In a shocking turn of events, some families have reported that they have sold their property under pressure of unfounded accusations that they are harboring terrorists. A case of extortion can be made for forcing families out of their homes. The families are then replaced by foreign Shi’ites.
Some homes that are part and parcel of Syria’s cultural heritage are being carelessly remodeled. The traditional courtyard houses, which are protected by law, are being remodeled. According to a Syrian source, “It was impossible before for homeowners to get a legal permit to remodel any property covered by heritage protection stipulations.”
With these heritage homes there is a guide for restoration and renovation, but the source claims, “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.”
In 1979, neighborhoods in Old Damascus, which makes up to 5 percent of the capital’s area, were registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Eighteenth-century Damascus was built within the city walls, and was characterized by its Damascene style of architecture. These homes consist of a large inner courtyard filled with garden spaces and a fountain fed by the network of underground channels that have provided water to the city since antiquity. Traditionally, the courtyards were planted with fruit trees and rosebushes and caged songbirds were often heard singing. They were insulated from outside street noise and dust, and the water from the fountain cooled the air and provided a pleasant atmosphere.
Irfan Mousali, Damascus Free Council President, when speaking for neighborhoods in the south of rebel-controlled Damascus, 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. 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 called out the Iranian embassy, saying that it plays a key role in the incoming wave of Iraqis, Iranians, and Lebanese Shiites. “Iranians now roam the neighborhoods of Damascus openly,” he said.