18 months of abuse by the Turkish Forces in Afrin: who is left of its citizens become easy prey to the Syrian factions loyal to them
Over the 18 months during which the Turkish Forces and their loyal Syrian factions controlled of the Syrian area of Afrin, in what is known as “Olive Branch” Operation; the situation has gotten worse in the Syrian city, which used to be under the control of the Self-Administration north and east of Syria, where looting, arrests, and insecurity have become almost daily operations, as well as attempts of the demographic change and reforming the area in line with interests of the Turkish country.
Since the complete fall of Afrin back on the 18th of March 2018, the Ankara-loyal factions have not hesitate in taking all ways and measures to achieve their personal interests at the expense of the citizens, who are suffering widespread extortion, stealing, and looting, and the situation did not stop there, but reached a point where the Syrian refugees in Turkey were deported and resettled in “Afrin” and areas of control of “Olive Branch”, in addition to stealing the olive oil -which Afrin is famous for- to benefit the Turkey-loyal armed factions.
Isolation, forced displacement, and demographic change… Turkey violates international laws
Once the Turkish-backed “Olive Branch” factions took control of the city, they launched their operations and violations against the original people in the city, seeking to force the people who refused to be displace to other areas to leave their areas, and according to information obtained by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Turkish Forces and their loyal factions are currently re-registering the real estate in Afrin, in order to deprive the displaced Kurds of their land, where statistics of the real estate and property are being prepared; in addition to the number of residents in each village and the ethnicities they belong to, as part of Turkey’s demographic change operation in the area.
According to reliable information the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights observed on 8th of July; the Turkey-supported factions are counting property of the Kurdish citizens in Afrin, with the aim of taxing property according to those statistics, where informed sources told the Syrian Observatory that the armed factions intend to impose a tax of 50 Turkish Lira on each dunum of agricultural land, and according to informed sources: fighters of “al-Sultan Suleiman Shah” faction gathered the citizens in front of a headquarters of the faction -which is a house of a displaced Kurdish person seized by the faction and turned it to military headquarters- in Khalil Ushag of “Sheikh al-Hadid” Township; to demand them to pay different amounts of money on the pretext that they have relatives who belonging to the Kurdish Units, eyewitnesses told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that a leader of the faction raised his weapon in the face of several citizens and threatened to kill them if they communicated with relatives outside the area via social media.
According to reliable information the leader of “Ashmat” faction nicknamed “Abu Ashma”, issued a circular prohibiting the citizens from visiting their neighbors and relatives within his factions’ controlled areas in Afrin and its countryside, sources pointed out that circular of “Abu Ashma” falls within the framework of the systematic policies to push the remaining citizens out of “Afrin”, while the faction cut off electricity to homes of Kurdish civilians in the villages of Khalil, Alkana, Hajj Bilal and Habbo, and other villages of “Sheikh Hadid” for no reason, while the houses taken by the new settlers remain powered by electricity.
Last year, specifically on the 13th if March 2018, the displacements inside Syria began, the first of which was al-Kadam neighborhood south of the capital Damascus, followed by displacements in accordance with deals and agreements between representatives of the areas in which the displacement took place and their factions and between the Russians and the regime, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the number of the displaced people from their areas towards the north of Syria to be 120100 displaced people from the Eastern Ghouta, south Damascus, south Rif Dimashq, Eastern Qalamoun, the northern countryside of Homs, and the southern countryside of Hama, and according to reliable information, the Observatory monitored the arrival of the majority of displaced people to “Afrin” area, whose inhabitants were displaced by the Turkish operation “Olive Branch,” and according to reliable sources, tens of thousands of the new displaced people have been settled in homes of civilians and in farms owned by the Kurdish citizens; who fled from the Turkish violations and the violations of their loyal factions, the Syrian Observatory also monitored the Turkish authorities settling people displaced from the Eastern Qalamoun and the Eastern Ghouta in “Afrin” area, as part of a comprehensive process of demographic change in the area.
