Ghassan Alhallak

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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“Amid the widespread administrative corruption in the country, the contractor used to sort things out with the municipality until the illegal residential record was constructed.”

Ghassan Alhallak dropped out of middle school in 1968. He went on to work with his father and brothers in trade since his father decided to have his children help him at work after he dissolved his partnership with his brother.
After about one year of work, Ghassan took charge of a shop located in al-Ameen Street in Damascus, which then became a center approved by the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade for the sale of building materials in al-Shaghour area.
Ghassan worked with his father and five brothers for many years in various fields, such as the grain trade, food, trade and transport of building materials, digging, transportation and others. Their shops in Damascus are still open and are run by their children to this day.
Traders of food grains did not deal in bonds or paper contracts but relied on trust when doing business. “One time, a merchant visited us at our grain mill in the Dakhaniyah area. When he introduced himself, we learned that he was the same merchant we had been dealing with for four years, exchanging millions of pounds by phone without ever having met in person,” says Ghassan.
In 1975, Ghassan worked for a few years as an escort and supervisor of a truck convoy belonging to a family who transported goods to Iraq and the Gulf States. “We used to carry goods to the Gulf States and come back in empty trucks. We even transported empty plastic containers from Beirut to be used in a dairy factory in Riyadh; today, the Gulf States are exporting everything to the region,” he says.
In the early 1980s, Ghassan started working in illegal agricultural construction in several areas of the countryside around Damascus, such as al-Duwayli'ah, al-Ghassaniyah, al-Nashabiyah, Ein Tarma, Aqraba and others. The work consisted of building on agricultural land without obtaining a state permit. The reason for this phenomenon was population growth with lack of corresponding administrative growth. “Illegal construction was suitable for low-income individuals who cannot afford to buy a regular house. The price per square meter of an illegal house that was ready for occupation was about 1,000 Syrian pounds, while the price per square meter of a regular house was between 10 and 15 thousand pounds,” he says.
"Amid widespread administrative corruption in the country, the contractor used to sort things out with the municipality until the illegal residential record was constructed. At that time, I felt that by working on residential and construction projects, I had achieved a small part of my old dream of becoming an engineer, even without holding a degree in Engineering” he adds.
In 1993, Ghassan and his brothers met with their father to arrange their business affairs. The family’s assets were inventoried, and the real estate, property and responsibilities were divided among them. “Each of us took his own share of my father’s property in order to avoid future problems or bad feeling between brothers,” he says. “My father was like a friend of ours, leaving us the freedom to run our own businesses after each of us had gained experience and become professional in his own field.”
In the mid-1990s, Ghassan founded a sock factory employing about 40 workers with 10 external sewing workshops. The factory exported goods to Germany since Syrian goods were exempt from tax there. After about a year and a half, the business was terminated because of his partner’s misconduct, he says.
In 2006, Ghassan contributed to the relaunching the Syrian International University for Science and Technology by building a new campus and issuing a new operating license. "Under the deal, I was granted four percent of the university's shares. The project was successful, and everything was going well. However, the university’s president was greedy and dictatorial, and after succeeding, he went against his partners. So, I withdrew from the partnership and established a tourist accommodation complex in the town of Rankous from the proceeds of my share in the university,” says Ghassan.
Ghassan considers the tourist complex as the most important project of his life. He had quit working in illegal construction after a presidential decree was issued sentencing any owner of an illegal building to imprisonment from one to ten years.
“At that time, my children had grown up and become capable of running some of my business affairs. So, I devoted my time to my 55-dunam tourist complex, which included 35 villas and 500 apartments. I also chose a 400-meter villa in a very special location as my home after retirement. I equipped the house with a swimming pool, separate office and backyard to benefit from the beautiful view,” says Ghassan.
“Six complete buildings were built, containing 54 apartments, and the foundations of six other buildings were also laid. However, that dream did not come to fruition because of the Syrian crisis. So, all my efforts during the past 50 years have gone to waste” he adds.