By Sinam Sherkany Mohamad

Sinam Sherkany Mohamad is the Co-Chief of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council. She is a Kurdish woman from Afrin, Syria.

What does genocide look like? It looks like the homes of my people, the Kurdish people of Afrin, Syria, being destroyed by the bulldozers of the Turkish state, after they were driven out by Turkish bombs and the persecution of Turkish-backed militias. It looks like cold steel beams, concrete poured for massive apartment buildings. It looks like pro-Turkey settlers being bussed in and sold our vacant homes for a fraction of their worth, so that the Kurdish people are replaced and erased. This is forced demographic change. It is genocide and it is a war crime.

Turkish and Gulf organizations, are now constructing settlements in Turkish-occupied North and East Syria. Below are several noteworthy examples.

The Muslim Brotherhood announced on its website the “Pavlon settlement,” promoting the settlement as “Cooperation Camp” and claiming local volunteers were behind the project. In reality, this massive housing complex is being funded by Qatari and Kuwaiti associations. The complex is slated to house 70 settler families. This settlement complex is being built at the foot of Mount Pavlon, near the village of Pavlon, where the Turkish government and Turkish-backed militias forcibly displaced Yazidi and Kurdish families to house settlers in its roughly 60 home sites.

Financed by the Qatari-Turkish Brotherhood Association, the Avrazah settlement is being built right in the square that was formerly reserved for the festivities celebrating the Kurdish festivities of Newruz. The project, located near the village of Afrazeh/Azar, near Afrin, is a large complex in which each housing unit is made of brick and contains a prefabricated kitchen and bathroom. The units are powered by solar panels. The settlers of the Katakh area camps were relocated into the Avrazah settlement.

A new settlement project includes building a new mosque right in the center of the Yazidi village of Shadera, just south of the city of Afrin. A large complex including housing units is being built by the “White Hands” Association, with financing from the “International Charitable Association for Development and Growth,” an organization based in Kuwait. The complex is being called the “Basma Residential Village.” Members of the local Yazidi population expressed fears that this complex would forever change the demographics of the village of Shadera. Before the Turkish occupation, the village had over 450 residents, and was predominantly Yazidi. Now, there are fewer than 50 of the original inhabitants.

An organization called “Ihssan Relief and Development” is building a massive complex to include 247 housing units with gardens near the village of Hajj Hasanah, in the Jinderes subdistrict of the Afrin region. This project is being built in the shadow of Mount Qazqli, a historically natural and locally celebrated site, right on top of the scene of an illegal logging and deforestation operation.

The Beyaz Eller Association, a Turkish organization, is constructing a settlement in Shadereh, a district of Afrin in North and East Syria. The project exacerbates the forced demographic change of the historically Kurdish region.

Funded by Gulf Brotherhood Associations, the settlement project called “The Levantine Village” was first proposed in November 2018 by settlers from Ghouta, Syria, in the town of Maryaman, on the outskirts of Afrin. 

The genocide of our people in Afrin has occurred at a shocking rate. Turkey has only been occupying my hometown of Afrin, Syria, since early 2018. The region has gone from over 95 percent people of Kurdish identity to less than 30 percent Kurdish. Our people have been displaced, killed, tortured, imprisoned, raped, harassed. The Turkish authorities have been supporting shadowy extremist militant groups, many of whom have links to ISIS, and given them free rein to occupy our neighborhoods. They have allowed extortion and harassment campaigns to torment our people. They have stolen the historic olive and olive oil industry assets and exported everything to Turkey. 

Turkification has been continuous in the region. They have hung their Turkish flags everywhere, changed road signs to the Turkish language, forced people to comply with Turkish laws. They have hung up massive pictures of Turkish President Erdogan.

Now Turkey seeks to make it impossible for the Kurdish people to return to their homes by settling new people in the region. When will it become clear to the international community that this is exactly what genocide looks like? When will the international community act to stop these crimes against humanity?