Abuses against civilians on the rise in Syria’s Afrin - VoA

An increasing number of abuses against civilians by rebel forces in the northwestern Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, which Turkey has occupied since early 2018, is creating concern among rights groups.

Turkey on Jan. 20, 2018 declared a military offensive into Afrin, a mainly Kurdish populated canton cut off from the rest of Kurdish-held territory. After a two-month offensive against Kurdish militia, Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (T-FSA) took control of the enclave’s main town on March 17, 2018. 

Since the Turkish military and Syrian rebels took control of the enclave, there “ has definitely been an uptick in terms of persecution of anybody that shows any kind of dissent to Turkish or rebel presence in Afrin,” Philippe Nassif, the Middle East and North Africa advocacy director at Amnesty International, told U.S. government funded Voice of America.

Nassif noted that kidnapping for ransom, indefinite detentions and the fear of just being are very real for the residents of Afrin.

VoA cited a not too uncommon example of a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, who last week was killed along with his father and grandfather after being kidnapped by a rebel group, after their family failed to pay the kidnappers the $10,000 ransom they demanded.  

Pointing out that there are at least a dozen rebel groups, alongside the Turkish military, who are in control Afrin, the article underlined that a UN report on Afrin in February stated there were reasonable grounds to believe “armed group members in Afrin committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and pillage.”

Turkey has a responsibility to stop such violations and to protect civilians, according to rights experts such as Nassif.

“Turkey is an occupying power, so it absolutely has an obligation to be responsible for the actions of its proxy forces that are operating within Afrin,” he told VoA.

Turkey has instead decided to empower them in order to Turkey’s own domestic agenda of crushing the Kurdish resistance, he said.

The United States and Germany have condemned Turkey for adding to Syria’s misery, however Ankara has dismissed their criticism. “We have not caused a single civilian to bleed from his nose,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.

The Turkish military has virtually stopped commenting on the situation in Afrin since it took over, VoA noted.

According to Aykan Erdemir, a Turkey expert at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, “The composition of Turkey-backed rebels and their ethos make them prone to undertaking criminal acts and violating the rights and freedoms of the locals.”

The situation in Afrin doesn’t get enough coverage in the Western media, save coverage by local media and some rights groups, Ilhan Tanir, Ahval News executive editor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors human rights in Syria, has documented hundreds of cases of demographic change and forced displacement in Afrin, Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, told VOA.

According to Tanır, rebel forces have already got the go-ahead from Ankara to ‘’carry out demographic change and Arabize this Kurdish region.”

Furthermore, in April, Turkey began building a wall around Afrin, in what some experts said could be a major step by Turkey to annex the enclave and prevent the return of the tens of thousands of Kurds who had to leave the area.