Erdogan says Afrin is majority Arab, threatens Arabization

"55 percent of Afrin is Arab, 35 percent are the Kurds who were later relocated," Erdogan claimed as intensive aerial and ground attacks continued on the Kurdish canton in northwestern Syria.
author_image Ari Khalidi

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday claimed that over half the population of the Afrin region in northern Syria in which his army launched an invasion was Arab and that the Kurds there were from elsewhere.

“The whole issue is this: 55 percent of Afrin is Arab, 35 percent are the Kurds who were later relocated, and about seven percent are Turkmen. [We aim] to give Afrin back to its rightful owners,” the Turkish President said at a rally in the Bursa Province.

“We house about 3.5 million Syrians [as refugees]. We want to send them back to their land in no time,” he said, as intensive aerial and ground attacks continued to target US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions and population centers in Afrin.

Erdogan’s televised remarks reminded of a 1970s Syrian Ba’athist regime’s policy of creating an “Arab belt” in the north of the country by expelling the Kurds and resettling Arabs.

A Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighter holds a makeshift Turkish flag as he patrols on the road near Azaz, east of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, Syria, Jan. 21, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
A Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighter holds a makeshift Turkish flag as he patrols on the road near Azaz, east of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, Syria, Jan. 21, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

The regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein engaged in a similar and more decisive Arabization campaign in the Kirkuk Province in the second half of the 20th century.

After last year’s military takeover of Kirkuk by the Iraqi army and Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias, the Kurdistan Region accused Iraq of restarting policies of Arabization.

Over the past year, Erdogan has repeatedly claimed that Afrin, with its some 360 villages and towns, was Arab, an allegation state-owned Anadolu Agency illustrated to justify the much-threatened military intervention.

He also insisted the operation—that has so far killed over a dozen civilians—was not targeting the Kurds, but “terrorists,” on the ground the YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is fighting the Turkish state over government suppression of Kurdish demands of self-rule.

In the same speech, Erdogan denied the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire and said Turks were the real victims of a genocide.

Later in the day, he discussed the Afrin offensive with the leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli, Anadolu reported.

“Let Afrin be destroyed and the terrorists there be burned,” Bahceli had said earlier.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany