ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Sunday alleged that there were about 350,000 people from Afrin that found refuge in his country and that Ankara’s military offensive on the besieged region in Syrian Kurdistan was meant to return them.
“They will go back to Afrin to live in peace after Inshallah (God willing) PKK, PYD, YPG, and Da’esh are cleared,” Yildirim said, according to state media.
Da’esh or the Islamic State (IS) which US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces have been fighting has never had a presence in Afrin, one of the last safe zones in Syria.
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its political parent organization the Democratic Union Party (PYD) control Afrin which stayed intact in the last seven years from much of the ravaging effects of the Syrian civil war until last month’s commencement of the Turkish campaign to capture it.
Ankara ties both to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and labels them as terrorists.
The self-declared administration of the Canton of Afrin puts the number of the area’s population at 446,000 on its website, citing a pre-war 2005 census by the Syrian state.
During the war, the area absorbed a massive influx of displaced people from other parts of Syria, according to official figures.
The Turkey-based International Middle East Peace Research Center said in a 2016 report that about 316,000 IDPs had come to Afrin from provinces the Damascus government and armed opposition were fighting in such as Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and Raqqa.
Turkey hosts over three million Syrian refugees, a supermajority of them Sunni Arabs.
At the beginning of the invasion of Afrin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Afrin belonged to Arabs, and the Kurds there were relocated from elsewhere, vowing to return the land “to its rightful owners.”
Kurdish officials from Turkey and Syria described the Turkish leader’s remarks as a threat of ethnic cleansing and Arabization.
In its continued airstrikes, ground shelling, and incursion into Afrin, the Turkish army is using Islamist-dominated Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions initially formed to topple Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
On Friday, Erdogan claimed Turkey and the FSA captured 1,000 villages in Afrin although there are only 360 villages in that part of Kurdistan.
“All we want is to return 3.5 million [Syrian refugees] to their lands,” he said.
His office has not corrected the remark about the number of villages.
Earlier this month, Kurdish officials revealed that Turkish attacks had displaced over 60,000 people from population centers near the border where much of the fighting takes place.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany