What's the Story Behind the Arab Belt in Al-Jazeera (Al-Hasakah Governorate)?
ASO Center for Studies
What is the Arab Belt?
The process of demographic change and Arabization implemented by the Syrian Government in Al-Jazeera region (Al-Hasakah Governorate) in 1974, is called the Arab Belt. It seized agricultural lands belonging to Kurdish tribes, Aghas and peasants along the border strip between Syria and Turkey in Al-Hasakah Governorate of the Kurdish majority. Then these agricultural lands were granted to Arab peasants brought from the governorates of Raqqa and Aleppo after their lands were submerged by the Assad Lake of the Euphrates Dam. These people were later known as the "Maghmurin" (which is affected by flooding/Submerged).
The length of the Arab Belt reaches 265 km, and its depth at the lowest point reaches 15 km, stretching from the city of Derik/Al-Malikiyah to the city of Serêkaniyê/Ras al-Ain. These areas are locally known as the Line 10 and are fertile agricultural lands, where all its villages belong to Kurdish clans, who have kinship with other Kurdish clans on the other side - within the Turkish borders.
How was the Project Executed?
In June 1974, the Syrian government began preparing lists with registered names of the Arab peasants, who would be transferred from the city of Tabqa to Al-Hasakah Governorate. Thereafter, the transferal of peasants was launched in view to the Decision No. 521 issued by the Regional Command of the Ba’ath Party.
The Syrian government also undertook the full financial expenses of building villages and transferring Arab peasants to Al-Hasakah Governorate on the border strip. As well as, it provided maximum-security for them, through its security branches in Al-Hasakah Governorate, in anticipation of any possible attack from the Kurdish clans whose lands were seized.
Jaber Bajbouj and Abdullah al-Ahmad, members of the Regional Command of the Ba’ath Party, and the direct supervisors of the implementation of the Arab Belt project in Al-Hasaka Governorate, took the Agricultural Scientific Research Center, in the village of Himo in the countryside of Qamishlo/Qamishli, as their headquarter. Hence, they began to guide the security elements and government agencies in the governorate to execute all the procedures resulting from the transfer and fixing of the "Maghmurin" premises.
In the beginning, the Syrian government settled the "Maghmurin" in tents, which were erected around the agricultural lands it had seized, and provided them with all the necessary equipment and supplies to complete the process of building the villages. Among the clans that arrived in Al-Hasakah Governorate during this operation were: Al-Busha’aban, Ajeel, Al-Jouabat, Al-Naser, Al-Amer, Al-Bosra, Al-Hwaywan and Al-Mghlizan. All of them were belonging to the “Wilda” tribes and they owned villages on both sides of the Euphrates River in the province of Raqqa.
The Syrian government granted the lands to the Arab tribes coming to Al-Hasakah Governorate, based on the rainfall level. It granted areas that reached 150 dunums, starting with the city of Derik/Al Malikiyah, and reaching to the city of Serêkaniyê/Ras al Ain, where the " Maghmurin" were granted 300 dunums.
The total agricultural land, seized from the Kurdish peasants and granted to the "Maghmurin", exceeded 3 million dunums in the border strip. The number of Arab families that benefited from these agricultural lands exceeded 4000 families with a population total that reached more than 40 thousand people who constituted 6% of the total population of Al-Hasakah governorate.
What was the Role of Muhammad Talab Hilal?
Muhammad Talab Hilal, an officer in the Syrian Ministry of Interior, graduated with the rank of retired Brigadier General in 1961 during the era of separatism. He became the Head of the Political Security Division in Al-Hasakah Governorate. Moreover, he held significant military and political positions in Syria and received the temporary membership of the Regional Command in the Ba'ath Party.
He served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture in 1970, thereafter served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry in 1971, in addition to being the Syrian ambassador to Poland between 1972 - 1979.
Muhammad Talab Hilal prepared a study entitled: "A Study of Al-Jazeera Canton regarding National, Social and Political Aspects". In his study he discussed the transformations that the Kurdish issue have undergone over a century, the regional influences on the issue, the social, economic and political conditions and circumstances of the Kurds, prominent Kurdish officials, and the Kurds' relations with European countries. At the end of his study, he concluded a set of proposals, some of which clearly stated the necessity of implementing the Arab Belt project, namely:
1. "Repopulating Arabic and national elements in the Kurdish areas on the borders, as they are the fortress of the future and the oversight of the Kurds at the same time, pending their displacement and we suggest these to be from 'Shammar' for they are, first, among the poorest tribes on the ground and second, they are 100% nationally guaranteed."
2. "Making Al-Jazeera northern strip a military zone as the frontline area, where military regiments are responsible for accommodating the Arabs and evacuating the Kurds, according to what the state plan to draw."
3. "The establishment of collective farms for the Arabs who are repopulated by the state in the northern strip, provided that these farms are trained and armed militarily exactly like the Jewish colonies on the borders"
Agrarian Reform Law?
