Syrian opposition fails to stop war crimes in Afrin: Kurdish National Council

Members of a Turkish-backed militia patrol the Kurdish-majority Syrian city of Afrin. (Photo: AFP)
Members of a Turkish-backed militia patrol the Kurdish-majority Syrian city of Afrin. (Photo: AFP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish National Council (KNC) in a statement on Tuesday blamed the Syrian opposition, of which it is a part, for not stopping war crimes committed by Turkish-backed groups in the northern Kurdish-majority enclave of Afrin.

In March 2018, Turkey and rebel groups it backs took control of Afrin during its so-called “Operation Olive Branch.” The occupation has continued amid widespread and regular accusations of war crimes, including ethnic cleansing, kidnapping for ransom, and gender-based violence.

Despite promises by the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (known in Arabic as Etilaf), the umbrella under which armed groups from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) fall, to stop such violations, the KNC said in a statement that the number of human rights violations is actually increasing in areas with large Kurdish populations like Afrin.

“The Coalition did not implement the agreement signed with the KNC, and observe violations and stop them and hold those accountable who are responsible,” the KNC said.

Moreover, the Syrian opposition bloc has not facilitated the process of the return of ​​internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, the KNC said, adding that local civilians are suffering from “terrorist bombings” in the area that have taken scores of innocent lives.

Read More: Explosion in Afrin kills one, injures five

The KNC specifically singled out the Suleiman Shah Brigade, led by Muhammad al-Jassem (also nicknamed Abu Amsha), for seizing some 25 percent of olive production in areas under their control in Afrin.

“This comes amidst the continuation of kidnapping, torture, killing and demographic change in Kurdish villages and localities.”

Over the past few months, the KNC has called on Kurds from Afrin to return to their areas of origin to prevent widespread demographic change. As a result, a number of families have returned from displacement camps in northern Aleppo.

Kurds made up 96 percent of Afrin’s population before 2011 but now represent only about one-fourth of the total, local organizations claim. It added that 75 percent of the current residents are Arab and Turkmen settlers.

Read More: Kurds becoming a minority in Kurdish region of Afrin: Statement

The KNC also said that the families who do manage to return are barred from their own homes and often face arrest, interrogation, and further displacement.

The KNC strongly “condemned these actions and bombings in Afrin, Tal Abyad and Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain)” and called on Turkey, relevant states involved in Syria affairs, and human rights organizations to hold those responsible for the abuses accountable.

It also urged the removal of armed groups from civilian areas and that they should be kept away from the source of civilians’ livelihoods, including at olive groves, and to work for the return of the displaced from Afrin and hand over the local administration of the area to its native inhabitants.

According to a report by the human rights organization Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) arrested at least 52 individuals in the Turkish-occupied regions of Afrin, Serekaniye, and Tal Abyad in September 2021.

Read More: Turkish-backed forces arrested 52 persons in northern Syria in September: Rights group

A report issued in September by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria also stated that the Turkish-supported SNA continues to unlawfully arrest Kurdish citizens in areas under their control in northern Syria.

Tuesday’s KNC statement was followed by another released by Afrin activists on Thursday that criticized the KNC for glorifying the situation there, while local authorities, led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), kept civilians displaced from Afrin forcefully held in camps in northern Aleppo.