AFRIN, Syrian Kurdistan (Kurdistan 24) – A senior official of the Syrian Kurdish-led forces on Tuesday accused Turkey of settling Arab and Turkmen families in the villages captured in the Turkish army’s assault in the Kurdish region of Afrin.
Redur Xelil, head of foreign relations for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the Kurdish YPG forces are the leading component, said in an online statement that Turkey was conducting a policy of intentional demographic change in Afrin.
“The Turkish government is settling Turkmen and Arab families in the villages of Afrin that it occupied after forcing out its people and is distributing the belongings of the people of Afrin to the new settlers,” he said.
If the claims are true, the actions would amount to ethnic cleansing. Various forms of forcible transfer of populations, especially of ethnic or religious groups, are considered war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Footage released by Turkish-backed Syrian militiamen shows their members saying they are taking the Kurdish villages and houses for their own fighters and families.
The video [at the time 2:40] shows a militant accusing Kurdish forces elsewhere in Syria of seizing Arab villages, saying they “removed [Arab] residents and put them in camps.”
“These are the youths … sitting in the Kurds’ houses in Afrin,” he said referring to Arab families reportedly now entering Kurdish villages in Afrin.
However, a senior Turkish official said the accusation was “absolutely false”, Reuters reported.
The senior Turkish official said, “The claim that Arabs and Turkmen are being placed in Afrin is absolutely false ... A transfer of population to that region to change the demographic structure is out of the question.”
Turkey launched its offensive against the YPG on Jan. 20, claiming that Kurdish forces, which it argues are an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), represent a “terrorist” threat to its southern borders.
The US, who has supported the YPG in its campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Syria, does not agree with Ankara’s designation of the Kurdish forces and has called on Turkey to limit its operations.
According to human rights organizations, over 200 civilians have been killed as a result of the ongoing offensive with scores more injured.
Editing by John J. Catherine