The Syrian government issued, on 11th of June in 1958, the Agrarian Reform Law No. 161 which consisted of 33 Articles.
The first Article stated the following regarding Al-Hasakah Governorate:
(First: it is not permissible for anyone to own more than 55 hectares of well-irrigated lands in the governorates of Al-Hasakah, Deir Ezzor and Raqqa and 200 hectares concerning owning rainfed lands in areas where the rate of rain is less than 350 mm, or what equals these proportions of all these aforementioned kinds, in addition to raising this rate to 300 hectares in the governorates of Al-Hasakah, Deir Ezzor and Raqqa).
In the second article of the law, the right of assignment was granted by the owner to each of his spouses and children equaling only to 8% of the area he is entitled to keep.
In the fifth article, the law stipulated that:
(The state will seize, within the ten years following the date of the implementation of this law, what exceeds the maximum limit stated out in the first and second Articles. For the state is considered the owner of the land it seized and the one of which determined by the final seizure decision which is from the date of the initial seizure decision. Likewise, that the property becomes free from all rights in rem, signs, attachments, the rights of tenants, and every dispute between the concerned parties will transfer to the compensation of the seized lands which are decided by the competent authorities.)
In the ninth Article, the law stated that whomever the state has seized their lands in accordance with the provisions of the first Article, has the right of compensation and this compensation is calculated on the basis of ten times the average of rent allowance of the land for an agricultural cycle that does not exceed three years or the share of the owner thereof.
The Syrian government, during 1963, issued the legislative Decree No. 1109 which included the implementing regulation of the Agrarian Reform Law No. 161 of 1958 and they specified the mechanism for implementing the law.
The first Article of the Decree stated that:
"Every agricultural landowner, wherever the land is located and whatever the reason for its ownership, should submit the agricultural referred data No. 161 of 1958 amended by the legislative Decree No. 88 in 23-06-1963. It specifies the durations during which this provision must be made as the following:
1- Two months from the decree issued date, whether with respect to the lands indicated in the first Article of the legislative Decree No. 88 of 1963 that does not require decisions of the Board of Directors of the Agrarian Reform in the designation of its areas or lands previously designated by similar decisions.
2- Two months as of the decision issuance date of the Board of Directors of the Agrarian Corporation for the lands clarified in the Second Item of the First Article of the legislative Decree No. 88 of 1963, whose regions have not been designated yet."
The Agrarian Reform Law was not implemented in Al-Hasakah Governorate, even as stated in its provisions. The land seizure operations were based on robbing the Kurds their lands and granting them to the Arabs, especially on the border strip. The Syrian government did not provide any compensation to the peasants, nor did it grant any plot of land to the peasants of Al-Hasakah Governorate, who do not own agricultural land, but rather it was granted to families outside the governorate.
In a number of villages, the Syrian government has seized more agricultural land than is stipulated by the law, and has seized agricultural land from Kurdish peasants who are not included in the law.
What are the Villages of the "Maghmurin" Arabs in Al-Hasakah Governorate?
First: The Syrian government built 12 villages in the city of Qamishlo/Qamishli. These villages start from the town of Tirbespiye/Al-Qahtaniyah, and reach the village of Ghazala on the Amouda Road. These villages are:
Al-Mnathra: (24,750 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (165 beneficiary families).
Al-Harmoun: (21,600 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (144 beneficiary families).
Al-Qahtaniyah: (16,950 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (113 beneficiary families).
Hilwa: (25,200 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (126 beneficiary families).
Al-Tanouriyah: (30,600 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (153 beneficiary families).
Um al-Fursan: (31,000 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (124 beneficiary families).
Himo: (30,600 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (124 beneficiary families).
Al-Thawra: (6,800 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (34 beneficiary families).
Al-Hatmiyah: (22,400 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (112 beneficiary families).
Um al-Rabie'e: (12,400 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (62 beneficiary families).
Al-Bahirah: (21,800 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (109 beneficiary families).
Al-Jabriyah settlement: (20,800 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (104 beneficiary families)
Second: In the city of Derik/Al-Malikiyah. 12 villages were built, starting from the eastern bank of the Tigris River, to the west of the city's countryside. The villages are:
- Ain al-Khadra: (23847 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (159 beneficiary families).
- Tell Al-Sidq: (15,823 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (105 beneficiary families).
- Al-Sehiyah: (14,855 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (99 beneficiary families)
- Al-Mistafawiyah: (25,676 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (171 beneficiary families).
- Tell A'awar: (27,750 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (185 beneficiary families).
- Al-Hamraa: (15,735 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (105 beneficiary families).
- Al-Jawadiyah: (3,327 dunums), (each family is granted 56 dunums), (60 beneficiary families).
- Shabk: (8,120 dunums), (each family is granted 56 dunums), (145 beneficiary families).
- Tell Alo1: (6,788 dunums), (each family is granted 54 dunums), (125 beneficiary families).
- Tell Alo 2: (9,288 dunums), (each family is granted 54 dunums), (172 beneficiary families).
- Tokil: (21,540 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (143 beneficiary families).
- Ma'ashouq: (16,696 dunums), (each family is granted 150 dunums), (111 beneficiary families).
Third: In Serekaniye/Ras al-Ain. The Syrian government built 15 villages. Namely:
Tell Tishreen: (27,500 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (120 beneficiary families).
Al-Qunaytirah: (21,500 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (106 beneficiary families).
Al-Qayrawan: (21,500 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (135 beneficiary families).
Thahr al-Arab: (20,500 dunums), (each family is granted 200 dunums), (102 beneficiary families).
Al-Asadiyah: (23,750 dunums), (each family is granted 250 dunums), (95 beneficiary families).
Barqah: (13,570 dunums), (each family is granted 250 dunums), (56 beneficiary families).
Tell al-Hadarah 1+2: (16,800 dunums), (each family is granted 300 dunums), (55 beneficiary families).
Tell Arqam: (7160 dunums), (each family has 300 dunums), (22 beneficiary families).
Al-Mutanaby: (11,700 dunums), (each family is granted 300 dunums), (39 beneficiary families).
Um Izam: (7,000 dunums), (each family is granted 300 dunums), (19 beneficiary families).
Al-Inadiyah: (18,206 dunums), (each family is granted 300 dunums), (23 beneficiary families).
Al-Zawiyah: (27,000 dunums), (each family is granted 300 dunums), (87 beneficiary families).
Al-Dahmaa: (24,900 dunums), (each family is granted 300 dunums), (83 beneficiary families).
Hanadi: (26,100 dunums), (each family is granted 300 dunums), (85 beneficiary families).
Subsequently, the families that were settled in these villages established new villages on the agricultural lands they have seized, and dozens of villages have branched out from these villages, covering vast areas of Kurdish clans' agricultural lands. Today, the existing villages cannot be accurately counted, nor are there any statistics on them.
What are the Attitudes of Kurdish Political Parties regarding the Arab Belt?
The attempts of the Kurdish political parties towards this project were timid, and were almost entirely limited to the issuance of political statements condemning the project and demanding that it not be implemented.
The Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria “Parti” issued a statement of public opinion in July of 1973, in which they denounced the racist practices of the Syrian government, who implements projects of demographic change against the Kurds, and the statement indicated the following:
"There are two projects that support the racist projects that the Kurds suffer from in Syria, namely the projects of the Census and the Belt. The Census is a project of which foundations were laid in the era of separatism…. As for the intimidating project that targets the Kurdish presence in the region, it is the Belt project, which is called ‘an Affront to of Arabism’ through the Arabi Belt. The idea of its establishment began to appear along the emergence of the racist mentality of a little security officer who later became a minister, as a reward for a project aimed at the evacuation of the Kurdish presence from their regions to repopulate Arabic tribes instead."
On 1973, in the beginning of June, the Left Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria issued an appeal to the Syrian public opinion which stated:
"Recently, attempts at such standards started by some elements of the authorities that aim to implement the common Arabic Belt racist project in Al-Jazeera region. As is well known, hundreds of Kurdish peasants have been deprived, by the authorities, of lands in the area on the northwestern border for the aim of displacing them and repopulating Arab peasants instead. The authorities named the project as 'State Farms' and demanded from what it called 'the National and Progressive Forces' to move quickly to cut the foundations of this scheme. It also, called on holding them responsible for the delay of this issue that need to be promptly addressed."
The Syrian government had arrested five leading members of the Kurdish Democratic Party “Parti” and they were; Daham Miro; the Party Secretary along with the leading members: Kana’an Agid, Muhammad Nazir Mustafa, Muhammad Amin Sheikh Klein Hori, Khaled Mashayekh; Abdullah Malla Ali, Muhammad Fakhri; who were all tried for eight years in prison.
Also, the late Ahmed Haj Sa’eed, from Derbasiyah, and Hasan Muhammad Yousif Musa from the countryside of Qamishli, were arrested, on August 20 in 1973, as they distributed leaflets calling for resistance and the condemnation of “the conspiracy”.
References and Sources:
1. Barzan Majido (Abdul-Samad Daoud), The Arab Belt in Al-Jazeera, Syria, Second Edition, Qamishlo, 2015.
2. The Syrian People's Assembly, Decree 1109 of 1963, the Agricultural Reform Law No. 161 of 1958.
3. The Syrian People's Assembly, Decree 1109 of 1963, Executive Regulations of the Agricultural Reform Law No. 161 of 1958.
4. First Lieutenant: Muhammad Talab Hilal, A Study of Al-Jazeera Canton regarding National, Social and Political Aspects, 1963.