Royalties, looting, stealing, and kidnapping… Citizens of Afrin are prey to the “armed factions”
Hardly a day passes without citizens of Afrin being subjected to abuses of the Turkish-backed armed factions, they have become under the mercy of these factions and cannot express their opinions out of fear of being subjected to the continuous royalties, looting, stealing, kidnapping, and extortion, and according to eyewitnesses for the “Syrian Observatory,” when an elderly man from “Afrin” interrupted the leader of “al-Sultan Suleiman Shah” faction and accused the faction of burning and stealing the lands and cypress and olives trees; the faction imposed 50000 Syrian pounds on the elderly because of his talk, while the faction imposed a tax of 700$ USD on another person, after accusing him of receiving money from “Qamishli” city and that he is responsible for distributing it to Kurds of the area, informed sources also confirmed that “Afrin” is turned into a place to split livelihood of civilians by the armed factions controlling the area, who are left unstopped by the Turkish Forces who claim that they have come to rid the citizens of “terrorism”.
On the 23rd of July 2019, several Turkish-backed factions in Afrin imposed new royalties on the Kurdish citizens, where the Syrian Observatory learned from reliable sources that “al-Ashmat” faction forced residents of “Dermeshkanli” to feed the fighters who are present there periodically, under the pretext of “protecting them and protecting their agricultural crops”, the same faction confiscated the Sumac crop of “Kakhara” village’s people in “Maabatli” Township, in order to sell them to traders close to them and impose royalties as “commission” for them, the sources also revealed that “Sultan Murad” faction took over the livelihood of citizens in “Darkir” village of “Maabatli” Township and also stole the Sumac crop.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also learned that “al-Ashmat” Faction issued a decree about imposing taxes on owners of tractors and agricultural machinery, ranging from 50 to 150 thousand Syrian pounds in villages and towns in “Sheikh Hadid” Township, while the huge royalties were the share of the people who were kidnapped by the “Olive Branch” Factions, where the factions demanded huge amounts of money in dollars from relatives of the abducted people and the people they detain, sometimes up to $200000 USD, reliable sources confirmed to the Observatory that number of Kurdish people are cooperating with the Turkey-loyal factions, and that they are reporting periodically to the factions with the aim of kidnapping and arresting civilians in exchange for money.
On the 24th of August 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned that a faction of the “Olive Branch” Operation kidnapped a Kurdish citizen in Ashrafieh neighborhood of Afrin city, and took him to an unknown destination without clear reasons, and on the 15th of the same month villages of Afrin countryside witnessed arrests and abductions under various pretexts and charges, most notably “previous contact with the self-Administration”, while reliable sources indicated that these arrests and kidnappings were aimed primarily at obtaining financial ransoms in exchange for releasing detainees and abductees, and on the 13th of August 2019, reliable sources revealed that members of the Turkish-backed Faction of al- Hamza imposed money on citizens in the areas of “Basutah”, “Burj Abdalo,” and “Aindara” in the countryside of Afrin city; under the name of “Eid al-Adha gift”, and the amount imposed were 5000 Syrian pound on every family owns farms that have been harvested, and on the 5th of the same month, the Sultan Murad faction which controls “Koblak” village in “Sharan” Township at Afrin countryside, imposed $200 USD financial royalty on people who are residents of houses that do not belong to them, even if they were living in relatives’ homes or if they were rented according to certified contracts, amid threats to expel them and arrest them if they refuse to pay the money.
On the 3rd of August 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented arbitrary arrests by pro-Turkish factions in Afrin, and they arrested 70 citizens on various charges ranging from personal claims, intelligence, and former affiliation with the Self-Administration, but the majority of them were released after paying money ranging between 100 to 250 thousand Syrian pounds per person, informed sources also documented the abductions of 3 citizens of “Jwayq” village northwest of Afrin by the pro-Turkish factions, and on the 25th of July 2019, armed factions kidnapped a doctor of “Afrin” city in Ashrafieh neighborhood, and then contacted his wife who lives in a European country asking her to pay a ransom of $3000 and send them to a designated place in Idlib province in exchange for his release.
