East Aleppo: Katerji Buys Properties of Displaced Residents

The number of property purchases in several neighbourhoods of east Aleppo has increased recently, often after residents faced intimidation or threats. The purchases have been carried out by armed militias on behalf of several real estate development and investment companies, including Katerji for Real Estate Development and Investment, which has acquired the largest share of homes and real estate from internally and forcibly displaced people in this manner.

Sales have been concentrated in neighbourhoods located along both sides of the Suburban Highway east of Aleppo city, as well as the neighbourhoods near the airport, specifically  Karam Al-Maisar, Karam Al-Tarab, Karam Al-Jazmati, Jabal Badro, Al-Ardh Al-Hamra, Karam Al-Tahhan, Youth Housing and Karam Al-Qaterji. These areas suffered the highest share of wartime destruction in east Aleppo.

The number of returnees to these neighbourhoods remains small compared to other areas of east Aleppo – not only due to the destruction, but also because of neglect on the part of the government, governorate and city council, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area. Electricity has yet to be restored, and the water networks have not been repaired, while municipal services remain absent. Most of the debris in these neighbourhoods is  still strewn in the streets.

Control over these neighbourhoods is split between militias loyal to Iran’s Quds Force, as well as the Al-Baqer Brigade, Hezbollah, the Aleppo Defenders Corps, the National Defence Forces, the Fourth Armoured Division and some local tribal militias. The presence of these forces appears to be the main factor preventing people from returning, as most residents are opposed to the regime.

The Syria Report’s correspondent spoke with a number of home and real estate owners from those neighbourhoods whose properties were sold in recent months. Their testimonies suggest that militias used a variety of methods to force owners to sell their properties, including threatening them with arrest and accusing them of terrorism and supporting the opposition. Victims included people who were displaced to other neighbourhoods of Aleppo, and who were persuaded by militias to sell after receiving hostile visits at their new homes. Meanwhile, militias have been communicating with displaced people – most of whom are opponents of the regime – living outside Aleppo through their relatives, in an attempt to convince them that their homes have been classified as informal building code violations slated for demolition, and that it is therefore preferable to sell before the city’s new zoning plan is issued.

Many displaced residents appear convinced that they must sell, most having lost hope of returning home. They prefer to sell their properties at the prices set by the militias, rather than simply losing them altogether.

Katerji Real Estate Development and Investment gives the militias the money that it has paid to buy the properties, as well as an additional 25 percent of the money it has paid. The prices of the properties range from SYP 15 to 25 million, depending on their total square metres.

The company was established in August 2017, and is part of Katerji Group, which is  owned by People’s Assembly member Hussam Katerji and his brothers, most of whom are under western sanctions. The company aspires to acquire a large share of real estate in east Aleppo, which are expected to be offered soon by the Aleppo City Council as real estate development zones.