SOHR exclusive | Systematic demographic changes by Turkey and its proxies in Afrin
Since the so-called “Olive Branch” areas have been captured by the Turkish forces and their proxy factions, humanitarian crises, violations and security chaos have been escalating, as violation, explosions and other accidents are documented daily.
However, the extraordinary violation is the systematic “demographic change” that has been carried out by the Turkish government and the allied Syrian factions in Afrin and its countryside. After displacing half of the population of Afrin, the Turkish factions have been attempting to displace the rest and cause demographic changes, especially since Turkey has sponsored several agreements for displacing the Syrian from their areas and brought them to Afrin. In the following report, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) sheds light on the sequence of the demographic change in Afrin.
“Olive Branch” area is composed of the city of Afrin and seven districts (Afrin city centre, Jindires, Sheih/Sheikh al-Hadeed, Mabta/Maabatli, Rajo, Bulbul, Sharra/ Sharran) and more than 360 villages and towns and 40 farms. Until 2017, this region was inhabited by nearly 700,000 people, some of them have either been internally or externally displaced in search of jobs.
Since the Turkish military operation of “Olive Branch” was launched, the region has witnessed an influx of massive exodus from the villages towards Afrin city centre and then outside it.
The continuous attacks led to forcible displacement of more than 300,000 people, only 25,000 of whom later returned home. Accordingly, 275,000 displaced people are now homeless in areas under the control of the regime and Kurdish forces including (villages of Mountain Lelun, cities of Nubl, Zahraa, Deir Jmal and Tel Rifaat, villages and cities of Shehba in north Aleppo). Also, some of the displaced people have fled to Aleppo city and areas of Ain al-Arab (Kobani) and the Autonomous Administration’s areas in eastern Euphrates.
Some villages were closed completely, whcih prevented the return of their inhabitants either for being used as military bases or seized by the factions loyal to Ankara like (Galber, Kobla, Deir Meshmesh, Zorikaat, Baslah, Khalta, Robariya, Jiya Darwish, Rajo, Kostel Jando, Baflon, Baraafa, Sharra, Heftar, Shiekhorziya, Bulbul). It is worth mentioning that the displacement and exodus have been continuous in the region due to the pressure practiced on the civilians by some factions to force them to flee from their residential areas by all means.
The number of Afrin people is now estimated at 150,000, most of them are old, as the young age categories declined because of their escaping from the area due to the ongoing severe conditions and violations.
Moreover, arbitrary arrests, attempted kidnap and murder, harassment and pressures exerted on the remaining Kurds have been continuous to force them to leave their houses and properties.
More than 270,000 population of the families belonging to factions loyal to Ankara, and the displaced persons from the countryside of Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Hama, Homs, Idlib, and western Aleppo, based on Turkish-Russian brokered deals, have been settled in houses and properties seized from their owners in Afrin, while others have been settled in camps and makeshift camps near the city of Afrin, Muhammadiyah village in Jindires, Afraz village in Maabataly, cities of Rajo and Bulbul, villages of Kafr Janah Deir Sawwan.
Recently, the Turkish forces and factions have started the establishment of seven model villages for settling those displaced people coming from other provinces in light of the demographic change plans. The new villages are built by Turkish organizations, like the Disaster And Emergency Management (AFAD) and other Gulf countries. These villages are located in southern Shadirrah village, Sheikh Mohammed Mountain northern Kafr Safrah- Jindires, Ligah area between the two villages of Karmatlaq and Jiqla Tahtani, Shie/Shiekh al-Hadid near the hospital, and another mountainous site near the village of Hag Hasna- Jindires, and another site near the village of “Khalta”-Shirro.)
Some estimated settlement data, documented by SOHR, in some villages, towns and cities could be displayed as follows:
- Afrin city centre had been inhabited by more than 100,000 indigenous population. After the Turkish control of the canton, only 30,000 people remained and new 74,000 people have been
- Jindires district contains nearly 5,000 houses, that had hosted 20,000 indigenous people, of whome there were nearly 10,000 remained, while 17,000 new were settled.
- Shie/Sheikh Hadeed district contains nearly 1,200 houses, that had hosted 4,800 indigenous people, nearly 2,500 of these people remained and 5,000 new were settled.
- Mabta/Maabatli district containes 1,200 houses, that had hosted 4,800 indigenous people, nearly 1,000 of them remained and 6,500 new were settled.
- Rajo district containes 1,500 houses, that had hosted 6,000 indigenous people, nearly 1,200 of them remained and 6,500 new were settled.
- Bulbul district contains 750 houses, that had hosted 3,000 indigenous people, nearly 220 of them remained and 2,750 new were settled.
