Turkish-backed rebels pushing for further mass displacement from Afrin: Monitor

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor, said that Turkish-backed rebels are demanding that residents from Afrin be permanently expelled.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor, said that Turkish-backed rebels are demanding that residents from Afrin be permanently expelled.

SOHR reported that the groups have requested from the Turkish authorities permission to displace those from Afrin and its countryside completely, and confiscate “their property, livelihoods, farms, homes and their contents in full.”

However, according to the human rights watchdog, Turkish authorities rejected this demand, fearing this would push the international community against the rebels and “push the whole world to intervene in favor of the Kurdish inhabitants of the area, and issued their orders to wait.”

In August, Amnesty International said that the Turkish forces occupying the Kurdish city of Afrin since March were giving allied Syrian armed groups free rein to commit serious human rights abuses against civilians.

The SOHR report suggested that Turkish authorities have told the rebels that a forced exodus from Afrin was part of their future program. 

“This is what happened slowly, as hundreds of families who remained in Afrin have fled as a result of the escalation of violations against them of kidnapping, beatings, assaults, looting, theft, and assaulting women and girls,” SOHR said.

According to Sinam Mohammed, a representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in the USA, the report could be true. “They are doing many acts to force them to leave Afrin by themselves. They tortured and kidnap[ed] people so they will not be willing to stay in Afrin.”

Civilians from Afrin speaking to Kurdistan 24 have given similar firsthand accounts. 

A 31-year-old male who used the pseudonym of "Azad" to protect his relatives still in Afrin, said that a large number of families initially returned to the city, “thinking that nothing would happen to them.”

However, after they returned, they faced arrest, kidnapping, and torture in detention facilities. “When they know you have money, they will not leave you alone,” he said, referring to Turkish-backed rebel groups that he claimed kidnap civilians for ransom.

As a result, he also fled Afrin, after staying there for only two months.

Many civilians in Afrin say they think the goal of Turkey is, through such harsh measures, to cause Afrin’s Kurdish population to slowly but surely displace themselves. 

On Friday, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said that Turkey only fights “terrorists,” and that “Turkey will also continue to protect the rights of Syrian Kurds.” 

This came in response to a statement by US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, who said that the US will prevent any Turkish attempt to “slaughter Kurds” after a US withdrawal.

Many Middle East experts say that Turkey has always made claims that they are not “against” Kurds, despite policies that would suggest otherwise.

“If Turkey had no problem with Kurds in Syria, President Erdogan would not claim that ‘80% of northern Syria is Arab’ and that Turkey ‘will return these areas to their true owners,’ said Dr. David Romano, a Political Science Professor at Missouri State University, to Kurdistan 24. 

Dr. Romano added that this is typical of  “anti-Kurdish discourse, which threatens ethnic cleansing, which is also precisely what we saw with the Turkish invasion of Afrin last year.”

Even Ibrahim Biro, the former head of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), part of the Turkish backed Syrian opposition, confirmed to Kurdistan 24 regarding Afrin, “Where militias entered, the situation became very bad.”

Therefore, he said, the KNC was working diplomatically to prevent militias backed by Turkey, or the Syrian government, from attacking areas east of the Euphrates.

According to Çeleng Omer, a former university lecturer from Afrin, all violations against civilians in Afrin “are under the direction and approval of the Turkish army,” adding that rebels receive orders on such matters from Turkish officers. 

“Turkey puts Islamic groups in the forefront to achieve its goals indirectly for several reasons: In order to evade legal responsibility and to increase hostility between Kurds and Arabs.”

“In the shadow of international silence,” he concluded, “Turkey will not care about its image.”

Editing by John J. Catherine