The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Afrin: a year on demographic change, occupation, looting, trafficking in detainees, erasing history, displacing hundreds of thousands, destroying resources, and wealth, imposing power, and intimidation

Afrin’s displaced people watch the people who were displaced to Afrin, after a demographic change engineered by Ankara and carried out by its forces by a regional – international deal, made Afrin empty of its residents full of displaced people from other Syrian areas, and made the northern countryside of Aleppo full of hundreds of thousands of people forced to displace by “Olive Branch” operation, which today, the 19th of March 2019, completes its first year of controlling Afrin, after a military operation killed hundreds of Afrin’s people, wounded hundreds, destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced hundreds of thousands, the operation was established with the aim of controlling Afrin area and making a demographic change and expelling the Kurds from their areas, and resettling other displaced people in their homes, they also destroyed the Kurdish symbol, the statue of Kawa al-Haddad, and then -on the locust day- the fighters raided the houses, shops, and all the property and they looted them and stole money, gold, furniture, cars, and even mobile phones, not caring for the reactions of the international community with which to Turkey had already had understanding on the occupation of Afrin.

The latest results of the Turkish violations were the opening of “Olive Branch” crossing, which connects Afrin area to the Turkish side, this crossing consumed hundreds of trees which were unfairly cut by the Turkish authorities and by direct order of them, to be a new official crossing between areas of control of the Turkish Forces in Syria, especially Afrin area and Iskenderun, where the Syrian Observatory published previously that the Turkish authorities and the local councils in Afrin countryside, are cutting off olive trees and opening the road between Afrin area and Iskenderun, in order to start running the trucks for trading and transporting the olive and other material from Syria, through an active trading process, and the reliable sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory in the past 24 hours, that the Turkish authorities have constructed a land crossing linking between Afrin area and Iskenderun, through Hamam area, in order to be used for the trade of olive and transport it into the Turkish interior, where it is expected that the incoming days will witness a formal announcement about opening the crossing, and the sources suggested that it will be an alternative one for the crossing points of Bab Al-Hawa and Atma or support them.

With these violations and as Nowruz approaches, which is celebrated worldwide by the Kurds, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has received a copy of a circulation issued by the local councils in the area, reporting that there will not be a holiday on the 20th of March 2019, or on any other day, there will never be a holiday in Nowruz, and all of the official institutions will continue their work on the 21st of the same month, and the citizens will not be allowed in Nowruz to protest, setting fire to tires, celebrate or entertain, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the destruction and looting of about 10 ancient sites, about 10 shrines, in addition to uprooting and burning more than 125000 olive trees, looting factories, dismantling their equipment, and transporting them and stealing schools and public service centers, and administrative, service, and medical facilities.

And with the arrest of more persons and the release of others, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the kidnapping and arresting of about 2650 citizens including more than 1070 persons who are still in detention, while the rest were released after most of them paid ransom imposed by members of the “Olive Branch” Operation, sometimes it reached more than 10 million Syrian pounds, where the Syrian Observatory monitored more than once that the factions send audio or video clips to families of the abducted people, and impose money without bargaining, along with threats of liquidating their relatives if the desired amount of money was not paid, also the factions who were given authority by Turkey in the area -after international silence that has given power to Turkey in Afrin- carried out arrests against both genders, men and women, after these factions turned the kidnappings and ransom on charges the most prominent of which are “belonging to the Kurdish Forces and communicating and working for them”, where kidnapping for a ransom has become a popular trade adopted by most factions, in an attempt to collect the largest possible amount of money, and to clamp down on the remaining population in the region, and the SOHR monitored that the factions have transferred abductees to detention and custody centers made up of civilian homes that were seized and turned by them into headquarters for the pro-Turkey factions, which share influence and property in Afrin, and from time to time carry out looting and confiscation of property and funds.

Afrin witnessed massacres and killing operations claimed the lives of 389 civilians including 55 children and 36 women of civilian citizens of the Kurds, Arabs, and Armenians, tens of them were killed in a mine explosion and under torture by “Olive Branch” factions, also the majority of them were killed by the Turkish aerial and artillery shelling and bombardment, and in several executions against citizens in Afrin area since the 20th of January 2018, until the same date of 2019, including about 89 civilians including 6 children and 3 women, were killed since after the Turkish Forces took control of Afrin on the 19th of March 2018, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also monitored the injury of hundreds and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others, where the violations and inhuman practices remained the share of the remaining residents of Afrin area, who refused to leave their homes and farms for the Turkish Forces and factions that stole, devoured, looted, and seized the property of civilians and private and public property in the entire area of Afrin.

And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has also monitored more than 158 assassinations, attacks and targeting operations that targeted “Olive Branch” in Afrin area, since the Kurdish forces lost Afrin area at the end of the second third of March 2018, where it rose to 698, the number of members of the Turkish forces and the rebel and Islamic factions including 85 Turkish soldiers, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the death of at least 1586 fighters of YPG and Self-Defense Forces, who have been killed since the start of Operation “Olive Branch” in January 2018, also at least 91 of the popular members of the regime forces have been killed in the Turkish bombardment since they entered on the 20th of February 2018, while the Turkish forces have carried out about 144 assassinations and targeting against the forces controlling Afrin, while leading sources of the YPG denied that their forces or cells had relation or responsibility for many of the assassinations and acts of torture; some of which appeared on videos and attributed to the Kurdish Forces, and the sources accused other cells belong to other parties of carrying out these assassinations and attributing them to the Kurdish Forces for their own agenda, the main aim of which is to escalating their violations against the civilians, where the resentment has been increasing among the civilians day after day, with the unfair and unjust procedures, and the silence of the Turkish Forces -who are leading the “Olive Branch” operation- and not responding to their complaints.

Forms of violations varied from seizing olive crops, to seizing thousands of olive oil barrels, collecting royalties and taxes, seizing and looting houses, seizing and selling farms, establishing military headquarters and camps in property of citizens, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned from reliable sources that groups operating in “Olive Branch” Operation after controlling Afrin spoke to the Turkish authorities, demanding them to expel the residents of Afrin city and its countryside completely, and to confiscate their property, livelihoods, farms, homes and their contents in full, which was rejected by the Turkish authorities, the sources confirmed that they wanted the same goal but they opposed the method, telling those who wanted this decision that it will bring the international community against them, and push the whole world to intervene in favor of the Kurds inhabitants of the area, and issued their orders to wait, and that the day will come when residents of the area will ask to get out of it, and they will pay to get out of their houses and farms and leave them, which is what happened slowly, as hundreds of families who remained in Afrin have fled as a result of the escalation of violations against them of kidnapping, beatings, assaults, looting, theft, and assaulting women and girls.

Which aroused anger of residents of Afrin and the people who were displaced of it who were prevented by Turkey from returning to their villages and towns, amid a Shameful silence by the world which did not show any action to what Turkey is doing in Afrin area of daily violations against the residents and the civilians.

Intersected sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that a military commander in Rahman Corps (who was displaced from eastern Ghouta) had an agreement with the local council in Afrin city, based on taking an area of a mountainous land located in the area between Basutah and Afrin city by the military commander, based on considering it as a “no-man’s-land” and it is not owned by anyone, and then granting 400 meters to the displaced people of the Eastern Ghouta in exchange of $100. Reliable sources confirmed that the agreement had been reached between both parties, but no displaced person has been handover anything yet.

The royalties imposed on the civilian and the people who move in Afrin area on the main and sub-roads, where varying sums of money are paid to checkpoints of “Olive Branch” Forces, who stop the small, large, public and private vehicles, and sometimes it goes beyond royalty and turn to looting, not to mention the arbitrary control of “Olive Branch” operation factions of the economic resources in Afrin- came against the backdrop of the seizure of most of the olive plantations in Afrin by the factions of operation “Olive branch”, and leasing it dealers and workers to work in them and receive money in advance as a price for the lease of these seized plantations, which are more than 75% of the area of olive farms in Afrin, after the factions shared control of olive farms.

Where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored a complete seizure of Afrin city by the Turkish forces and “Olive Branch” operation factions, where these factions split their areas of control and write phrases on everything being seized to prove their ownership of it, and to prevent the rest of the factions from seizing the same real estate or machine, also they burned olive plantations and property, while violations exceeded the seizure and dividing of property to carrying out daily raids of houses under the pretext of searching for weapons and sleeper cells and other pretexts, they also looted the property of houses of jewelry, money, electronic appliances, even mobile phones and furniture, while the theft moved from private property to public property, where groups of factions working in Afrin area stole electric copper cables in front of the people as well as hospitals and service institutions, while these robberies created internal clashes between rebel and Islamic factions operating in “Olive Branch” operation, which killed and injured tens of members in frequent rounds of bloody fighting, while the Turkish authorities did not engage in any kind of deterrence or pressure, but attempted to resolve disputes that may get completely out of control.

Also, factions in “Olive Branch” operation formed mock courts that request identity papers relating to property ownership in Afrin area in the northwestern sector of Aleppo province, and the sources confirmed that the process of ordering the papers is accompanied by information provided by intersected sources; about the start of preparations by the Corps’ court to return properties inhabited by fighters to their owners, and the sources confirmed that the houses are being seized until proofing the ownership of the house by a paper from the Land Registry in Aleppo that proves the ownership of the house to the plaintiff, even if there were charges of affiliation to the Kurdish forces or Kurdish political parties, where the ownership of the home is returned its owners, but those who cannot prove that, their property are seized and sold at an auction, also the individual arms and personal belongings areas sold in the same way at special auctions, which has aroused widespread dissatisfaction among residents of Afrin who the regime did not grant them access to Aleppo city as displaced people, amid fears that many displaced and remaining families cannot prove their ownership, where the people considered this as a new chapter in the process of restricting to displace the remaining civilians.

Also the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring new chapters in the series of the continuous violations practiced by the “Olive Branch” Operation Factions; against the remaining residents of Afrin city and its countryside in the northwest sector of Aleppo province, where the Syrian Observatory learned that members from a brigade working in Afrin area broke into a house near al-Nirouz roundabout in Afrin city, and arrested a Kurdish man with his son and daughter accused them of being “cells of YPG”, where they were taken to an unknown destination, and in the same context, members from al-Hamza brigade seized agricultural land owned by a citizen of Afrin, under the pretext of “he resides in Germany and supports YPG”, where the brother of the landowner, his agent, was expelled and the land that includes hundreds of trees of olives was seized.

The Syrian Observatory published yesterday, Monday, that factions of the “Olive Branch” Operation supported by Turkey continue their violations in Afrin city and its countryside against its remaining people, to steal their lands, arrest, and restrict them. And in a new chapter in the series of violations: “al-Sultan Shah” Brigade -which is part of the “Olive Branch” factions- legalized its thefts of the livelihood of Afrin people through series of resolutions issued and circulated regarding the harvesting of olives in Shih Township in the countryside of Afrin, and these decisions stipulate the imposition of royalties in different proportions on the olive harvest, where residents owners of the agricultural lands in the area were forced to pay 10% of their produce, but in the case of absence of the agricultural landowners in the area their agents act on behalf of them; and higher percentages were determined as follows:

15% of the crop is paid if the agents are first class relatives to the landowners (father, mother, brother, sister).

If the agents are from the area but not related to the landowners, the royalty will be 25% of the total crop production.

35% of the total crop production is paid if the agents are from “supporters” of YPG according to the circulation of the Sultan Shah faction.

Also reliable sources in the southwestern countryside of Afrin confirmed that Turkish vehicles, equipment, and devices were seen on the hill of Jandairis, where the Turkish teams on the hill dug in it and searched for buried stuff and antiques using the equipment they brought to the hill, along with teams specialized in the search for antiquities, and the reliable sources of the Syrian Observatory added that the roads near the hill that lead to it were completely closed by the Turkish Forces, and the Syrian Observatory monitored by photographs the machines they use in excavations in Jandairis Hill area, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights obtained information from other sources that excavations were taking place in Maabatli countryside in the western sector of Afrin countryside, where excavation operations and drilling took place in Tal Ali Aysheh and Tal Zarfakeh, in a manner similar to what is happening in Jandairis area of excavation and closing roads to the area.

Turkey has transformed during the last months and years to a market for selling gold and antiques; found by hundreds of drilling workshops within areas control of the rebel and Islamic factions and areas of control of Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkestani Islamic party, the “Islamic State” Organization, and “Jihadi” factions, where antiques and manuscripts were smuggled from the east of Damascus to the Syrian north then into the Turkish territory, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights obtained information from several reliable sources that the looting of antiquities in Afrin area located in the northwestern sector of Aleppo continues, and it continues to ignite the resentment of residents of Afrin area and its displaced people, where some of them said: “they came with allegations of liberating Afrin and protect it, but its protector became its thieves.” Credible sources told the Syrian Observatory that a leader in al-Shami Islamic Corps close to the Turkish authorities is conducting archaeological excavations in the areas of Midanki and al-Nabi Hori, where they loot antiquities they find, amid intended turn-a-blind-eye by Turkey in letting the factions change the history of the area, after transforming its present and future, and its hundreds of thousands residents have become displaced in camps north of Aleppo, while their houses are being looted, robbed, and seized by factions of “Olive Branch” Operation Forces, which took control of Afrin at the end of the second third of March 2018.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published on the 3rd of October 2018 that from violation to violation, and from looting to another, where the looting is becoming more of an erasing for the history of people of the area than looting, through pre-determined looting operations, in which the instigators work to achieve the goals of the demographic change and erasing history, as has happened in various Syrian areas, while the executors earn money from selling these antiquities and the material they find, which decreases the amount of antiquities day after the other; after allowing it by the military party which controls of the area, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring by video the theft and looting carried out by a military faction operating in Afrin area , and in the details obtained by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: the 1st Corps of the National Army led by the Renegade Colonel defected of the regime forces Moataz Reslan, who working under the command of the Turkish authorities, where he deliberately stole antiquities from al-Nabi Hori Castle area, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was able to monitor the excavation, robbery, and looting which took place in the area in the northern countryside of Afrin near the Syrian – Turkish border, and the reliable sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory that commander of the Corps is the one overseeing the excavation and looting of antiquities, as part of a new episode in the looting series in the Syrian areas, where it is sold in the local and regional market and then transferred to other areas, as happened in Idlib Province and its surroundings during the past years by the factions controlling the area.

These thefts and looting of relics from al-Nabi Hori area in Afrin come after major violations in Afrin area against civilians, olive plantations, property of citizens, and infrastructure, where the Syrian Observatory monitored that the warplanes carried out several raids since Operation “Olive Branch” was launched on the 20th of January 2018, on 3 archeological sites, which are Deir Meshmesh  area in the south-east of Afrin, Al-Nabi Hori area in the north-east of Afrin, and Ein Dara archeological area in the south of Afrin, and the strikes resulted in material damage in the areas of Deir Meshmesh and Al-Nabi Hori, and caused great destruction to Ein Dara area, and this intensive shelling on Afrin area which is semi-besieged, and the targeting of the archeological sites by the Turkish warplanes, caused rage among locals, who accused the Turkish forces of an attempt to eliminate the archeological sites that represent the civilizations in the area of Afrin.

The wave of displacement which was one of the largest displacements ever mostly headed towards the northern countryside of Aleppo, after the regime forces prevented civilians from reaching Aleppo city, and about $1000 USD were imposed on the person in order to be smuggled towards Aleppo city, also some of the smugglings were carried out in different ways through regime’s checkpoints to Aleppo city in return for large sums of money, to begin the journey of tragedy for those displaced people, where some of them were able to shelter themselves in houses and the rest were housed in a quickly-built camps, protecting them neither from the winter’s cold nor the summer’s heat, accompanied by turning a blind eye by the international relief and humanitarian organizations towards helping them, where the assistance provided was not as the size of the tragedy and did not provided much help, while tens citizens were injured and killed while they were attempting to reach Aleppo city.

This denial of access to Aleppo city by the authorities of the regime of Bashar al-Assad was accompanied by the prevention by the Turkish Forces and the rebel and Islamic Syrian opposition factions; for the displaced citizens from returning to their villages and towns in Afrin area, where the checkpoints were set up and the citizens were prevented from returning, while the Turkish authorities used their homes, villages, and farms as a way to settle tens of thousands of displaced people of the Eastern Ghouta and displaced people from central and south of Syria, including those who were resettled in homes, farms, apartments, camps. The largest proportion were for families of the fighters working in the “Olive Branch” operation factions or factions displaced from other Syrian areas to the Syrian north, also Afrin and its properties were used as a means by the Turkish side to keep the factions working in the “Olive Branch” operation busy and deliberately carried out looting and theft, where the Syrian Observatory monitored hundreds of thefts carried out by members both individually and by groups of factions working in the area, as well as mass looting by factions as happened on the locust day; when Afrin city and its countryside, houses, shops, warehouses, and machineries were looted.