentee within 30 days of the date that individual returns and requests it,” the co-president added. Those who leave Al-Hasakah may also designate a close blood relative to administer their property.

Official assurances notwithstanding, rumors and fears circulating in social media and online Syrian news outlets for months highlight the alleged seizure and confiscation of shops and residences in the canton by self-administration security forces.

Two weeks ago, pro-opposition Zaman al-Wasl claimed that the Asayish, security forces loyal to the self-administration, had seized more than a dozen residences belonging to departed residents in the northeast city of Qamishli.

An Asayish officer currently in Al-Hasakah, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his work, told Syria Direct earlier this month that at least four offices in Qamishli city had been seized over the course of a week. Syria Direct could not independently verify his statement.

Khalou characterized claims of house confiscations as rumors, telling Syria Direct that the property protection law has not gone into effect.

The shared presidency of the canton has yet to ratify the law, the final legislative hurdle.

Search and seizure

One Kurdish resident from Al-Hasakah who spoke with Syria Direct gave a detailed account of how she says the Asayish confiscated her family’s home last month.

As Shahinaz and her family prepared to leave their apartment in Qamishli for Germany via Turkey in mid-January, she says they were approached by the Asayish.

“At first, [the Asayish] offered to rent the residence, but we refused,” says Shahinaz, who asked not to use her full name for security reasons. “Next, they asked to buy it, and we refused again,” intending to transfer it to her brother who was soon to marry.

“The third time, they confiscated our apartment,” citing security reasons and the property protection law. Security forces came and took the key to the residence, which Shahinaz had left in her uncle’s home for safekeeping, she says.

Syria Direct could not independently verify Shahinaz’s account, but she provided the address of herfamily’s Qamishli apartment, which she believes was taken because “there is a residence and office of a PYD security officer in the same building.”

It is noteworthy that according to the terms of the new, ostensibly unimplemented property law, the holdings of departed residents may be transferred to close blood relatives, likely making what happened to Shahinaz’s family illegal even if the law were in effect.

The property law is one of several recently issued by the Legislative Council aimed at the many residents who have fled the province.

One member of the grassroots Youth Union in Al-Hasakah, Jad al-Hasakawi, told Syria Direct last September that some “30 percent” of the province’s population had left, fleeing fighting with the Islamic State, bombings, and forced conscription by both Kurdish YPG forces and the regime. 

Earlier this month, a law issued by the Legislative Council levied a fine on departed residents for each year they do not return to complete mandatory military service. Self-administration official Aras Mistou told Syria Direct earlier this month that the law intends “to help the many young people who want to return to the embrace of the homeland.”

One current Qamishli resident, using a pseudonym for fear of security repercussions, told Syria Direct that the protection law “aggravates the situation” in Al-Hasakah province. It is a policy that “incites those who stay to leave,” said Muhammad Qamishlo.

Departed resident Hevin Temo, who left Al-Hasakah in late 2011 following the assassination of her father, a prominent Kurdish leader and activist, by unidentified masked gunmen, agrees.

The PYD “knows very well that most run away from their weapons and their laws,” she told Syria Direct, alleging that self-administration officials aim to “convert the private properties to headquarters for their personnel.” Tamou currently lives in Germany.

Self-administration forces have previously been accused of damaging and unlawfully confiscating civilian properties in Al-Hasakah province. An October 2015 report by Amnesty International described abuses including “forced displacement, demolition of homes and the seizure and destruction of property.”

While officials denied the allegations at the time, last month the YPG expelled four fighters for “damaging property of residents” in al-Hawl and neighboring villages in eastern Al-Hasakah late last year, ARA News reported.

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.