Afrin under Turkish occupation | Widespread security chaos… ongoing violations… and the canton’s residents the greatest victims
Security chaos, instability and violations against human rights are still increasing in Afrin canton which has been under the control of Turkey and proxy factions for over two years, amid ongoing inaction by the regional powers and the international community.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has monitored the deteriorating conditions in Afrin, and some of the impacts can be categorised as follows::
Looting and impoverishment: civilians are the ultimate losers
On July 24, 2020, SOHR sources reported that gunmen of the Turkish-backed “Al-Hamzat Division” looted several civilian houses in “Qadda” village of Raju district in Afrin countryside, north-west of Aleppo, as a part of ongoing restriction on people of Afrin to force them to leave the area.
According to SOHR sources, “Suleiman Shah” faction, known as “Al-Amshat”, forced the residents of Yakhour village (Kakhrah) of Maabatli district in Afrin countryside to leave their houses on June 26. The residents were taken later to makeshift camps on the village’s northern outskirts. The militiamen of “Al-Amshat” brought in several battalions affiliated to the faction, and took the houses as their headquarters. Moreover, security members of the Turkish-backed “Jaysh Al-Sharqiyyah” informed nearly 50 families, who fled from the recent military operations in Idlib and Aleppo, to evacuate the houses which they lived in at that time in Jendires city in Afrin countryside, north-west Aleppo.
According to SOHR sources, the displaced people were given only a few days to evacuate these houses or “they would be driven out by force” as the faction’s members told them. This action came as a part of Turkey’s plans of demographic change in the region to house the Turkish-backed fighters instead of the indigenous residents.
As Turkish-backed factions continue looting civilian properties and collecting levies, the rate of unemployment in Afrin is on the rise, since 47% of Syrian people live below the poverty line with increasing unemployment ratio, reaching 70%.
Furthermore, SOHR revealed new details on July 21 about the fact that the Turkish-backed factions deliberately exploited public facilities to collect money, as SOHR sources reported that the factions of “Sultan Murad” and the “Northern Brigade” constructed buildings and shops near the stadium in Afrin city and offered them for rent for their own benefits. Meanwhile, these factions continued excavation and construction work in order to nationalize these vital public facilities and take over revenues for the benefit of the Turkish authorities and their proxies.
Religious and archaeological sites devastation
Despite all the numerous reports by SOHR regarding the destruction of religious and archaeological sites, in an attempt to draw the attention of the international community and all relevant organization, Turkish-backed factions keep digging, excavating and vandalising shrines in Afrin, searching for antiquities and artefacts. On April 15, militants of “Sultan Suleiman Shah” faction, known as “Al-Amshat”, started excavation work searching for antiquities in the archaeological hill of Arnada, in the area of “Al-Sheikh Hadid” in the western countryside of Afrin. It is worth noting that the members of “Suleiman Shah” carried out almost daily excavation work in this hill using heavy-duty diggers and earth-moving machineries, which caused significant damage and destruction to the hill.
On the other hand, “Sheikh Hamid” shrine in Qastal Jando village of Sharan district in Afrin countryside experienced excavation work and sabotage. “Sheikh Hamid” shrine is a holy place for Yazidi Kurds and the region’s Muslims also frequent it. In addition, the shrine is a historical monument of Afrin canton. Meanwhile, residents accused the Turkish intelligence of facilitating such acts of sabotage committed by its proxy factions.
Dredging operations and transformation of area’s nature
As Turkish-backed factions continue their violations against nature and the environment, the faction of “Samarqand” has given civilians, who have been displaced from several Syrian provinces to Afrin, approvals to cut down forests, bushes and trees in Rutanli village of Maabatli district. On March 2020, reliable sources informed SOHR that Turkish-backed militiamen felled a large number of trees in Al-Mahmoudiyyah neighbourhood in Afrin city centre, at a time when members of these factions continued cutting down trees in several places of Afrin countryside.
Blasts and security chaos
Afrin city has experienced widespread security chaos incidents, including rivalries among Turkish-backed factions and explosions of motorcycle-bombs and car-bombs.
On July 22, Observatory activists said that fierce clashes with various types of weapons erupted among groups of “Jaysh Al-Sharqiyyah” faction in residential neighbourhoods in Afrin city in north-western Aleppo. The reasons behind this fight was not known. The clashes at that time resulted in the death of a woman, while her son sustained serious injuries, in addition to injuries to other civilians.
Reliable SOHR sources confirmed that Turkish-backed factions used rocket-propelled grenades during such fights and rivalries, and these factions also used a booby-trapped motorcycle on one occasion on June 24, which killed two persons and injured nine others at that time. While on June 20, a car-bomb explosion hit the city’s residential neighbourhoods, injuring six people, including a child, and causing considerable material damage.
Assaulting and humiliating women, children and elders
SOHR has documented several incidents represented the Turkish-backed factions’ violations against civilians in Afrin, women and children in particular. One example, among many, was the arrest of several old ladies from “Darkir” village of Maabatli district. The old women were released three days later after paying the required sums of money.
furthermore, reliable sources told SOHR on June 2 that members of the Turkish-backed faction “Sultan Murad” raped a girl from Afrin in “Kauntli” village in Afrin countryside. The faction’s members threatened the girl’s family that they would kill the girl if they spoke out about this crime. While on May 29, reliable SOHR sources revealed and confirmed that there were tens of naked women held in prisons of Al-Hamzah Division.
On the other hand, the Syrian Observatory revealed on July 9 a new technique used recently to kill children, as children were thrown from high places. SOHR sources reported that a displaced child from Rif Dimashq died after being thrown by unknown individuals from the sixth floor. A few days earlier, another child was killed in the same way, while three others sustained various injuries. According to one of the injured children, children were pushed by a woman from a high place.
The policy of Turkish forces and their proxies in Afrin reflected in their violation against humanity and environment is met, as always, with complete inaction by the international community. Such inaction and turning a blind eye to humiliation and victimization of civilians spurs the Syria Observatory for Human Rights to keep appealing to all the relevant local and international actors to put an end to the Turkish invasion in Syria and its violations with proxy factions against the Syrian people.