Turkish invasion of Afrin four years on | Blatant violations and war crimes, has Afrin become a Turkish province?
For four years of the occupation of the predominantly Kurdish “canton” of Afrin, Afrin city and affiliated districts, Turkish forces and their proxy factions have committed scores of atrocities, blatantly violating all international laws and human rights, including forcible displacement and seizure of civilian houses, farmlands and shops, while the international community keeps turning a blind-eye to these heinous crimes.
Afrin has been turned into a hotbed for committing all types of crimes and a centre for gathering terrorists and mercenaries and sending them to join conflicts in other countries, like in Libya and Azerbaijan, after the militias holding power had changed and sabotaged the canton’s archaeological features by destroying and looting ancient archaeological sites and hills.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has been all along calling for expulsion of all foreign forces from the entire Syrian territory, particularly Afrin, and we, at SOHR, renews our appeal to the international community to intensify its efforts to put an end to all violations committed against all segments of Syrian society. SOHR also condemns the attempts to annex Syrian territory to any other country and the seizure of civilian real estate and properties by force in light of the inaction of international and regional powers.
In an exclusive SOHR interview with the co-head of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Riad Darar says, “it seems that ‘Olive Branch’ operation, as the invaders call it, has been a process of cutting down olive trees, as thousands of trees have been felled after the occupation by mercenaries. The felling of an olive tree equals the execution of a person or a family, and such crimes against the occupied areas are pitiful to those who devoutly love their homeland. The ongoing human rights violations, including killing, destruction of homes and assault and humiliation of civilians, are all crimes that must not be ignored by the international community, which is supposed to take an action to stop them. All of those who have turned a blind eye to these violations is, in fact, a participant in the occupation of Afrin. The civilians who have been displaced from Afrin, Ras Al-Ain and Tal Abyad are struggling now with dreadful living conditions, after they had enjoyed safety in their homes.”
Darar called for intensifying efforts to put an end to the violations committed by Turkish forces and their proxy factions and exerting pressure on the occupying powers to secure a safe return for displaced people. “This can happen through all methods of resistance,” said Riad Darar.
On the other hand, the Secretary General of the Future Syria Party, Siham Dawud has condemned the ongoing systematic Turkification and crimes against the indigenous residents.
Speaking to SOHR, Mrs. Dawud says, “four years have passed since Turkey captured Afrin canton, after 58 days of resistance by Syria Democratic Forces and the residents of Afrin. For these years, Ankara has been still carrying on with Turkifying the canton and changing its demography, where it has imposed the use of Turkish as the main language in curriculums and forced the residents to deal only in the Turkish currency in Afrin and all Syrian territory Turkey occupied and those areas controlled by its affiliates, including areas in Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad, Idlib, Al-Bab and Azaz. Human rights organisations have documented many violations and atrocities carried out by the occupying Turkish forces and affiliated terrorist groups and mercenaries, including killing, displacement of the indigenous population, arrests and blackmail incidents, especially during olive seasons. These atrocities aim to force the remaining residents to leave and flee from Afrin in light of suspicious international silence and shameful inaction by Damascus authority. Through its seat at the United Nations, Damascus can exert pressure on international powers and demand the expulsion of the Turkish forces from Afrin and all Syrian land, but the regime has taken no action so far.”
The Secretary General added, “the sanctions imposed on some Turkish-backed factions have not been enough, as there must be a significant and effective role by United Nations agencies and human rights organisations by exerting further pressure on Turkey and forcing it to leave Syrian territory and to secure a safe return of the indigenous inhabitants in Afrin, Ras Al-Ain and Tal Abyad under international supervision. In addition, detainees in prisons run by Turkish forces and their proxies have to be released, and criminals and violators have to be brought to international courts.
Meanwhile, the member of SDC Presidential Council, Sehanok Depo told SOHR, “the presence of Turkey and its proxy factions in Afrin is described as an ‘occupation’ according to the articles of the United Nations laws. Not only are we countering a power which has invaded a neighbouring country and breached its sovereignty, but also a power has strong ties with terrorist organisations, including Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham (former Jabhat Al-Nusra) and ISIS, according to irrefutable evidence. Turkey and those factions have Syrian blood on their hands and are involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including demographic change, looting of resources, seizure of civilian properties, and imposition of obstacles and intimidating practices preventing the return of the indigenous people to Afrin. The stall in stopping these crimes poses serious threats to the stable security in the region and the whole world. Since the beginning of the Turkish occupation of Afrin, there is a question has come to the fore: would Turkey dare wreak havoc and interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq, Yemen and Libya, if international powers had aborted Ankara’s ruinous scheme which has been unveiled with the occupation of Afrin?”
Mr. Depo added, “the outcomes of complicity with Turkey and giving it green light to proceed with its ‘evil plans’ started to be obvious. The UN Security Council has to adopt stricter procedures and decision against Turkey and hold accountable all criminals. Many signs refer to advanced steps taken by Turkey to annex Afrin to its territory, like it had done in Iskenderun region in the 1930s. Turkey has already established a wall, attempting to separate Afrin from Syria, imposed the use of Turkish language in schools and forced people to deal in the Turkish lira as if Afrin is a part of Turkish territory. This is a very dangerous stage that has to be countered by a comprehensive and national resistance by all Syrians in order to free Afrin and all occupied Syrian territory.”
Also, the politician Dalshir Avasta, in an exclusive SOHR interview, stated “there is no doubt that the occupation of Afrin has been a catastrophe to the Syrian-Kurdish people, along with the Syrian conflict. Accordingly, it remains a part of the Syrian crisis in general. There are other areas in north Syria occupied by Turkey, including Jarabulus, Al-Bab, Tel Abyad and Ras Al-Ain, where the situation is as complex as in Afrin. However, the strategic geographic position of Afrin and its unique features make Turkey hold fast to the canton further. The complexity of Afrin case and the Syrian situation in general is attributed to the interference of several international and regional powers in the Syrian conflict, mainly the USA, Russia, Turkey and Iran, with the USA and Russia controlling and dominating the situation in Syria. However, it seems that neither Washington nor Moscow have intended yet to reach a political settlement in Syria, despite all meetings in the past years.”
“Describing the crisis as ‘complex’ does not absolutely mean that we can leave the whole issue to fate without trying to reach a solution. All possible efforts have to be exerted, whether by the Autonomous Administration through its political and diplomatic dialogues with international bodies or by activists and politicians through exerting appreciated efforts to document the largest possible number of crimes committed by radical armed factions under Turkey’s supervision and blessing. These crimes included killing, kidnappings, collection of ransoms, arbitrary arrests, torture in prisons, looting crops, seizure of civilian properties, mainly olive crops which are the main income to many residents, establishment of settlements, like those established by Israel in the occupied Palestine. Ironically, these settlements established by Turkey in Afrin have been funded by several charitable associations, including Palestinian ones. Also, Qatari and Kuwaiti associations have funded these settlements. Not to mention the rape which many women endured in prisons of Turkish-backed factions.”