The Syrian region of Afrin has suffered for nearly three years now under the horrific occupation of the Turkish military and Turkish-backed militias. An on-the-ground organization has taken a tally of human rights abuses committed by the occupiers of the region.

The data collected by personnel of the Human Rights Organisation of Afrin, Syria has been gathered at great personal risk. The organization must work in utter secrecy to avoid arrest or violence by Turkish officials or Turkish-backed militia members. Posting its news updates and findings to a Facebook page called simply “Human Rights Organisation – Afrin – Syria,” the organization has come to be trusted by many sources following events in North and East Syria.

Below is the report in its entirety:

A third year of grisly human rights violations, depredations, and war crimes added to the black record of Turkish occupation of Afrin

On March 18, 2018, the Turkish state and its Syrian armed militias began occupying the predominantly Kurdish region of Afrin in northern Syria, using all types of air and ground weapons, and with implicit green light from regional and international powers that supported this flagrant aggression, codenamed “Olive Branch Operation” for political and economic interests.

Since the first day of Turkey’s occupation of Afrin, the horrendous human rights violations against civilians, especially the Kurds, have not stopped, as all immoral and illegal practices are being carried out against the remaining locals who were trapped inside the region.

1) The grave consequences of the aggression.

During and following the Turkish aggression, hundreds of thousands of Afrin’s original people were forcibly displaced from their homes, for fear of mass massacres and reprisals.

According to our statistics, more than 300,000 civilians have been displaced from Afrin since March 18, 2018, and forced displacement is still going on as locals have been trapped between a rock and a hard place under the criminal sway of more than 50 riff-raff armed groups operating under a Turkish umbrella which have turned their life into hell.

Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Arab and Turkmen settlers have been brought in from the four corners of Syria to change the demographic make up of the region.

2) Locals are now a small minority.

According to surveys conducted by our organisation, HROAS, the percentage of Kurds in Afrin now does not exceed 23%, versus newly-brought-in Arab and Turkmen settlers who are mostly the familes of pro-Turkey routed islamist fighters of the Syrian opposition bussed to Afrin from lost enclaves of the armed opposition, following Astana deals among Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

Approximately, 400,000 settlers have been resettled in all 366 villages and suburbs of Afrin.

3) Turkification and Arabization of the region.

As early as the first days of the occupation, Turkey and its notorious proxies have been rapidly seeking to change both the cultural, and historical identity of Afrin and its landmarks and brand it with the Turkish identity by changing the names of streets, squares, public facilities, hospitals, and raising the Turkish flag, Erdogan posters over schools and public facilities.

For example, the Turkish occupation has changed the names of the main squares in Afrin city center, such as “Azadi Square” into “Ataturk Square,” “Newroz Roundabout” to “Salah al-Din,” “Al-Watani Roundabout” to “March 18 Roundabout,” and “Kawa Al-Haddad Roundabout” to “Olive Branch Roundabout.”

Even the historical names of villages have not been spared turkification. For instance, the name of the village of “Qastal Miqdad” has been changed to “Seljuk Obasi,” the village of “Kutana” to “Zafer Obasi,” and “Kurzeleh” to “Jaafar Obasi.”

Substituting the names of historical Kurdish places with Ottoman names was accompanied by placing the Turkish flag and pictures of Erdogan everywhere, as well as teaching Turkish language in schools and placing small badges carrying the Turkish flag on students’ clothes.

Besides, the name of Afrin Hospital was written in Turkish, after it was written in both Kurdish and Arabic, not to mention changing the identification sign boards of shops and streets and writing them only in Turkish.

The Turkish occupation has also tampered with the holy places and destroyed the religious shrines of the Yazidis and Allawis in Yazidi villages.

As part of the process of demographic change and changing the identity of the region, the Turkish occupation has issued Turkish identification cards for Syrian civilians in Afrin and other occupied Syrian territories.

4) Lawlessness, thuggery, abductions, and ransoms.

Perhaps the worst practices carried out by the Turkish occupation and its armed mercenary groups against the remaining people of Afrin is the increase in kidnappings, humiliation, torture and killings.

In this regard, more than 7,343 civilians have been kidnapped during three years of occupation, and the fate of more than half of them is still unknown. Kurdish civilians have been repeatedly kidnapped by Turkish intelligence service, MIT and armed militias that usually demand ransom money, and this is what Afrin residents inside the country describe as a “profitable business.”

Women have been systematically targeted and abused in Afrin. At least 70 cases of murder, including five suicides of women and 68 cases of rape, have been documented, not to mention the assaults that women are subjected to on daily basis and in public.

5) Civilian victims of the occupation.

As for the killings, we have documented that more than 604 civilians have been killed, of whom 498 were killed as a result of the Turkish bombing and the Syrian factions affiliated with Turkey, while 82 were killed under torture and more than 696 got wounded as a result of Turkish bombing and shootings by the armed militias, including about 303 children and 213 women. As for the accidents of mines and booby traps, we have recorded 207 cases.

6) Destruction and seizure of farms and property.

More than 314,400 olive and other forest trees have been cut down by pro-Turkey militias which trade in firewood, and more than 11,000 olive trees and various fruitful trees were intentionally burned. It is estimated that a total 11,000 hectares of agricultural lands have been burned so far.

Tens of thousands of homes that belong to forcibly displaced civilians have been seized by armed groups and Turkish army. Moreover, the homes of thousands of abductees locked up in prisons have been confiscated as armed militiamen trade in selling and and purchasing the abductees’ homes and property.

7) Looting olive oil and agricultural crops.

Locals in Afrin have been targeted by Turkey-backed groups. Agricultural crops, such as olive, grains, fruits, sumac, and grapes, are being unlawfully looted by opposition factions acting under direct orders of pro-Turkey local councils. Militias threaten Kurdish residents with death if they try to get hold of seasonal crops.

The armed factions deliberately sabotage the agricultural crops by allowing livestock to graze in the lands for Kurdish citizens, in addition to beating and insulting citizens in the framework of pushing them out of their areas.

Afrin’s most valuable resource, olive oil, is being systematically looted by pro-Turkey commanders of the armed groups while Turkish traders buy it cheaply from Afrin markets to be reprocessed in Turkey, bottled, labelled as Turkish brand and finally exported to Europe, the Gulf, and the United States to finance the armed groups.

8) Destruction of all archaeological sites.

After the destruction of most of the archaeological sites registered on UNESCO’s global heritage list during the attacks on Afrin, such as Ain Dara Temple, Nabi Hori or Cyrus, Dodaria Cave, Saint Marmaroun’s Tomb and shrine, as well as all archaeological mounds.

According to what was confirmed by the Directorate of Antiquities of Afrin, there are about 75 archaeological mounds in the Afrin region, and the Turkish occupation and its armed proxies have dug and excavated most of the mounds in search of antiquities and archaeological finds.

According to the statistics of the Directorate of Antiquities of Afrin, more than 28 archaeological sites and a warehouse were destroyed, in addition to 15 religious shrines for different sects and religions while many graves were levelled and even one of them has been turned into a livestock market.

In addition to that, the Turkish occupation has dismantled the railway extending from Akbaz Midan in Rajo subdistrict and to both Kafer Janna and Qatama in Shara subdistrict, and sold it as hardware to merchants from Azaz.

9) Statistics of depredations in 2020 in numbers.

  • Murder: 58 people, including 9 women.
  • Kidnappings: 987 people, including 92 women.
  • Released abductees: 26 people, including 10 women.
  • Looted and bulldozed archeological sites: 50 ancient sites.
  • Destroyed farms: More than 72,000 trees were cut down by armed factions to be sold for firewood, in addition to thousands uprooted by the Turks while building their military bases and paving the highway road between Jendeires and the Turkish state of Hatay.
  • Seized homes: The seizure of 250 houses to be added to tens of thousands of confiscated homes of forcibly-displaced local population.
  • Blasts and car bombs: 39 bombings that killed and wounded more than 170 people.

Therefore, we appeal to international human rights and humanitarian organizations, the United Nations, the Human Rights Organization, UNICEF, and UNESCO, to do their moral and humanitarian duty to stop these flagrant transgressions of all norms of human behaviour and international codes for human rights by Turkish occupation and its notorious proxies who now fight as mercenaries in other countries like Libya, and Azerbaijan.

The international community should pressure the Turkish government to stop its abuses and assaults against all Syrian citizens, in general, and local Afrinians, in particular; to withdraw all its armed forces from the Syrian lands and to allow the displaced native population of Afrin to safely return to their homes.

Human rights and humanitarian organizations and free, neutral media should be allowed to enter Afrin to document the violations of the Turkish occupation, and affiliated SNA groups backed, trained, funded and given free rein by Turkey, so that it may convey a clear picture of what is happening on the ground to the world, and to initiate urgent lawsuits against Turkish officials in command and control of Turkish occupation, as well as the perpetrators of these crimes among those Turkey-sponsored Arab and Turkmen groups that wreck havoc in the region, and, therefore the leaders of the Syrian coalition and the so-called Interim Government for the Opposition Forces. 

Therefore, everyone who is proven involved in committing these crimes should be referred to the International Criminal Court, as these crimes amount to war crimes and crimes against Humanity and genocide in accordance with relevant international treaties, conventions and laws, and to provide urgent humanitarian aid to the indigenous population so that they may safely return to their home towns and villages and to rebuild what has been destroyed by the Turkish war machine during its invasion and occupation of Afrin following the so-called Olive Branch operation in January 2018.

January 3, 2021, Human Rights Organisation – Afrin – Syria (HROAS)