The Syrian Observatory documented several violations carried out by the Turkey-loyal factions, where “Ahrar al-Sharqiyyah” faction seized a citizen’s house in “Afrin” on the pretext that he is in “Aleppo”, and they threatened to kill his mother if she filed a complaint against them, while the number of abductees and detainees held by the Turkey-supported armed factions reached 2090 people out of 3000 thousand people arrested or abducted since the complete Turkish control of the area, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights repeatedly monitored the factions sending audio or video clips to relatives of the abductees, asking them to pay money amid threats to liquidate their relatives if the money was not paid.
On the 10th of August 2019, the Media Office of the Kurdish Democratic Party of al-Wahda in Syria published photographs showing harassment, violations, arrests, looting, and stealing, where elderly couple from Raju town were subjected to, they are Ismail Mustafa and Maryam Dawood, they were severely beaten and the gunman stole a kilogram of gold jewelry and about $40,000 USD of them.
Relics and olives, Afrin’s wealth a source of profit for the Turkish-backed factions
Over the past few months, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights obtained information confirming that the pro-Turkish factions continue their violations in Afrin, through attempts to erase history of the area, where sources revealed that these factions are carrying out excavation, steal antiquities, and sell them in Turkey, where the excavators receive money of the sale of antiquities to finance their factions.
On the 10th of August 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored excavations and dredging of soil in “Bulbul” Township in Afrin countryside northeast of Aleppo, searching for antiquities using heavy machines of Bulldozer and excavators, in addition to uprooting hundreds of olive trees under the sight of the Turkish Forces who are present in the area.
On the 16th of March 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored in the southwestern countryside of Afrin the arrival of Turkish equipment, mechanisms, and vehicles to the Jandairis Hill, in order to search for buried stuff and relics inside that hill, while reliable sources of the Syrian Observatory indicated that these operations were preceded by complete close of the roads near the hill which leads to it, also the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights obtained information from other sources indicating that relic excavations are taking place in the countryside of “Maabatli” Township in the western sector of Afrin countryside, specifically in areas of “Tal Ali Aisha” and “Tal Zarafkeh.”
The looting of antiquities has angered residents of Afrin and its displaced people, with some expressing their cynicism about what is happening saying that: “Turkey came with allegations that it will liberate and protect Afrin, but its protector became its thieve,” and according to reliable sources of the Syrian Observatory: a leader of al-Sham Islamic Corps close to the Turkish authorities, is carrying out excavations in the areas of Midanki and al-Nabi Hori, where they loot the antiquities they find during the search, as the Turks deliberately turn a blind eye and let the factions do as they please in changing history of the area, after its present and future have been transformed.”
According to the media office of the Kurdish Democratic Party of al-Wahda in Syria, the pro-Turkish factions continued the drilling for 10 days suing heavy machinery in an ancient hill north of Marwaniyyeh Tahtani village – Jandairis, while they excavated looking for antiquities about 3 months ago in the ancient “Tal Harnaz” west of the villages of Sennara and Anqala in Sheikh al-Hadid, where a quantity of treasures and antiquities were excavated, not to mention bulldozing the Islamic Mazar (shrine) of Ali Dada and its tomb along with some 300 tombs and established a military base, which was later abolished.
The relics are not the only wealth in Afrin subject to constant abuse, looting, and stealing, where olive plantations are also suffering serious violations by stealing olive oil from Afrin and selling it in Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights obtained pictures and confirmed information, indicating that the pro-Turkish factions have seized olive oil in Afrin and smuggled in trucks into the Turkish territory, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had revealed that “thousands of olive oil tanks were stolen from Afrin through members of the “Olive Branch” Operation Forces, and were sold in various markets.
The Turkish Forces and the factions loyal to them have not had enough with that, where they legalized their thefts of livelihood of Afrin people through series of resolutions issued and circulated in regard with harvesting olive, 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.
Internal fighting, assassinations, and insecurity… Turkey loses control of the situation
Turkish Forces and their loyal factions barely controlled Afrin until the differences and internal clashes emerged between Turkish-backed factions, in addition to insecurity and increased assassinations and killings, on the 26th of August 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned that the military police, factions of the 1st Corps, al-Jaysh al-Watani (the National Army), Ahrar al-Sharqiyyah, Jaysh al-Sharqiyyah, al-Sultan Murad, and other Turkish-backed factions carried out a “new security operation” within their controlled areas in Aleppo countryside, where they arrested a whole group of Nour al-Din al-Zenki movement who joined al-Shamiyyah front recently, after violent clashes between both parties in al-Ashrafyyeh neighborhood in Afrin city, they also arrested a leader of al-Hamzat Division and other fighters of other factions.
