Beirut- Living in whatever war left behind in terms of economic devastation, Samer’s residence in Old Damascus, Syria, plunged into darkness. His family was told that the later-controlled fire was caused by a short circuit.
And thereon a relentless Syrian real-estate broker kept on trying to convince them of selling their home to an Iranian buyer. Increasingly, bids have been temptingly floating around, sweeping most property to Iranian ownership—desperate families left economically destitute by war are the first to sell. But a case of extortion can be made for some families who report on selling under pressure of unfounded accusations of harboring terrorists.
Samer, 30, told Asharq Al-Awsat that houses are getting caught up in flames under suspicious conditions which are later exploited by regime loyalists in forcing families out of their homes. Those families are then replaced by foreign Shi’ites.
Commenting on damage control and reconstruction, Samer expressed his deep concern over the incomers recklessly remodeling homes that are part and parcel of Syria’s cultural heritage.
Traditional courtyard houses, protected by the law, are being callously reshaped.
“It was impossible before for homeowners to get a legal permit to remodel any property covered by heritage protection stipulations,” said Samer.
With homes as old as tales comes a guide for restoration and renovation— however none of those rules protecting the culture behind the walls are being taken into consideration.
“Instead of preserving the character, stone and design making the traditional house, its details are erased, smothered in cement and re-partitioned differently–in some cases houses were rebuilt with additional floors,” Samer criticized.
It is worth noting that neighborhoods in Old Damascus, which make up to 5 percent of the capital’s area, were registered in 1979 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Within the city walls, eighteenth-century Damascus was densely built, and it was characterized by its Damascene style of architecture. Surviving time, these houses consist of a large inner courtyard embraced with plant and flower spaces and hanging pots.
Almost all courtyards included a fountain fed by the network of underground channels that had watered the city since antiquity. Traditionally, they were planted with fruit trees and rosebushes and were often populated by caged songbirds. The interior position of these courtyards insulated them from the dust and noise of the street outside, while the splashing water inside cooled the air and provided a pleasant sound.
Samer’s family now, along with others who refuse to give up their homes, faces the grave challenge of deep demographic change.
Speaking for neighborhoods in the south of rebel-controlled Damascus, Damascus Free Council President Irfan Mousali said that ongoing purchase of old houses in Damascus has increased recently.
“The city’s architectural and demographic features are changing.”
“Some houses are being taken over without the knowledge of their owners who have left Syria since the beginning of the war,” he added.
“Large sums of money are being paid to get the houses and then fill them with Iraqi, Iranian, Lebanese and Shiite fighters and their families,” said Mousali while stressing the demographic threat at hand.
“Syrian brokers loyal to the regime are the middleman in all of this and are allowing for homes under heritage protection to be restored without any permits. This confirms coordination with the government of the Syrian regime,” Mousali added.
Amid the wave of incoming foreigners from Iraqis, Iranians, and Lebanese Shiites, Mousali points fingers at the Iranian embassy saying that it plays a key role in this campaign.
“Iranians now roam the neighborhoods of Damascus openly,” he said.