Opposition in Rural Aleppo Take State Property and Rent it Out

The local council in the northern Aleppo city of Al-Rai held a public auction at its headquarters in mid-October, with the participation of 20 farmers, to rent out agricultural lands managed by the opposition-run body.

The council stipulated that those wishing to participate in the auction pay 100 Turkish liras as a subscription fee, in addition to a 1,000-lira deposit that could be refunded if the applicant did not succeed in the auction.

The agricultural lands included in the auction are spread out across the city of Al-Rai, as well as eight villages that are administratively affiliated to it, with a total area of 72 hectares. The lands were originally owned by public institutions and agricultural cooperatives affiliated with the Syrian government in Damascus.

Al-Rai’s opposition-run local council was founded in early 2013, shortly after armed rebels took control of the rural northern areas of the Aleppo governorate. At the time, rebel factions took over many lands, facilities, and public service departments in the area, to benefit from their financial revenues in supporting and arming fighters.

Then, in late 2014, the Islamic State (IS) took over Al-Rai, controlling the local agricultural lands for more than two years. Lands originally owned by the state in Al-Rai and its surrounding villages were administered by IS emirs, often given as gifts or rewards to the extremist group’s leaders.

After armed opposition groups retook control of the rural northern and eastern parts of the Aleppo governorate during the Turkish-backed “Operation Euphrates Shield” campaign in 2016-2017, a new pattern of local councils began to appear in the area, benefitting in part from Turkish administrative support. These councils, including the council in Al-Rai, were able to recover most Syrian state properties from the grip of armed factions, making them into publicly owned properties. Revenues from the properties were then used to support the services that the council provided to residents, such as water installations and road networks.