All the way from Derik in the northeast to Efrin in the northwest, new buildings have sprung up since regime forces were ousted from the area. Photo: Carl Drott
By Carl Drott
DERIK, Syria - Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, large parts of cities like Homs and Aleppo have been reduced to rubble. But the exact opposite has been happening in the mainly Kurdish cities and towns in the north: An unprecedented building boom.
All the way from Derik in the northeast to Efrin in the northwest, new buildings have sprung up since regime forces were ousted from the area in July 2012. Most of them are multi-story apartment buildings.
Fahed Jankair, a lawyer and member of the municipal council in Derik, explains the reason behind the constrution boom: “It used to be the case that only those who owned the land could build on it. You could not transfer land ownership to someone else without permission, and permission was not granted if the buyer was a Kurd.”
It was the responsibility of the municipal police to enforce these laws. But when regime forces withdrew from the Kurdish regions, ceding control to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), people immediately started to sell and buy real estate, and landowners and construction entrepreneurs set up joint projects.
The PYD, which has declared autonomy over three provinces, has been instrumental in keeping the three-year war largely out of the Syrian Kurdish regions, or Rojava.
“The number of apartments in Derik has increased by between 60 and 80 percent since 2012,” says Fahed Jankair.
However, in most new houses basic amenities are still lacking. It is too difficult and expensive to import the necessary fittings, since the border crossings with Turkey are closed most of the time and the border crossing with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) at Semalka is only open for aid – not trade.
Most construction entrepreneurs are Kurds, but some of them used to live in cities like Damascus and Aleppo. Because of the civil war, they have now returned to the Kurdish areas, bringing financial capital and know-how with them. Their investments say something positive about the long-term expectations for stability and economic development in the Kurdish areas.
Feisal Suleiman is responsible for the construction of an apartment building in Derik. “If the regime were still here I would not have receieved a building permit,” he says. “Now the municipality just sent someone to check that the house was not placed too close to the street.”
Because of the strict and discriminatory regulations, there was a pent-up need for new housing already before the civil war. Now the demand has increased further, as Kurds from elsewhere in the country have come here to seek refuge and in many cases probably stay.
There are also other demographic changes in the Kurdish areas. Large numbers of Syriac and Armenian Christians as well as Arabs have fled here from regime bombardment and harsh rule by rebel groups.
“The relations between all ethnic and religious groups are good,” says Jankair. “Locals here help those who have been displaced, regardless of which group they belong to.”
Derik had almost no Arab residents before the outbreak of the civil war, but if the war grinds on some of those who have sought refuge here may end up as permanent residents.
At the same time, others are emigrating. About 30 to 50 percent of the Syriac and Armenian Christian population has already left, mainly for Europe.
“We are sad that the Christians are leaving,” says Jankair. “We want them to stay.”
Some neighborhoods in Derik used to be exclusively inhabited by Christians, who by custom avoided selling property to outsiders. However, those who leave now often sell their houses to Kurds or Arabs, which makes these districts more mixed in character. The same phenomenon can be observed in other nearby towns, for example in Tirbespiye.