ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish leaders’ repeated announcements that they would resettle hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the Afrin region of Syrian Kurdistan amounted to a war crime, the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said on Monday.
Afrin has been the target of a now six-week-long cross-border Turkish attack that has resulted in the displacement of over 60,000 locals as of early last month.
“The government’s plans to transfer 350,000 refugees to Afrin under a campaign of invasion is an attempt of demographic change in contravention of the international law, and a downright war crime according to the Geneva Conventions,” a statement on the HDP’s website read.
At the beginning of the offensive to capture Afrin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that 55 percent of the population was Arab, the Kurds there were from elsewhere, and that the enclave did not belong to “terrorists.”
The Ankara government labels the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) allied with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) as “terrorists” for their ties with the active Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
The Geneva treaties regulating laws of war designate “the establishment of settlers in an occupied territory and changes to the demographic composition of an occupied territory” as an “exceptionally serious war crime.”
“We aim to give Afrin back to its rightful owners,” Erdogan has said on different occasions, as his army backing Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions continues to push back the YPG.
Last month, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim alleged there were about 350,000 people from Afrin that found refuge in his country, a figure that he did not substantiate about the region that was among one of the last safe zones in war-torn Syria.
The self-declared administration of the Afrin canton puts the number of the area’s population at 446,000, citing a pre-war 2005 census by the Syrian state.
HDP lawmaker Osman Baydemir had earlier accused Erdogan’s administration of harboring objectives to “de-Kurdify” Kurdish lands.
Baydemir likened the Turkish policy to a plan in the 1970s by the Syrian Ba’ath regime to create an “Arab belt” in the north of the country by expelling the Kurds and resettling Arabs.
Co-president of the Executive Council of the Afrin canton Hevi Mustafa considered remarks by the Turkish leadership as a threat of ethnic cleansing and urged Ankara’s NATO ally the US to enforce a no-fly zone over the region immediately.
The US, Russia (which gave the green light for Turkey’s invasion), the Syrian state, the UN, or independent human rights organizations have not commented on Turkish pronouncements regarding demographics of Afrin.
People displaced from border areas the Turkish army captured have sought safety further inside Afrin, officials from both sides confirm.
Afrin’s Health Council on Sunday revealed the number of civilians killed by continued Turkish airstrikes and ground shelling rose to 212, despite calls by the US and France for the implementation of a UN truce Turkey refuses.
Over the weekend, Head of the Turkish Red Crescent Kerem Kinik objected to any “forced resettlement” of refugees into Syria.
Over three million Syrians have found refuge in Turkey since the onset of the civil war seven years ago.
Some politicians have suggested taking those people under arms to fight the US-allied Kurds to prevent Turkish army losses which Ankara puts at 41 killed.
Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Erdogan Toprak said Ankara should enlist 800,000 Syrian men into the FSA.
Toprak himself, and his party have supported Turkey’s invasion of Afrin. However, he has also called the FSA “terrorists” for relations with al-Qaeda, angering President Erdogan.
The HDP criticized the main opposition block for aligning with the government, charged it with legitimizing “anti-democratic gangs of FSA,” and slammed the lawmaker’s proposal as “immoral.”
Turkey already trains FSA militants on its territory, busing them into Afrin and elsewhere in Syria.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany