A "Personal" Story of Expropriation

Property confiscation and expropriation in Syria are often addressed from an administrative and legal viewpoint, while property owners and their stories are ignored. In this short story, The Syria Report attempts to add a human dimension to a true story of property confiscation. Several personal details have been omitted to protect the property owner’s family.

Kamil inherited four hectares of land from his father, land that was considered the best in the village because it stretched out along the riverbank. He became the envy of the other residents, many of whom worked for him during the harvest seasons. He was also able to marry the prettiest girl in the village, after her relatives convinced her of the importance of his land.

Kamil was a persistent farmer and knew each of his trees by the names he had given them when he was a child. The big peach tree was known as “Al-Muhakalleh,” and the sweetest pomegranate tree was named “Sugar.”

But his happiness was short-lived. After the birth of his eldest son, a decree was made to expropriate Kamil’s orchard, as well as the surrounding land. Immediately, bulldozers came to raze the land and pull up all the trees. In its place was built a factory for the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Factories Establishment, implemented by experts from North Korea.

The “good” compensation that was promised to the villagers was more than 10 years late. When it finally arrived, Kamil discovered that it was worth no more than the price of one year’s harvest from his former land.

The village residents acquiesced to the compensation offered to them, but Kamil refused vehemently, feeling that it was deeply insulting. He tried making complaints and seeing officials, an officer here and an official there. He explained his case to them fervently. They all said his only course of action would be to resort to the courts, so that he might have a chance at re-assessing the price of his former land and trees.

With the loss of his land, Kamil lost his source of income. He was forced to turn to different work to keep his family and children from going hungry. But he did not lose hope that he could regain his land, hiring a well-known lawyer for his case. After ten years, he won the case and raised the compensation by four times. However, the state attorney objected, and considered the case invalid because it was filed against the Ministry of Defence, and not the Defence Factories Establishment.

When his lawyer died, Kamil lost his desire to continue with the case.

Kamil’s children grew up, his oldest son graduating as an assistant engineer and finding work in the Defence Factories Establishment. The son did not tire of answering his father’s continuous questions about a land he never knew, saying: “It is no longer land; it has become offices, departments and laboratories”. At Kamil’s insistence, the son arranged an interview for his father with the director of the factory, so that he could raise the issue of his expropriated land, which had yet to be compensated. The director responded, “This is not up to me”, and explained that he was not responsible for what happened.

After 2011, the factory was expanded into a massive facility for the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), and security measures were increased around the area. Every time the facility was hit by Israeli airstrikes, Kamil used to ask his sons if the bombing hit his land.

A few months before Kamil’s death, he had an unbridled desire to visit his land for a final time. That would be difficult, as his son told him: “Nobody is allowed to enter the facility”. But Kamil’s insistence, and his advanced illness, pushed his son to secure another appointment with the facility director. Still, the land had become a secret laboratory, and the new director responded to the son with one word: “Impossible”.