Explained: Expropriation of Hama’s Destroyed Old City Centre

The expropriations that took place in the old city centre of Hama in 1982 did not receive widespread media and human rights coverage, largely due to the forced displacement and disappearance of most property owners during the regime’s attack and siege of the city. The lack of documents and official decrees related to the expropriations illustrate the Syrian government’s desire to obscure the expropriations.

The excessive and disproportionate use of force by the Syrian regime in February 1982 (with the aim of crushing the armed uprising in Hama) caused destruction to some of the city's residential, commercial, and historic neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods suffered heavy bombardment due to local resistance waged there against regime forces. After levelling buildings there to the ground, the government expropriated the lands on which those destroyed neighbourhoods had been built and barred remaining residents from rebuilding them. Instead, residents who remained in Hama after the massacre were ordered to move to their relatives’ homes in other neighbourhoods, without receiving any alternative housing or monetary compensation.

The neighbourhoods of Hama that were completely destroyed in 1982 included Al-Kilaniyeh, Bein Al-Heirein, Al-Zanbaqi, Al-Sharqiyeh and Al-Baroudiyeh. These neighbourhoods extended over a wide area within central Hama city. Al-Kilaniyeh had been famous for its historic palaces.

A human rights source who spoke with The Syria Report said that regime forces continued to seize properties in those neighbourhoods with no legal basis until October 1986, when the Council of Ministers issued Decree No. 2462 to expropriate the area based on Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983. The expropriation decree also affected dozens of undamaged properties in Hama located outside the destroyed neighbourhoods, due to suspicions over the owners’ opposition political sympathies, the human rights source added.

Law No. 20 granted all government ministries, departments, and public institutions, including the Ministry of Defence, the right to expropriate private properties for the “public benefit”. Not only did the government not specify what the “public benefit” would be, but the decree to expropriate them was not issued until four years had passed since their destruction. By that time, what remained in the neighbourhoods had been looted, and the rubble recycled for use elsewhere by regime forces. According to an informed human rights source, Decree No. 2462 failed to clarify what the expropriated entity was and did not refute the reasons for the expropriation. The decree did not even mention the budget needed to compensate surviving rights holders and their heirs.

The Syria Report was unable to locate any published electronic text of Expropriation Decree No. 2462. A former high-ranking government official from Hama governorate told The Syria Report that the decree was not published at the time due to security reasons, to cover up the extent of destruction inflicted on the city.

After the expropriation, a number of buildings were constructed for public and party-affiliated institutions on what used to be the Al-Kilaniyeh neighbourhood, including the Hama Police Branch Command, a Baath Party branch, the Apamea Cham Hotel and surrounding gardens. Meanwhile, parts of the former neighbourhoods of Bein Al-Heirein, Al-Sharqiyeh and Al-Baroudiyeh were allocated to build a Civil Status Department building, a postal office, a popular market, a school, and a public bus station. After 2003, a youth housing project was also added to the list.

After Bashar Al-Assad’s first visit to Hama--and in what looked like a belated attempt at reconciliation with the stricken city--he issued Decree No. 123 of 2000. The decree stipulated a reversal of the decision to expropriate a few hundred properties scattered throughout the city that had not been built on. The measure encouraged many residents to file claims to recover rights that were overdue by 18 years, including compensation for the expropriations that had taken place, and alternative housing.

In contrast to the expropriation decree No. 2462, The Syria Report was able to see the text of Decree No. 123 published in the first part of Issue 32 of 2000 of the Official Gazette.

The former high-ranking official from Hama told The Syria Report that among the most prominent demands of residents’ representatives in Hama at the outbreak of the revolution in 2011 was the repealing of Decree No. 2462 for all affected properties, and compensation for their owners. Of course, this demand was never realised.