- Sharra/ Sharran contains 400 houses, that had hosted 1,600 indigenous people, nearly 400 of them remained and 1,100 new were settled.
- Galmah district contains 1,200 houses, that had hosted 4,800 indigenous people, nearly 2,500 of whom remained and 8,000 new were settled.
- Akbas Temple city contains 450 houses, that had hosted 1,800 indigenous people, nearly 500 of whom remained and 1,000 new were settled.
- Deir Sawwan village contains of 450 houses, that had hosted 1,800 indigenous people, nearly 500 of whom remained and 1,000 new were settled.
- Eska village contains 310 houses, that had hosted 1,250 indigenous people, nearly 400 of whom remained and 800 new were settled.
- Kafr Safrah District contains 1,200 houses, that had hosted 4,800 indigenous people, nearly 1,300 of whom remained and 1,000 new were settled.
- Tal Silour village contains 80 houses, that had hosted 320 indigenous people, nearly 200 of whom remained and 200 new were settled.
- Orbah village contains 345 houses, that had hosted 1,400 indigenous people, nearly 800 of whom remained and 400 new were settled.
- Qibar village contains 300 houses, that had hosted 1,200 indigenous people, nearly 570 of whom remained and 350 new were settled.
- Basotah village contains 800 houses, that had hosted 3,200 indigenous people, nearly 1,800 of whom remained and 1,300 new were settled.
- Borg Abdello village contains 200 houses, that had hosted 800 indigenous people, nearly 150 of whom remained and 300 new were settled.
- Shankilia village contains 120 houses, that had hosted 480 indigenous people, nearly 150 of whom remained and 400 new were settled.
- Baflune (Yazidi) village contains 80 houses, that had hosted 250 indigenous people, no one of whom remained and 750 new were settled.
- Gaqmaq village contains nearly 300 houses, that had hosted 120 indigenous people, nearly 280 of whom remained and 1,500 new were settled.
- Qowai village contains 122 houses, that had hosted 500 indigenous people, nearly 130 of whom remained and 550 new were settled.
- Faqira Yazidi village contains 110 houses, that had hosted 440 indigenous people, nearly 130 of whom remained and 325 new were settled.
- Qeda village contains 250 houses, that had hosted 1,000 indigenous people, nearly 240 of whom remained and 650 new were settled.
- Akhgila village contains 120 houses, that had hosted 480 indigenous people, nearly 300 of whom remained and 300 new were settled.
- Zerka village contains 60 houses, that had hosted 250 indigenous people, nearly 120 of whom remained. The neighboring Jobana village contains 50 houses, that had hosted 200 indigenous people, nearly 60 of them remained, while 500 new were settled in the two villages.
- Hissyah/Mirkan village contains 300 houses, that had hosted 1,200 indigenous people, nearly 700 of whom remained and 250 new were settled.
- Ashkan Sharqiy village contains 100 houses, that had hosted 400 indigenous people, nearly 100 of whom remained and 3,000 new were settled in a nearby camp.
- Koblak village contains 55 houses, that had hosted 220 indigenous people, nearly 75 of whom remained and 400 new were settled.
- Domliya village contains 280 houses, that had hosted 1,120 indigenous people, nearly 350 of whom remained and 1,000 new were settled.
Seizure of properties
Since the first days of the Turkish occupation of Afrin, houses, civil and administrative institutions, substructure and public facilities had been targeted. Thousands of buildings have been partially or completely destroyed, including residential compounds, public poultry farm, slaughterhouses, mosques, schools, medical centers and bakeries, fuel stations, heavy machines fixing workshops, olive mills, public and private electricity generators and networks, ground and wireless communication centers, water tanks and stations, irrigation canals connected to Maydanki dam and its control panels and stores.
Additionally, robbery and confiscation of public and private properties as well as draining the income resources, and narrowing the job opportunities for the people were also seen.
Moreover, “Olive Branch” area witnessed re-registration of agricultural proprieties and real estate with a goal of sorting the possessions of the absent people, as nearly 70 percent of real estate and 50 percent of the agricultural proprieties have been already seized.
The Turkish forces and their proxies also imposed 10-20 percent additional taxes and levies on the remaining people who have already been grappling with fraud, exploitation and illegal registration, amid expropriations by the authorities and absence of real owners and loss of documents.
Change of culture and identity of the canton
The Turkish military operation led to damaging the historical archeological sites like (Ain Dara, Howri, Taqlqah, Samaan, Brad, Tal Jendires) and deforming its attractions. Historically valuable parts were either removed or damaged while Basalt stone sculptures of Tal Ain Dara turned into debris in bombing attacks.
Tal Jendires also changed into a Turkish military base. Since April 2018, several historical shrines (Sheikh Mos Anzaly in Midana, Kora Gorn in Shera, Barbouh in Maabatly, Sheikh abdel Rahman in Kany Krokai village, Roman Cyrrhus) as well as Yazidi attractions in (Sheikh Ricap, Sheikh Hamieed, Sheikh Hussein, Malak Aadi, Gel Khanah) were dug and damaged.
Furthermore, tens of archaeological sites and hills, including Nebi Huri and its Roman Cyrrhus, Barrad, Trandeh, Burj Abdalu,Qibar, Zaravikah, Katakh, Barba’oush, Droumiyyah, Jernaz, Kamrouk and Deir Sawwan, were all dug, while treasures buried there were stolen and taken to Turkey under the Turkish Intelligence’ supervision. Also, Nebi Huri shrine and the neighbouring mosque have been turned into Ottoman landmarks. It is worth noting that many antiquities stolen from these sites are listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as global heritage.
Meanwhile, the statue of the Kaveh the Blacksmith and other memorials were destroyed. Names of villages and squares had changed into Arabic and Turkish names like (Kawa roundabout which turned into Olive Branch roundabout, Norozao round about which turned into Salah el-Deen roundabout, Watany roundabout which turned into President Erdoghan square, Koutana village which turned into Zafer Obasy, Kournah village which turned into Ounder Oubasy, Qoustal Meqdad village which turned into Salgoq Oubasy, Afrin Hospital which turned into al-Shifaa Hospital).
Furthermore, Kurdish writings and names have been removed from most of the headquarters and institutions, road guiding placards, names of villages and cities and replaced by Arabic and Turkish names.
Afrin indigenous residents and the new settlers were forces by the local municipalities to have personal ID cards granted by the Turkish administration in Arabic and Turkish languages in an attempt to mix all the residents in a new social dress.
Ankara allied factions continue, in full view of Turkey, to severely damage the lands in Afrin. Before Turkish forces’s control of the region, a large swath of agricultural land was dredged at 200–500-meter depth along 135 km of the borderline, where the Turks built a border cement wall. During “Olive Branch” military operation, the Turkish machines uprooted the olive trees in many sites like Belal mountain, Jerqa, Darwish village, and Jaia village near Rajo and in villages of Hamam, Marwaniya, Fawqany, Tahtany, Anqalah, Ashkan western Jindris and Qarmatlaq and Jaqily near Shie/Shiekh Hadeed and between the two villages of Kafrgana and Matina, Sherran and Sherro mountain in order to establish military bases.
While arsons and illegal logging of trees reached natural and other planted forests in mountains of Sarseen, Komrsh, Hawar, Jerqa, Belal, and roads leading to squares of Akbas, Qasem, Sheikh Waqrah Baba/Rago, Ramadana, Wadi al-Gohanem, Tita, Rota, Hag Hasna, sites of Qazqali, Sheikh Mohamed, Goliqa/Jindris, Maydanki, Dei Swwan, Kafr Janah/Sherra, Mahmoudiah/ Afrin, Eska and Galma/Sherra).
On The other hand, thousands of olive, fruit-bearing, and age-old trees were uprooted by the militia and the new settlers for logging or making coal with nearly 15,000 hectares of 32,000 hectares deteriorated.
The Kurds had taken care and protect the forests deeming them as resorts, relaxation and blessing places sometimes, as they were keen to plant different fruit-bearing trees. However, the Turkish-backed militants and new settlers have burnt much of these forests on purpose.
Based on the previous background, Turkey’s violation to the UN charter and the Hague 1907 agreement by launching an attack on neighboring countries’ lands has become undeniable. Turkey has occupied Afrin and practices a full military and administrative sovereignty on the region, although Turkey has yet acknowledged.
Turkey hadn’t abided by the UNSC resolution number 2254 of 2015 because it hadn’t taken appropriate steps to protect the civilians or pave the road for secured and free return of the refugees and the internally displaced people to their areas and rehabilitate the damaged areas according to the international laws.
Though it has sought demographic change in Afrin canton in cooperation with Syrian partners, still Turkey is mainly responsible for the deteriorating situation in the region, after the Turks and their proxies’ violations to the humanitarian international laws, especially the four Geneva agreements in 1949 and the additional two protocols. Those violations led to public disorder, instability and security chaos as well as other crimes, particularly the demographic change
which hit the characteristics of an ethnic group in an attempt to dissolve or remove it in accordance with hostile policies, hidden plans, intimidation, abusive and coercive methods, that reach the level of “sectarian genocide” against the Kurds as differential sect and indigenous inhabitants of the area. It is worth noting that the term “sectarian genocide” was mentioned on the UN resolution number 121/47 that was issued on Dec.18, 1992 regarding the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.