US religious freedom commissioner condemns Syrian opposition leader visit to Afrin

Displaced Afrin Yezidis “shared how they had to flee because of the crimes being committed against their community… It’s terrible that the head of the Syrian Opposition would be a puppet of Turkey, spreading their fake narrative.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Nadine Maenza, Commissioner of the official US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has condemned statements by the leader of the Syrian opposition who denied religious minorities were abused and mistreated in the Turkish-occupied region of Afrin.

The President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), Nasr al-Hariri, in early November visited the predominantly Yezidi town of Basufan in Afrin in an attempt to improve the image of the Turkish-backed SOC following various human rights reports that documented abuses in areas Turkey occupies.

A damning report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria in September documented rape and human rights violations against civilians in areas Turkey occupied. Among the various instances documented include cases of at least 30 women who were reportedly raped in February alone.

Read More: Arrests increase in Afrin, despite Syrian opposition promises to stop violations

In a media statement, the SOC claimed that the local “townspeople said that they are freely practicing their faith and that their beliefs are fully respected.”

Moreover, the SOC claimed that none of the Yezidis said “their homes and properties were seized by anyone as they demanded action against sporadic petty thefts.”

USCIRF Commissioner Maenza, who is currently on a personal visit to northeastern Syria, told Kurdistan 24 that, during her visit, she met several Yezidis from Afrin that fled the Turkish occupation of Afrin in March 2018.

“They shared how they had to flee because of the crimes being committed against their community. One Yezidi showed me photos of his beautiful house that has been seized. It’s terrible that the head of the Syrian Opposition would be a puppet of Turkey, spreading their fake narrative. Instead, the Syrian Opposition should be condemning these conditions.”

She added that the “US should no longer support the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition after President Nasr al-Hariri visited Afrin backing the Turkish occupying forces and endorsing the conditions they have instituted against religious minorities and women.”

“The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and others have documented the atrocities that include killings, rape, kidnapping, forced conversion, extortion and the destruction of religious sites (in Afrin). With religious freedom being a cornerstone of U.S. policy under the Trump Administration, the Syrian Opposition is no longer in line with U.S. values.”

She added that by contrast, the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) “has built this unique democracy from the grassroots up that has the best religious freedom and gender equality conditions in the Middle East.”

Read more: US commission members praise religious diversity in northeast Syria

She said that USCIRF has recommended that the US government demand the inclusion of AANES in a political solution per UN Resolution 2254. “The Syrian Opposition has made it clear they will support a future Syria with conditions similar to those currently in the areas Turkey occupies which should be unacceptable to the United States and the international community.”

Sinam Mohammed, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in the USA, who is originally from Afrin, told Kurdistan 24 that it is a good step that Nasr al-Hariri visited Afrin. “But I still doubt it that he can make any changes.”

“I don’t think the people that Nasr al-Hariri met have the courage to speak out because the minute they do, they would be kidnapped.”

She added that daily human rights violations are still taking place in Afrin.

“We ask for an independent committee to investigate the violations and return all properties to the people of Afrin and hold those who committed the crimes accountable.”

Editing by Khrush Najari