On the 18th of November 2018, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned from reliable sources that internal clashes between factions loyal to Ankara killed at least 11 members of both parties in Afrin, the Observatory’s director Rami Abdel Rahman said that “violent clashes took place in several neighborhoods within Afrin city, fought by most of the factions with Turkish support against the gathering of Shuhada’a al-Sharqiyyah killed 11 members of both parties and injured 27 others,” and according to the Observatory’s information, the clashes took place within the framework of the “conflict for local influence”, after a rebellion by Shuhada’a al-Sharqiyyah gathering against several decisions issued by the Turkish Forces, apart from being accused of committing several violations in the city, and the goal of the clashes at the time was eliminating that faction completely.
On the 22nd of August 2019, the Syrian Observatory documented the phenomenon of security chaos in areas controlled by the Turkish-backed factions, prominently manifested in targeting members of the factions through bombings and assassinations, where unknown people threw a grenade on the checkpoint of Deir Ballut in “Jandairis” area which belongs to a corps close to Turkey, which seriously injured one member at least, in conjunction with heavy gunfire that caused panic in among residents of the area, and two days before the incident, an explosive device exploded in the Industrial Area of al-Bab city northeast of Aleppo, which caused material damage without causing any injuries until the moment, while an explosion was heard east of al-Bab city in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo on the 18th of August 2019, it was caused by the explosion of a an IED near the junction of “Qabasin” town which is controlled by the pro-Turkish factions, which caused material damage but no information about casualties.
According to sources of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a body was found in a well on the outskirts of “Qebb al-Sheikh” village in al-Bab countryside, on the 9th of August 2019, as part of the insecurity controlling Aleppo countryside under the control of the Turkish-backed factions, and on the 7th of the same month, the Syrian Observatory learned from reliable sources that unknown assailants targeted by grenades on of the Sharia men of the Turkey-loyal Corps of al-Sham in “Jandairis” town in the countryside of Afrin, which caused material damage but no information about casualties, and one day earlier, a military checkpoint was targeted in Afrin countryside, which killed 3 checkpoint members including a Turkish soldier, and on the 5th of August 2019, a central commander of a pro-Turkish corps died affected by injuries he had in the explosion of an IED in his car in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo, and on the 19th of July 2019, a citizen died after an armed robbery carried out by unknown assailants in his home, all of this comes within the security chaos that is ravaging the area.
On the 28th of July 2019, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the explosion of a booby-trapped motorcycle in al-Mahmudiya neighborhood in Afrin city, which is controlled by the “Olive Branch” factions, which killed one child and injured 9 others, and the explosion came as part of the security chaos that is ravaging in areas of control of the Turkey-loyal factions, where sources of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed a series of bombings in multiple areas controlled by the pro-Turkish factions and at close intervals, where an IED planted inside a car in al-Bab city exploded near al-Omar Mosque, in conjunction with the explosion of two 2 motorcycles at the same time, one in al-Ghandoura town and the other in Tal Battal village in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo in July 2019.
The Syrian Observatory documented on the 26th of July 2019 the killing of a member of the pro-Turkish factions, where his body was found thrown at the edge of “Afrin” River northwest of Aleppo, in the light of the continuous targeting of faction fighters in the area, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitored the killing of citizen in “Azaz” after unknown gunmen shot him while he was working in the city market, and on the 21st of July, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the discovery of a member of the “police” who was shot dead and his body was thrown on the outskirts of al-Rai town in the northern countryside of Aleppo.
A year and a half has passed since Turkish control of Afrin and the control of its loyal factions over the entire area, but still, the security situation continues to deteriorate amid countless violations committed by pro-Ankara factions, and deliberate disregard by the Turkish authorities about violations of these factions, despite these violations and despite the warnings by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other international human rights organizations; the world has so far done nothing to save citizens of Afrin from the violations they are subjected to, and to protect their relics and the entire area from the demographic change processes which is underway there.