Coinciding with the first anniversary of the occupation of Afrin area by the Turkish Forces and their loyal Syrian rebel and Islamic factions, after a large military operation under the name of “Olive Branch” Operation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored al-Wahda Kurdish Party (Yekiti) sending a note to the United Nations on the Turkish occupation and violations committed and being committed in Afrin area and the northern area of Syria, and the al-Wahda party wished the Committee to send the fact-finding mission to Afrin and be precise in the investigations, to describe the facts and determine responsibilities and duties, it also called the Council of Human rights, the United Nations, and the UN Security Council to make strenuous efforts to improve the humanitarian situation of the people of Afrin wherever they are, and to put an end to the violations, in addition to evaluating the Turkish intervention in Afrin area and describing it as an “occupation,” and thus, obliging the Turkish Government to bear its duties and responsibilities in accordance with the laws and charters relating to the situations of occupation, it also showed its preparations to disclose the facts and to transfer the facts to the International Commission of Inquiry.
The text of the letter, a copy of which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights received, reads:
To: Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Gutiérrez, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michel Bachelet, independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, representatives States members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (the report A/HRC/40/70 dated 31st of January 2019, Issued by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, covering the period between 11th of July 2018 and 10th of January 2019, submitted to the 40th Session on the 25th of February – 22nd of March 2019 of the Human Rights Council, which shows that the Commission has investigated many of the violations committed, and concluded that “violations and the general absence of the rule of law constitute a harsh reality the civilians are living throughout the country, despite the general decline in hostilities, there are still many challenges related to the sustainable return of the internally displaced people and refugees.”
Concerning the area of Afrin (Kardag) – northwest of Syria, which was occupied by the Turkish army and armed jihadi factions accompanied it and act under its command, after an aggressive military operation under the name of “Olive Branch” between the 20th of January and the 18th March/2018; the distinguished Commission of inquiry listed paragraphs in its report mentioned above on the situation in the area noting “the absence of the rule of law, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction, torture, looting and seizing property, the exacerbation of the unstable security situation, abductions by members of armed groups and criminal gangs in order to obtain ransom, bombing booby-trapped cars and improvised explosive devices, extortion of the people to pay bribes, mass looting of olive harvest, harassment of women, issuance of biometric identity documents, looting and seizure of houses for civilians…,” and it say: “the Committee was unable to determine whether the Turkish authorities could control the conduct of the armed groups,” it also said “the Commission remains unable to confirm precisely the extent to which Afrin and its suburbs were under the control of Turkish Forces or armed groups, neither whether the Turkish Forces are capable of exercising effective authority and carry out governmental tasks in Afrin, because of the flagrant absence of the rule of law, and it also remains unclear whether the Turkish Forces are capable of exercising full control over any armed groups present in the area.”
Gentlemen, while appreciating the efforts of the International Commission of Inquiry regarding the situation in Syria, and we understand the many difficulties it encountered in its work, we offer you several observations and issues that the Committee has failed to mention, where we believe that it was mistaken in assessing certain aspects, and we hope that our note will receive this appropriate attention by you, to serve the efforts of putting an end to the tragedy of the Syrian people in all its components. Afrin was a safe area, witnessing a remarkable development and advancement under relative stability, managed by the self- administration and protected by people’s and women’s Protection Units YPG-YPJ, and it received tens of thousands of displaced people from other Syrian areas, but it was transformed into a chaotic area after being occupied by the Turkish army, which allowed the jihadi factions loyal to it to wreak havoc on the area.
For more clarification, we draw your attention to the following:
- The Turkish military and administrative presence in Afrin area is a full-fledged occupation from several aspects: the Turkish military operation was launched against the Syrian Afrin and inside its territory by land, air, and all types of weapons, with prior planning and preparation and prior determination, the military operation is considered an aggression, which itself is a crime against humanity; where it lacks the requirements of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, which the Turkish Government has long been taking as a pretext, since there has been no attack against the Turkish state along the border with Afrin area and there has been no direct threats against it, and no cases of violations have been documented in the past years, in addition to the fact that the government of Ankara has not placed before the United Security Council any briefing on the process and did not inform it of its intention to do that; and did not abide by the truce decision of the Security Council No. 2401, dated 24th of February 2018, during the war, so, there is no legal basis for that operation.
The Syrian government has expressed its rejection of the Turkish aggression against Afrin officially, and considered it an occupation, in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, and its right and its national duty is to defend Syria and its sovereignty against any aggression, regardless of the side deals held by Turkey with influential countries in Syria, which allowed the Turkish government to start the aggression and war on Afrin.
The self-administration in Afrin, its people, and political forces rejected the Turkish operation and condemned it at all levels and embraced a popular resistance against the aggression, and repeatedly called for solving the problems between both countries through dialogue and diplomatic channels.
As long as the territory of Afrin is under the effective authority of another state (Turkey), according to all details and facts, it is considered to be an occupied Syrian territory in accordance with article /42/ of the Hague Convention of 1907, and no other mitigating descriptions may be released on the illegal Turkish presence in Afrin.
Subjecting people of the area to the management and the authority of the Turkish government through the public presence of its army with light and heavy weapons at the entire border with Afrin from the inside and the outside as well as its south (Deir Ballut village to Shirawa Mountain, the villages of Barad, Kimar, Baslih, Jarbiyyah, until the outskirts of Azaz)and within the area; which has officers directly supervising all armed factions, in addition to the intelligence deployment and the administrative branch of Hatay province, with tens of Turkish staff.
An official border gate opened with Afrin near Hamam village west of Jandairis, the installation of Turkish telecom towers and post office, with intensive activity of the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs “Diyanet” and associations with charitable names that work to spread religious extremism and the fanatic Turkish nationalist ideology.
Violation of the sovereignty of a state (Syria) which is a member of the United Nations, and the Turkish flag was raised at all military and security headquarters and on the buildings of administrative and educational institutions and in the public places, even on the minarets of some mosques within the area, seeking to deduct part of the Syrian territory against the backdrop of expansionist Turkish ambitions.
The Ankara Government and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, did not hide their hostility towards any entity representing Syria’s Kurds and their rejection of their rights, where the aim of their war on Afrin was to strike their presence and role, and the arguments of (fighting terrorists, protecting Turkey’s national security) were only excuses to justify that aggression; they repeatedly assert their control over Afrin and falsely claimed to be (providing security and stability in it).
Second: Systematic demographic change operations, which rise to the level of ethnic cleansing against the people who made up 95% of the population of Afrin before the war and fell below 40% now, starting from being forced to displace –forced displacement– by shelling the inhabited places and terrorizing the pp, and also by:
Tens of thousands of people were brought in from other Syrian areas and were resettled and housed in homes of the original Kurdish citizens in Afrin city, the townships of Jandairis, Sheikh al-Hadid, Maabatli, Raju, Bulbul and Sharan and hundreds of towns and villages, at a time when the Turkish occupation authorities are preventing the opening of crossings in the area for Afrin’s displaced people to return, who are more than 200000 people, and about 135000 of them are still living in areas of displacement.
The gunmen and immigrants refrain from evacuating homes and shops that belong to citizens of Afrin, despite repeated claims and numerous complaints.
Preventing the return of inhabitants of many villages (Baslih, Jelbereyh, Qastal Jandu, Paflon, Sinka, Shikhorzah, Barafa, Jabaliyah, Darwish…) either to be taken over by immigrants or because they have become military bases for the Turkish army and armed factions.
Creating full paralysis in the areas of work and production, and various harassment and pressures that aim to displace more people from the area.
Third: the report also failed to mention:
The systematically violations committed in Afrin rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, in accordance with the standards of international humanitarian law, which are larger, broader, and more influential than what was mentioned in the report in general.
Turkey’s confirmed role in looting the olive season, by imposing royalties through the local councils, restricting the movement, sale, and purchase of olive oil, and buying it by a Turkish team at low prices, which was acknowledged by the Turkish Minister of Agriculture in a session of the Parliament, this comes in the context of the policy of impoverishing the original people, whose main source of livelihood is the olive season, where the losses of the season have reached about $105 million USD.
Imposing fines through courts established by the occupation authorities on every employee who worked earlier at the former administration, in addition to the existence of secret prisons, and the fate of more than 1000 abducted and detained people remains unknown.
The deterioration of infrastructure through shelling or theft and vandalism, including the grids of electricity, telephone, drinking water, and water resources irrigation projects, etc.
Low level of services, health care, and education.
Perpetrators of crimes and violations are not held accountable, and sometimes the victim is punished simply for filing a complaint.
Closing the area in front of the media, fact-finding committees and delegations of human rights and civic organizations.
Damage to the environment, trees, forests, and monuments.
