Syrian Kurds embrace US sanctions against SNA, condemned by SNA
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) last Thursday designated two Turkish-backed armed groups for human rights abuses in Afrin. While the Syrian Kurds welcomed the sanctioning, the Syrian opposition called on the US to reconsider the sanctions.
The sanctions targeted the Suleiman Shah and Hamza brigades, and three of their leaders for serious human rights violations in Afrin.
US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel on Thursday told Kurdistan 24 "that we believe the rights of all Syrians should be respected, and we’ll continue to identify and seek to hold to account individuals who abuse or violate those rights, including those related to housing, land, property rights."
In March 2018, Turkey and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) took control of Afrin during its so-called “Operation Olive Branch.” The SNA brigades have been involved in various human rights abuses, including gender-based violence against women.
The Syrian National Army (SNA), a coalition of Turkey-backed Syrian opposition groups with tens of thousands of fighters, established in late 2017, has its roots in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that emerged at the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.
While the FSA as a group's initial focus was to battle the forces of the al-Assad government, the SNA has shifted its focus into undermining the empowerment of various Kurdish groups that have established autonomy in areas exposed to a power vacuum after being abandoned by the al-Assad government.
In 2021, the US had also sanctioned the SNA-affiliated group Ahrar al-Sharqiyah for abuses against Kurds in Turkish-controlled areas.
The Ministry of Defense in the opposition-controlled Syrian Interim Government, which controls the Turkish-controlled areas in northwestern Syria, on Friday called the sanctions the result of a “deliberate defamation campaign” and called on the US Treasury to reconsider the decision. Moreover, it claimed the allegations against the two brigades and their leaders are untrue.
In Afrin, supporters of the Turkish-armed groups also organized protests against the imposition of US sanctions.
“The Ministry of Defense emphasizes its priority of upholding human rights within all formations of the Syrian National Army, in accordance with the resolution issued by the Syrian Interim Government in this regard,” a statement by the supporters read.
“The decision issued by the US Department of the Treasury is unacceptable, as it disregards the work of the military prosecutor's office and the military oversight units that operate transparently within the Syrian National Army under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense.”
The co-chair of the External Relations Department of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), Bedran Ciya Kurd on Friday welcomed the decision to impose sanctions.
However, it said the decision “remains insufficient to fully address therights of the people of Afrin and it fails to end the dire situation that violates basic humanitarian standards.”
He called “for the urgent deployment of an international commission of inquiry to the occupied territories, particularly Afrin. It is only fair to bring all those involved and criminals before the International Criminal Court, as their actions constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.
The Media Centre of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Friday also welcomed the decision, adding that the US “have the capability to improve methods of holding these groups accountable and tracking them.”
However, the SDF said they want to draw attention to the fact that the human right abuses carried out by these Syrian armed groups are not ‘sporadic incidents’ but strategic crimes committed by the ‘Turkish occupying state’.
The Kurdish National Council (KNC), the main rival to the AANES and SDF, so far has not responded to the US sanctions, but in the past had called on SNA-affiliated groups to stop human right abuses against Kurds in Afrin.