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Kurds say Property Law Discriminatory

Syrian Kurds continue to voice concern about new legislation limiting rights to sell and rent out land in border areas, arguing that it amounts to discrimination against their community, and will harm the economic prospect in these parts of the country.

Decree No. 49, which President Bashar al-Assad signed into law in September, places tight restrictions on the ownership and use of land in areas near the country’s borders with both Israel and Turkey.

The most controversial parts of the decree state that residents of border areas cannot sell real estate without obtaining prior permission from the authorities, specifically the interior, defence and agriculture ministries. Anyone who owns property must also get authorisation to rent or lease it out for a period of more than three years.

Radif Mustafa, a lawyer and chairman of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights, said he believed the law directly targets Kurds, who make up the majority in areas bordering on Turkey.

“The al-Quneitra border is a special case because part of it is occupied by Israel, but why are the areas along the Turkish border included in the law, when Syrian-Turkish relations are now better than ever?” he asked.

“This is part of the discrimination practiced against the Kurds who populate those border areas.”

More than 1.5 million Kurds live in northern regions of Syria bordering Turkey and Iraq.

Last month, nearly 200 Kurdish protesters were arrested after staging a protest in Damascus against the new rules. Hirfin Awsi, a public relations worker, was beaten with a metal baton before being taken away by police.

“We said nothing against the government or the president,” she said. “Our protest was peaceful.”

Luqman Oso, a member of the governing committee of Azadi, one of seven Kurdish parties that issued a statement in October condemning the property decree, said non-violent protests would continue.

“We succeeded in gathering a large number of Kurdish parties together, and we will continue our peaceful and democratic struggle until this decree is abolished,” he said.

Khalaf al-Jarad, director general of Al-Wahda, a press group that publishes the leading state daily Al-Thawra, insists the law has been misinterpreted.

“I feel very sad and full of regret, and I am astonished how Decree no. 49, which deals with ownership, is being interpreted,” he said in remarks quoted by the Quds Press news agency. “It is a regulatory decree that does not target a specific individual or group, but instead deals with matters of buying and selling. If some of our Kurdish brothers want to exaggerate this, they’ll lose out because no one is going to believe the way they are interpreting the decree.”

In border regions directly affected by the new rules, lawyer and activist Suleiman Ismail said there was considerable confusion about how to put them into practice.

“All legal actions involving property have ground to a halt because the judiciary cannot make any decision on these cases without instructions from the executive, and these have not been issued yet,” he said. “We have no idea what the future of real estate in the province will be after this.”

Those tasked with enforcing the decree can provide little useful information.

“We received the decree and we were required to implement it immediately, but we have received no instructions on how to do this,” said an employee of the property registration office in al-Hiska. “We’ve simply been told to stop all registrations of ownership.”

While confusion about enforcement continues, the economic repercussions are already being felt.

“We used to sell about 100 tons of iron per month, and now we’re hardly sell ten tons – and that goes to government building contractors or to ongoing projects that started before this decree was issued,” said Hussein Abbas, a civil engineer in al-Hiska. “Construction contractors are not buying iron or cement because no new licenses are being granted at the moment.”

Mohammed Salih Salo, a building contractor from al-Qamishli, said uncertainty about the new law had left many afraid to buy and sell property.

“Construction work has stopped because people have suffered a loss of confidence,” he said. “Previously, we could sell or buy real estate, pay the money and then get a license from the court. Now, people with money are not buying anything because property cannot be registered in their name in the government records, and that creates a problem of trust between sellers and buyers.”

“We want to get the necessary licenses,” he insisted. “We want to work, no matter what. But the government offices don’t have any regulations relating to the new decree, so we’re at a standstill.”

The latest economic hardships have forced some Kurds to seek work elsewhere.

Mohammed al-Khatib, a carpenter by trade with a wife and two children to support, has come to the capital where he has found a job in a workshop.

“I have come to Damascus because the contractor we used to work with doesn’t have a business any more,” he said. “Most of the guys I’m working with are from al-Hiska province, and the majority are Kurdish. They want to earn a living any way they can, regardless of their occupation.”

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)

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