Looting and stealing seasons of cereals, fruits, and vegetables.
Spreading the culture of religious extremism and racism and fighting the culture and heritage of the area through numerous changes and violations, including attacks on symbols and monuments of cultural specificity to the Kurdish people and sabotaging them.
Persecution of the Yazidi people and their beliefs, and the closure and sabotage of the only Christian church in the area.
Closing intermediate vocational colleges and the only university in Afrin, which prevented thousands of students from completing their school education.
Seizing the property of the absent residents of the area and confiscating it and preventing their relatives from managing it.
About 7000 gunmen were resettled with some of their families in the Afrin area, of who fled from Idlib province during the past months under the strikes of Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham (Jabhat al-Nusra).
What made us surprised, is the fact that the International Commission of Inquiry avoided holding the Turkish country responsible for what is going on in Afrin area, saying “It is unable to confirm precisely the extent to which Afrin and its environs were under the control of Turkish Forces or armed groups, and whether the Turkish Forces are able to exercise effective power and carry out government tasks in Afrin “, despite all facts and details, as we have already said, we confirm that Turkey effectively controls and exercises direct control over most of Afrin’s area, and practically leads the armed factions that openly declare allegiance to Turkey, and paying their members monthly salaries, where the government of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Ankara brags about imposing its control over Afrin, and considers the Afrin operation as a success of its policy both inside and outside of Turkey.
The people of Afrin know very well who are the ones committing crimes and violations and know who are responsible of them, armed jihadi faction groups, with different names and with direct Turkish supervision, planning, and participation, where the Turkish officers supervise all investigations and cases of torture that take place with their children, there is no sharing in authority in the sub-level areas, as valued by the commission, but there is only one authority over Afrin, its villages, and towns, which is the Turkish occupation authority, that uses armed factions and local councils as tools to pass its policies.
Attributing the violations to “members of armed groups”, as stated in some places in the report, without holding leaders and authorities of the occupying responsible is erroneous and dubious thing; none of the Turkish Forces have withdrawn from Afrin or were replaced by “members of armed groups”, they are strengthening their presence day after another, and they withdrew a section of these groups to sites near the areas of Manbij and east Euphrates in preparation for possible invasions.
This requires the esteemed committee to call on the Government of Ankara to answer several questions and queries, and that it or its delegates make a field visits to Afrin area and to areas from which a section of its people have been displaced, in order to investigate the facts and determine the exact responsibilities, in addition to the necessities of allowing the media and the delegations of interested institutions, civic, human rights organizations, and staff of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to carry out their activities.
On the other hand, the committee in its report did not pay attention to the situation of the displaced people of Afrin, who are about 135000 people and they are present in the areas of al-Shahba, Tal Rifaat, Deir Jamal, Nubl and Zahra, and the villages of Samaan Mountains/Liloun, Rubarya -Shirawa\ north of Aleppo, some of whom live in miserable camps, and despite the efforts of the former self-administration of Afrin, they are in a tragic humanitarian situation, not covered by United Nations humanitarian programs, trapped between Turkish Forces and their loyal armed militias and between the Syrian government forces, where they cannot move towards Afrin or towards Aleppo city and areas of the self-administration -Manbij and east of Euphrates; there was no “return for tens of thousands of civilians to Afrin during the period under review”, according to the report, where the displaced people cannot return to their homes because of closing the area’s crossings before them and due to their fear of serious violations, on the contrary, tens of families from Afrin have gotten out towards areas of Kobani and Al-Jazeera as a result of the massive abuses, which means that there are new displacements.
We, in the Kurdish Democratic Unity party in Syria (Yekiti), we are ready to cooperate and assist in the detection of facts and transferring facts to the International Commission of inquiry, since we are constantly communicating with victims of violations, locals, and activists inside and outside the area, and we have many documents and reports on violations, and we wish that the committee send the fact-finding mission to Afrin and to be precise in its investigations, to describe the facts and define responsibilities and duties, we also request the Human Rights Council, the United Nations body, and the Security Council to make strenuous efforts to improve the humanitarian situation of the people of Afrin wherever they are, and put an end to the violations, in addition to assessing the Turkish intervention in Afrin area and describing it as an “occupation”, thus obliging the Turkish Government to assume its duties and responsibilities in accordance with the laws and charters relating to the occupation, taking full account to the international humanitarian law, in parallel with working on ending the occupation and returning the area to its people and to the Syrian sovereignty, in efforts and endeavors to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis.