By Sinam Sherkany Mohamad

Sinam Sherkany Mohamad is the Co-Chief of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council. Before she left Syria, her home was in Afrin.

The Turkish occupation of Afrin represents a usurpation of rights. It reshapes the social system of the occupied region according to its political orientations and future aspirations. It works to erase the cultural identity and the prevailing social intellectual principles before it comes, and focuses mainly on the new generation.

The occupier imposes its culture on this generation through schools and educational courses, so the occupation sows its seeds in the generations to grow up with it. It imparts new social habits aimed at destroying what the society previously had. It rules with an iron fist and threatening tone. It terrifies large groups of society to force them to leave and move outside the region. Thus, the occupier allows for systematic demographic change aimed at creating an internal calculus to facilitate controlling country and people.

What happened in occupied Afrin is not only an occupation, but also the largest forced displacement and demographic change the world has seen in recent years.

In addition, comprehensive thefts have impacted all of Afrin and continue today. Afrin region was a symbol of religious diversity and national coexistence, a good example of relief and embracing people in need from all over Syria. Afrin in its general Kurdish character, with an Arab component that blended with its Kurdish community through interaction and marriage, did not see racial discrimination as it is witnessing now.

Afrin, where several religious sects live, where there is Sunni majority with the presence of some Alawites, Yezidis, and Christians, was an example of religious coexistence. Mosques, churches, Alawite shrines, Yazidi feasts, and the graves of the righteous people have never witnessed this discrimination before the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries of Afrin. Afrin embraced Syrians from every region of Syria who sought asylum, escape from crisis, destruction, and fighting. Afrin welcomed them lovingly. They lived many safe years in the shadow of its olive trees. They worked to survive.

It is not like Afrin today, in which everything was changed and converted into a city in which terrorists wreak havoc, a city that is not governed by laws but rather by gangs, a city where the enemy turkified its schools, distorted its history, replaced its residents, stole its properties, kidnapped its youth, and assaulted its women. What remains of Afrin?

These policies of occupation are applied systematically not only in Afrin, but also in all our occupied regions. In the occupied town of Ras al-Ain these same policies are applied. And even in the occupied city of Tal Abyad, whose Arab identity did not prevent it from being occupied.

The Turkish state mentality is that of centuries gone by. They’re declaring war, occupying cities and lands, and violating international law and human rights. Turkish politics are those of a bygone era. They have not developed and cannot be developed to search for political solutions through dialogue or diplomacy, as in modern-day politics. The outdated Ottoman methods are preferred, instead of the developments of world politics, which refuse to occupy one country by another and violate its rights.

The Kurdish areas of Afrin are now controlled by militant factions loyal to Turkey and backed by it militarily and logistically. However, Afrin was not at any time a source of threat to Turkey, but was a model of peaceful coexistence among all Syrians.

Afrin was an example of religious and national coexistence. It was a model praised by many Western journalists who visited Afrin and saw its reality. The concept of emancipation of women was embodied in Afrin. They had a leading role in managing the region alongside men and had the most prominent role in influencing society and its development. The religious freedoms were equal to religious living. There were Christians, Alevis, Yazidis, and Sunni Muslims, all of these were free to practice their rituals without any discrimination or preference. The civil government that was conducting the affairs of the region was not limited to Arabs or Kurds, but also included people who were mainly from outside the region, as a form of participation by all residents of Afrin in the management of its affairs.

Now everything has changed. The region has been completely looted. Religious freedoms have been completely restricted. Religious coexistence has become virtually non-existent. Kidnapping, demanding ransom, and killing have become common. The Turkish language has become an official language in schools. The morning salutation for school children has become a salute to the Turkish occupier’s flag. The whole region has come under the command of security committees and radical extremist factions. Implementing demographic change is the most dangerous thing being done now.

Afrin’s past and Afrin’s present look very different. Likewise Tel Abyad and Ras Al-Ain look very different today than before the occupation.

All of our occupied areas suffer from the same political situation. And if we compare the Euphrates Shield regions with those which were recently occupied, we find a very big difference. One one side we find freedom that the individual enjoys, services provided to citizens, and excellent security. On the occupied side we find regions run by extremist, corrupt gangs running rampant while services are nonexistent and freedom is only a memory.

The concept of security is always distorted. The colonizer always distorts history by plundering historical and cultural stockpiles of the occupied land with the aim of obliterating its cultural and historical heritage, thereby obscuring its identity. The ruins of Afrin, Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain were not survived from the looting of antiquities. The gangs also excavated, exhumed, and smuggled artifacts to Turkey.

The blurring of history is an extreme crime, and aims to obscure the true identity of the region. All of these practices are a crime against the people of the region — people who live in the camps of the Shahba regions, and look forward daily to return Afrin, waiting impatiently. We must commend our resisting people who have the legitimate right to self defense in the resistance to restore their rights by all means.

We call upon the international parties to show solidarity with us in order for our people return to their homes, for the occupier to leave our lands that they controlled, and for the forming of an investigation committee under international sponsorship to uncover the violations of the occupier. The occupier’s crimes are considered a shame on the forehead of the humanity in our modern era. We must bring them to trial. We reaffirm that our people in every way have the full right to return and expel the occupier.