As for Afrin. While the world continues to sleep. It is surely time now to weep for its people? Before day breaks and the alarm goes off and its back to the front lines.
Almost one month on from the 58 day bombardment of the Afrin Region and with Turkish flags now flying from schools and civic offices in the Kurdish city – has peace been brought to Afrin after the “PYD/PKK terrorists” were forcibly removed (along with most of the population of the city) by Turkish troops supported by its Free Syrian Army (TFSA) mercenaries? Alas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, through its contacts in the region, along with other bodies, continues to raise serious concerns at the fate of the Kurdish population recently “liberated” by the neo-Ottoman coalition.
The conclusion to the military invasion of this autonomous Syrian region – the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava, following its use of massive firepower, F16 jets, long-range artillery and the cream of NATO technology (Turkey is currently the second largest armed force in the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance) – was not to be the end of the suffering of the Kurdish inhabitants of this once relatively peaceful area (“…An isolated pocket of peace and sanity in the Syrian civil war, famous only for the beauty of its mountains and olive groves…” David Graeber) in a region torn apart by 7 years of civil war; one that has also hosted over a hundred thousand refugees from the other war tormented areas of Syria but who now are suffering once again, though this time under the Turkish flag.
…Include also those who remained (an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people remained in Afrin city) as well as those who left, (the figures estimated at between 137,00 and 300,000 refugees), suffering displacement and the hardship of becoming IDP’s (internally displaced persons) in places with limited resources, little in international aid and the ever present threat from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that they will be pursued by his victorious military machine until the entire region is purged of, or rather “neutralized” (Turkish General Staff) of terrorists, usually meaning Kurds.
Reports of the fate of those who remained make grim reading and follows on from the widely recognized looting of Kurdish homes and property as part of the operation of taking control of the city.
“… residents informed the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that it is still unknown; the fate of tens of citizens who were arrested by Turkish Forces and the rebel and Islamic factions of the Syrian opposition who participate in the “Olive Branch” Operation, and civilians from the area said that the Turkish forces and the factions continue to raid houses and arrest citizens on charges of “association with Kurdish Forces and the Democratic Union Party,” where they are transferred to unknown places, while harassment is carried out against the people who remained, where the locals confirmed that some families were headed out of Afrin and of areas controlled by “Olive Branch” Operation Forces; to areas in the northern countryside of Aleppo as a result of the repeated attacks on them by these forces controlling Afrin city and countryside…”
In an update on the 12 April SOHR confirmed ongoing reports of abuse of residents perpetrated by the Turkish Authorities despite the establishment of a “local council for the administration of Afrin”:
“Local sources confirmed to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that the Turkish-led “Olive Branch” Operation Forces, are still looting citizens’ property, opening houses –of which their owners have left-, seizing the houses to live in them, in conjunction with the continued arrests of citizens who remain in the Afrin area, and the people are suffering the continued harassment of the “Olive Branch” Operating factions and the Turkish forces stationed in the area, amid demands for the intervention of effective parties and international and humanitarian organizations, to stop these frequent violations in the area every day.”
ANHA (Hawar News Agency): “A source from the city of Afrin which preferred anonymity told our agency that the Turkish occupation and its gangs are continuing their violations against Afrin residents who stayed at their houses where 45 men have been kidnapped in the center of Afrin and were taken to unknown destinations.”
The Yazidi population in Afrin
The Yazidis (Yezidis) are a “pre Islamic” Kurdish religious minority practicing Yazidism which “is linked to ancient Mesopotamian religions and combines aspects of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism.”
Suad Hassou (the co–chair of the Yezidi house in Afrin) confirmed that the “mercenaries of the Turkish occupation army practiced a policy of intimidation against the Yazidis who are stranded in Afrin and violate their rights to worship after destroying most of the shrines. The aim of all this is to eliminate the Yezidi religion. ‘Sadly, most of the shrines in Afrin, the home of the Yazidis and the Lalish dome have been destroyed,’ said Suad Gharib. ‘They want to destroy the historic landmarks of the Yazidis.’”
She also said that there is documented information confirming the killing of dozens of Yazidis, in addition to the presence of 15 missing, whose fate is still unknown. On the other hand, there are people who are imprisoned in their villages who are not entitled to leave them and go to Afrin city or even to neighboring villages.
ANHA also reported on the fate of the female Kurdish population who encountered the Turkish backed mercenaries:
“The mercenaries of the Turkish occupation army raped and arrested dozens of women, girls and residents of the villages of Afrin canton. After the occupation of the Turkish occupation army of Afrin canton, it began to commit violations and immoral violations against the people, where they began to rape women and girls and arrest the people and change the demographics of the area. According to sources in Shitka village in Mobata district for Hawar news agency, mercenaries raped three women, including a pregnant woman in her second month, which caused abortion of the fetus. The same source reported that the mercenaries arrested 13 girls from the village on the pretext of being interrogated, and so far their fate is unknown. In the same context, three young women and four young men were arrested from the village of ‘Obaidan of Bulbul district, including a Kurdish language teacher named Ghanima, and according to a source from the village, their fate is unknown. On the other hand, sources said that three brothers who are barbers in Holila village in Rajo area were arrested and only one of them was released and the other’s fate is unknown so far.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that FSA units had been relocating newly displaced Arabs from Damascus into Kurdish-owned homes, abandoned in the face of Turkey’s advance. Information was also received about the settlement of the mercenaries’ families from the eastern Gouta in Sorka village.
“In the context of the demographic change, information was received about the resettlement of the mercenaries’ families by the Turkish occupation army; the displaced mercenaries from the eastern Gouta in Sorka village.”
This is in the context of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stating that: “Turkey’s military operations in northwest Syria could pave the way for the return of many of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey, Cumhuriyet newspaper reports. The Turkish president stated that, since Turkey had taken control of 2,000 square kilometres of territory in northern Syria during the 2016-17 Euphrates Shield military operation, 135,000 refugees had returned to Syria. Turkey has reconstructed cities and infrastructure in this region, ensuring conditions for the safe return of the refugees to towns including Jarabulus and al-Bab, said Erdoğan. We will do the same in Afrin”…”
Earlier in the invasion social media had showed videos of the Turkish militias threatening the Kurdish inhabitants of Afrin: “…by Allah, if you repent and come back to Allah, then know that you are our brothers. But if you refuse, then we see that your heads are ripe, and that it’s time for us to pluck them.”
Various figures for the numbers of people displaced in the region have surfaced.
An estimated 167,000 people have been displaced due to hostilities in Afrin and between 50,000 and 70,000 civilians have remained in the city, Jens Laerke spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.
Heiva Foundation: As a result of the ongoing conflict in Afrin region a large number of civilians have been displaced into neighboring region of Shahba. According to human rights reports well over 350,000 people have been displaced out of Afrin and are currently living under extremely difficult conditions in the open, lacking shelter, food, clean water and other basic necessities.
Reliefweb: “There are an estimated 137,000 individuals displaced from Afrin. The majority, around 90,000 individuals, are currently located in Tall Refaat and ten other villages, while 20,000 individuals are in Nubol, 10,000 in Zahraa and 15,000 in Kafr Naseh and Fafin. Freedom of movement of IDPs continues to be the principal concern in all locations. Between 50,000 and 70,000 individuals are believed to remain inside Afrin city.”
At the same time it has been reported that Kurdish residents who were attempting to return to their villages are being refused access by the militias as well as those wishing to enter Aleppo being denied access by the Syrian Regime forces. Likewise “…restrictions in reaching Aleppo facilities is resulting in lengthy clearance procedures for the referral of sick and injured patients.”
Great concern has also been expressed over the health and wellbeing of those forced to flee the Turkish war machine. Reports have been surfacing of diseases such as measles, hepatitis, acute diarrhea and upper respiratory infections breaking out, amid the fear of the Red Crescent of the spread of these diseases in the absence of the necessary medicines.
Following the world witnessing the wanton destruction of the statue of Kawa the Blacksmith reports continue to surface of Turkey’s policy of imposing its own culture over the Kurdish region where many non-Turkish minorities live.
Alongside the raising of Turkish flags over schools and other public buildings the co-chair of the Education Body in al-Jazeera region Samira Hajj Ali said: “The children in the camps need to receive education and complete their study, and there are serious discussions between the Education Body in the al-Jazeera and Afrin regions about the students’ completion their school in their mother tongue in the camps in order to not lose a year without studying.”
At the same time “…children who just weeks ago were able to study and speak in their native Kurdish are now being once again driven down the path of having to assimilate. This time it isn’t within the monolithic Syrian Arab state (the Kurdish language was illegal when Afrin was under the control of the Ba’ath government), but that of Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dictatorship.”
Hêvî Mistefa, co-chair of the Canton of Afrin spoke to Firat News Agency about the practices of the Turkish state now in Afrin, including…the forced Islamization of the non-Muslim population, the looting of property and the abduction of people: “The Turkish state and its gangs are doing a very bad and dangerous job in Afrin. It is well known that Afrin was a place where people of different backgrounds and faiths lived together peacefully. Currently, the people who stayed in Afrin are under very heavy pressure. Their property is confiscated, their honor is violated and Ezidis are forced to visit the mosque. Unfortunately, all this happens without any objection being raised. ”
The CEO of Rudaw Media Network, Ako Mohammed on the occupation:
“Nowadays, especially after the fight in Afrin, there is nothing that can reasonably be called the ‘Syrian revolution.’ This is because, in comparative situations, nobody would accept these parties to run a peaceful and developed society in place of the regime.
The conduct of Syria’s armed opposition groups in Afrin showed everything. They started to steal chickens and tractors upon entering the surrounding villages of Afrin. Similarly, upon entering the city of Afrin, they desecrated and smashed the statue of Kawa the Blacksmith.”
Mr. Mohammed listed the outrages perpetrated on those that remained in the area:
- They desecrated the Kurdistan flag and looted peoples’ homes in the city of Afrin and its surrounding villages.
- They even snatched cellphones and other personal belongings from people, committed vandalism with forklifts, and were even seen putting shoes in the mouths of people arrested in Afrin.
- They also impeded the return of IDPs, and assaulted teenage girls, as recounted by two old men from Afrin on a Turkish television channel.
- These armed opposition groups settled their families in houses abandoned by locals fleeing the war, and also brought people from Eastern Ghouta and other places to settle in Afrin.
Molly Crabapple in a recent article for the New York Review of Books (“To be a Kurd in Afrin, once a majority Kurdish city…is now to find oneself a member of a despised group, suspected of disloyalty, and liable to be robbed, beaten, put to flight, or worse.”) confirmed many of these reports in her interview with Mohammed “a Kurd living in Afrin” who had not supported the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) prior to the city’s occupation by Turkish forces:
“They were like hyenas attacking a corpse,” Mohammed told me of the fighters he’d seen breaking into stores that night. “They did not leave a car in Afrin, except the cars of some Arabs who live here, who brought their relatives from the Free Army to protect their property.” Mohammed had to pay several bribes in an effort to save his own car. Echoing a common allegation I could not independently verify, he told me that only Kurdish properties were targeted.”
In addition she discovered:
- There are ongoing house raids.
- There are capricious checkpoint stops, routine harassments, and arbitrary demands for documents.
- There are attempts to blame the local population for crimes that the occupiers have committed (e.g. looting). “Mohammed told me that SNA/FSA fighters had forced civilians in Afrin to say, on camera, that they had looted their city’s shops.”
- There is also the erasure of local culture: “Mohammed told me he saw Yezidis, members of a non-Abrahamic faith, forced by SNA fighters to carry out Muslim prayers.”
- Anyone suspected of being connected with the PYD (or the YPJ) is liable to be purged.
- Turkish officials have promised to resettle between 350,000 and 500,000 refugees around Afrin. “In what houses, they did not say.”
- Countless Kurdish families remain stranded on the roads, blocked from returning home by the checkpoints of SNA (“Syrian National Army”) fighters, while others, who fled to the city of Afrin during Olive Branch, are banned by the SNA from returning to their villages.
- SNA forces had confiscated homes from Kurds—an accusation of PYD membership is sufficient pretext.
Thus the fragmented, dislocated and disturbing reports that have made their way out of the region in less than a month since Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared victory.
If, as Ako Mohammed said there is no longer any credibility in the Syrian opposition groups “revolution”, likewise there can be little credibility in Turkey’s notion of eradicating “terrorism” and returning the land to its rightful owners. Instead, what is appearing to be an ultra-nationalist and politicised-Islamist enemy of anything progressive is waging both a war of propaganda as well as its ongoing political wheeling-and-dealing to back up its technology and arms deals with its NATO allies all with one goal: to set this once peaceful region back another 50 or 100 or 200 years…
Do not forget…
…wherever you happen to find yourself sitting… in this Europe that is starting to look like an old threadbare coat. …Don’t forget what’s going on at the behest of political representatives you put in power…
If you do forget you will have no one to blame when this reactionary future finds its way to your area, arriving as “friend” or “enemy”, (Turkey, for example, seems incapable of defining the difference right now)…whether by pulverising everything in its path to get to you and then sending in mercenaries to steal your chickens, evict you from your house and probably kill most of your children in the process or… (more likely), by closing the door on every possibility to develop our currently-quite-limited-structures of democracy into the future…as Rojava seemed and continues to promise..?
You have been warned.
As for Afrin. While the world continues to sleep. It is surely time now to weep for its people? Before day breaks and the alarm goes off and its back to the front lines.
HDP politician Faisal Sari Yildiz, “one of the witnesses to the massacres and attacks of genocide of the Turkish occupation army against the cities of ‘north Kurdistan’ in 2015”: “This chaos will continue in Syria, Syria is divided, so they are going to take over many places… and they want to empty a city like Afrin with a high national spirit and settle people with their own ideas… The people of Afrin must unite and stand together…
Do not stop, then Erdogan’s fate will be like Mussolini, Hitler and Saddam…”
Turkish Army in the Center of Afrin
By VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons