ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – On Sunday, a Turkish-backed militia affiliated to local military police arrested Hussein Ibesh, the head of the local Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Afrin, raising the specter of the continued targeting of Kurdish factions in the Syrian town since its occupation began in early 2018.
Ibesh is also a member of the Central Committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (KDP-S), the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Masoud Barzani in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Ibesh was arrested, “amid popular dissatisfaction” over the arrest and kidnappings of hundreds of civilians in Afrin by the Turkish-backed factions.
He is one of the many civilians that have been detained in past months by the armed groups in Afrin. SOHR said that military police also arrested nine Kurdish teachers on Friday.
Moreover, another KNC-member named Mihemed Elî Riza was arrested on Saturday, released, and then arrested again, also by military police, a KDP-S official told Kurdistan 24. Riza is 86 years old.
The KNC, a rival of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), was founded in Erbil in October 2011 with support from Barzani, also the former president of the Kurdistan Region.
Both the KNC and the KDP-S have, in separate statements, called on the militia to release their members.
“We call on the Turkish state to pressure the militias to end their violations and abuses against citizens and their property and to immediately release Comrade Hussein Ibesh,” the KNC said.
The PDK-S also condemned the arrest, calling for the release Ibesh, plus all other “detainees in the prisons and cells of the ruling authorities.”
PDK-S officials say Ibesh remains in jail.
In January, Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin claimed it was “irrational to say that Turkey targets Kurds [in Syria].”
He contended that it was Turkey’s aim in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian branches “to rescue Kurds from the tyranny and oppression of this terror group and to ensure their safety of life and property.”
However, the arrest of the local KNC leader does more to demonstrate that the Turkish-backed groups in Afrin target all Kurdish factions, not only those it claims are affiliated to the PKK like the People's Protection Units (YPG) or the PYD.
A civilian from Afrin named Derin who fled the Turkish occupation of the town told Kurdistan 24 that there are other KNC members in prisons of Turkish-backed groups, as well as many PYD supporters.
He said that even Kurdish members of Turkish-backed FSA militia groups that participated in the Turkish attack on Afrin are being targeted, such as Abu Maryam al-Afrini and Abu Maryam al-Hasakawi, who disappeared last year.
“They are cleaning them one by one,” Derin remarked.
According to a February report by the United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that armed group members in Afrin committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and pillage.”
“Due to the glaring absence of the rule of law, it similarly remains unclear whether Turkish forces were capable of exercising overall control over any armed groups present in the district,” it added.
Diana Semaan, Amnesty International’s Syria researcher, previously told Kurdistan 24, “Turkey is supporting these groups which are committing violations under Turkey’s watchful eye.”
“Turkey must pressure these groups to end violations and abuses against civilians in Afrin,” she added.
“Turkey, itself, has an obligation as a military occupier to abide by international law.”
Editing by John J. Catherine