Occupied Afrin: Learning Your Home is now a Torture Chamber
As a Kurdish woman and US Representative for the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who helped defeat the so-called Islamic State alongside American forces over the past five years, there are many geopolitical issues I could talk to you about.
But I prefer to speak to you on a personal level, not as a politician but as a mother of four, and now a grandmother, who has lost everything.
On the second anniversary of Afrin’s occupation, I offer my plea to anyone who is listening. My family’s nightmare began in January 2018, when the Turkish military illegally invaded our peaceful region of Afrin in northern Syria, also known as Rojava.
This idyllic and lush mountainous area which had become a haven for people fleeing Syria’s Civil War was targeted for destruction and occupation by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because we provided an alternative model of governance with freedom of religion, wherein all ethnicities and, most importantly, all women had an equal place in public life.
Our secular democratic model was also besieged because we were a majority Kurdish region, and thus viewed as an existential threat to Turkey’s government, which harbors the constant fear of 20 million Kurds demanding equal rights and self-determination within their borders.
Because Afrin dared to dream of another world, Turkish jets and artillery rained down death upon us for over 60 days, allowing Turkey’s army to duly occupy our region, with the aid of dozens of militant groups. And in the two years since, my family, like the hundreds of thousands of other fleeing Afrin residents, have seen our souls ripped out and our lives turned upside down.
My family escaped Turkey’s tanks with just the clothes on our backs. My husband’s factory where we made tin containers for olive oil, which represented a lifetime of work, was seized by Turkish-backed militants and all the machinery was stolen and driven off to Turkey. The guilty group was Ahrar al-Sharqiya, the same Turkish-backed militia which infamously pulled my colleague Hevrin Khalaf from her car in October and murdered her, in what the United Nations has described as a war crime.
And my village home, for which my son had carefully picked out each stone for the masonry, was confiscated and turned into an interrogation center. Some of my former neighbors in the area have told me, “We all know if we are being brought to your house, we will be tortured.” My family oasis, the rooms where I made so many happy memories, have now been turned into a place of cruelty and agony where they are sadistically tormenting my own Kurdish people.
Afrin is not just another city to me. It is the land where many generations of my family are buried. My great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and mother’s graves are all located there, at risk of being vandalized or looted by Turkey’s militias, like so many other cemeteries and archaeological sites. My grandfather’s house and all of his many olive trees have also been seized, some of them literally uprooted from the ground, which is the symbolic equivalent of ripping out my own veins. You see, when Turkey’s government decided to systematically steal Afrin’s olive oil industry, what they were doing was destroying the lifeblood and living memory of families like mine, as those trees were equivalent to members of our community.
Of course, physical items can be replaced. But what Turkey’s military has done by occupying and terrorizing Afrin for almost two years is craft a personal hell where tens of thousands of people like me can only visit our homes virtually by Google Earth, and through old photos as tears roll down our cheeks.
More frustratingly, in a world where you would like to believe that fairness exists and the “good guys” eventually win, Turkey and their militant proxies have not yet faced any meaningful condemnation for their litany of war crimes against the Kurdish people and US allies who defeated the Islamic State.
Turkey’s crimes include kidnappings for ransom, human trafficking, rapes, sexual enslavement, assassinations, enforced disappearances at checkpoints, late-night abductions, and burning down of villages. As the SDC, we are calling for a Congressional or academic delegation to visit Afrin, so this dystopian reality can be witnessed and corroborated.
So in a world of depressing statistics, where the tragedies in Syria all seem to blur together into one large mass, I would like you to realize that many victims have a painful story like mine, and the perpetrators who carry out these war crimes have names and must be brought to justice. Imagine your home was taken from you and used as a torture chamber for your neighbors and friends, while the outside world did not seem to care. Only then will you begin to understand the pain of the displaced people of Afrin.
Sinam Sherkany Mohamad is a Kurdish political figure and representative of the Syrian Democratic Council in Washington, DC.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany