Afrin: Aggressions Against People, Nature…Demographic Distortion
In March 2018, the Turkish army and Syrian opposition factions controlled the northern Kurdish city of Afrin, which has since been the focus of international and human rights organizations for the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in this part of Syria.
Following the military operation, more than half of the city’s population, which numbered about half a million people, settled in camps in the area of Al-Shahba in the northern countryside of Aleppo, tens of kilometers away from their homes. They were replaced by people who were displaced from the eastern towns of Ghouta in Damascus and other residents of the areas regained by the regular forces of the opposition factions and who were forced to leave their homes in line with the Astana political path.
Over the past few days, Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed civilians, activists and opponents from Afrin, as well as individuals who have recently left their hometown to neighboring or European countries but are aware of the conditions of life under the deployment of the Turkish army and other factions. The identity of the interviewees was not disclosed for their safety.
“Everything in Afrin changed after March 18, 2018… They imposed a reality and I can no longer speak my Kurdish language because it is enough to be a charge against me.” With these words, a young girl from Afrin recounted the story of her new life after the entry of the Turkish army and factions.
When talking to her through Whatsapp, one could hear loud shots and screams, and when asked what was going on nearby, she said: “The scenes of the clashes have become part of our lives, security chaos reigns, incidents of theft, abductions…”
According to the girl, most of the city’s residents were denied the right to celebrate the Nowruz, which falls on March 20 each year, because of the measures and restrictions imposed by the armed groups in her hometown.
A Kurdish national from Afrin, who preferred to stay in his hometown, said that the spread of Turkish flags and factions’ banners “makes you feel a stranger in your land.”
The area has become an investment park for Turkey, where olive trees, which amount to around 18 million, turned into a source of income for opposition factions.
A media activist from the town of Afrin, who was displaced a year and four months ago to the area of Kubani (Ain al-Arab), accused armed elements of burning 300 almond trees owned by his family.
The Turkish opposition accused the armed groups in Afrin of smuggling 50,000 tons of olive oil from Afrin to Turkish markets, which affected the local production in their country. The armed factions not only smuggled olive oil but also destroyed olive fields, according to the area’s farmers.
Syrian political and human rights organizations have recorded the continuation of kidnappings, enforced disappearances and arrests, and issued statements and reports on these abuses.
A Kurdish opposition figure, who resides in Aleppo, said:
“It is very difficult to make accurate statistics of the ongoing violations in Afrin…” According to the estimates, more than five thousand cases of kidnapping and arrest were recorded, “of which more than 1,100 are still unknown to date.”
He continued: “We have documented a list of 67 civilian victims killed under different conditions, including torture or live ammunition, while others have been released in exchange for material bribes.”
Moreover, armed groups confiscated property and shops in Afrin. Displaced living in nearby Al-Shahba camps said their relatives and neighbors told them that their homes had become military headquarters for pro-Turkish armed groups or for displaced families.
For months, the Turkish army has been carrying out extensive demolitions and razing of houses and civilian properties in the villages of Jalbal and Kimar, in order to complete the construction of a concrete wall to isolate the city of Afrin from its Syrian environment.