The people of the Tadamon neighbourhood in south Damascus expressed discontent, and a state of anticipation and anxiety overcame displaced residents from the area, following the release of a report on the neighbourhood and new decisions by the Damascus governorate committee, which was tasked with conducting a study on Tadamon.
According to pro-regime media sources, the committee’s decision, which was approved by the governor of Damascus Beshr al-Sabban, designates only 690 homes in the neighbourhood as suitable for housing.
The designation means that only residents of these homes can return to them, pending an entire re-planning of Tadamon as per Law 10, a process that may take between four and five years.
According to popular Syrian Facebook news page, Diary of a Mortar Shell, the committee’s decision was met with strong condemnation from residents.
Many social media users published complaints addressed to Syrian official government and media, calling for blocking the decision legally and appealing to the judiciary.
The controversial Law 10, which was ratified earlier this year by President Assad, requires property owners to prove their ownership within one month of decisions to rezone their areas.
Otherwise, properties would be seized by the state, which has the right to resell them, according to legal experts.
The Law drew wide scale national and international condemnation, with many seeing it as a scheme by the Syrian government to confiscate land and property, making it impossible for displaced Syrians to return to them, and force demographic change in the rezoned areas.
On a Facebook group dedicated to displaced residents of Tadamon, a user complained that committee members did not listen to their pleas, after meeting with them and clarifying the massive tragedy affecting the displaced people of Tadamon who wish to go back to their homes but are unable to.
The decision, which was issued on 26 September, deprives more than 25 thousand families and more than 200 thousand people from their homes, and leaves them on the street, according to the Facebook user, who went on to describe the decision as “cruel and illegitimate”.
Judge and legal expert Khaled Shihabaddine told SY24 that the regime has in fact started applying Law 10 in areas with large amounts of displaced residents, in order to force demographic change in Syria.
He explained that so far, the application of Law 10 was limited to projects implemented by private construction companies, including Russian and Iranian ones, with close ties to the regime.
However, in Tadamon, the regime is allowing its supporters to remain in neighbourhood, while using Law 10 to block the return of displaced dissenters, according to Shihabaddine, who views this as clear evidence of a forced demographic change policy.
Another Facebook user advised all displaced Tadamon residents to go to the Damascus provincial authorities and register individual objections to the decision, providing ownership documents for their properties in the neighbourhood.
The user explained that the law allows “those adversely affected by the decision to register objections within five days of receiving notification.” He added, “Since there were no notifications issued, victims should object upon hearing about the decision.”
Shihabaddine was pessimistic about the appeal process under Syrian law, explaining that the regime judiciary also will abide by Law 10, and reject the petitions of those affected.
He said the Damascus governorate lacks any semblance of neutrality and justice, and is completely beholden to the regime and its interests.
Tala Mustafa, a legal expert at the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies agreed with Shihabaddine, and explained that Syria is currently facing a shift fuelled by “security-state construction efforts”. He explained that following the Syrian revolution in 2011, the regime began to rethink the way it handles urban planning, and introduce “modern city security” methods, in which urban planning is mixed with security planning.
The approach aims to create population centres with authoritarian security apparatuses built into their modern planning.
Dr. Firas Shabo, a Syrian economic researcher, dismissed the notion that the regime’s actions in Tadamon are in fact legitimate rezoning efforts.
He described the committee’s decision as “laughable”, given that the committee itself is clearly biased and is merely carrying out the wishes of the regime and Iran.
The areas of south Damascus and Eastern Ghouta, Shabo explained, are important for the Iranians due to religious and sectarian reasons, which explains aggressive Iranian efforts to own property in those areas.
He added that the regime’s efforts to take away properties from their rightful owners are nothing new. They have in fact been practiced in multiple ways since 2011, according to the researcher, but have merely been “legitimized” now by the issuing of Law 10.