AFRIN CIVILIANS “Between a rock and a hard place”

by séamas carraher, global rights | 13th July 2018 12:02 pm

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“OHCHR has received reports of lawlessness and rampant criminality committed by armed groups in areas under the control of Turkish forces and armed groups operating under their control in northern Syria…”  

― (OHCHR) Monthly Human Rights Digest | Syria | June 2018


Another Update from the Occupied City(ies)


What is the fate of predominantly Kurdish civilians in the territories occupied by the Turkish state since August 2016 when Operation Euphrates Shield (August 2016-March 2017) and Operation Olive Branch (January-March 2018) saw thousands of Turkish military and their Islamist paramilitary allies invade northern Syria? Likewise what will be their fate if the threatened and soon-to-be-followed incursion against Manbij and Kobane take place?..


…and all in the interests of eradicating the Kurdish presence in these once peaceful enclaves of northern Syria and as a brutal and bloody sideshow to Turkey’s vicious (and probably illegal) war against the Kurdish people in south-east Turkey/Northern Kurdistan?


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights poses the question in its June monthly Human Rights Digest[1]…


..And, once again, it makes for grim reading.


The answer, in all its many horrors, as in the other reports that have filtered dismally slowly from this region, is not good.


Despite endless promises from the Turkish authorities to deal with incidents of violent criminal behavior along with their ongoing press releases[2] to the effect of bringing normality to this part of Kurdistan as well as protecting “Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists” following the “neutralizing” of these so-called “terrorists”…


…which, by now, anyone with an eye in her head knows has to be taken as offered – tongue in cheek – or more cynically – for those who are prepared to swallow the enormous propaganda that enables Turkey to be almost totally unaccountable for any action it wishes to perpetrate on civilian populations under the guise of its own terrorist “war on terror”.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its June Report then[3] notes ongoing concerns in all areas “under the Control of Turkish Forces and Affiliated Armed Opposition Groups” stretching now from Afrin and Azaz to al Bab and Jarablus, a wide stretch of territory once part of the developing Democratic Federation of Northern Syria[4].


The Report


The situation  of civilians in areas under the control of Turkish forces and affiliated armed groups operating under their control…remains volatile, with de facto authorities currently unable or failing to act to ensure public order and safety – a situation exacerbated by fighting between various armed  groups made worse by the arrival of additional fighters from armed groups from other areas of Syria, including Eastern Ghouta. Sources in Afrin and other areas in northern Aleppo Governorate  report  to OHCHR that there are high levels of violent crime, with civilians falling victim to robberies, harassment, abductions, and murder.”


The UN Human Rights Group[5] continues listing the outrages perpetrated by this (since 1952) NATO[6] ally and friend (i.e. business partner) of the major European powers, under a  number of headings, well worth exploring for their ramification for the wellbeing of the Kurdish and other minority civilians now living under the “protection” of the Turkish regime.


Here are some quotes to get a sense of what people are forced to endure since the violent expulsion of the Democratic Union Party (Syria)[7] (PYD)…


Public Order and Safety


Reports include allegations of theft,  harassment, cruel treatment and other abuse, and on occasion murder perpetrated particularly by fighters of the Sultan Murad Division which consists of mainly ethnic Turkmen fighters, the Hamza Division which consists of four armed opposition groups that were previously fighting under the banner of the “Free Syrian Army” in Mare’ a city in Aleppo until 2016, and the Ahrar Al-Sharqiya, which consists mainly of fighters from Deir-ez-Zor Governorate.”


When you consider that most of the areas now being ruled by this group of ‘bandits’ were the most peaceful in Syria and served as places of refuge for those fleeing the war in other parts of Syria, you can only hold your head in your hands.


This despair is not lessened by numerous media reports[8] that these ‘governing’ gangs are now spending as much time trying to murder each other[9] almost as they do their “Kurdish enemies”… with ongoing “clashes between different armed groups reported to be under the control of Turkish forces, which is having a serious impact on civilians, including deaths and injuries.”


…To say nothing, of course, of the membership in these paramilitary gangs:


“…a number of members of armed opposition groups operating in the area are former well-known local criminals, smugglers, or drug dealers. Further, the  infighting between various armed groups has been exacerbated by the arrival, with the approval of Turkey, of additional fighters from groups such as Failaq ar-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam and their civilian family members from other areas of Syria following “reconciliation agreements” in areas such as Eastern Ghouta or after fleeing a hostile reception by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham in Idlib Governorate.”


Not that the madness stops there:


OHCHR has also confirmed reports of looting of private property from houses, shops, along with governmental and military facilities, and seizures of private real estate by fighters from various Turkish-affiliated armed groups. Large scale looting is believed to have taken place immediately after each area was taken, although reports continue to be received that looting – particularly of vehicles and agricultural equipment – continues on a daily basis. A substantial amount of looted property is believed to have been sold in market places in Azaz, despite some reports that the local “police” in Azaz have detained a number of individuals accused of being responsible for the looting.”


Follow this with up reports of abduction and kidnapping of civilians, often motivated by extortion and demands for ransoms…


“…in which civilians including women and children were abducted, some of them later released after paying ransoms ranging between USD 1,000 to 3,000, while the whereabouts of others remain unknown.”


…What happens to the others, those for whom no one is able to pay for their release, leaves little to the imagination…


On-going and widespread discrimination also continues as:


“…particularly ethnic Kurds from Afrin, are being targeted for discrimination by the de facto authorities…there have also been reports of civilian property being confiscated under the pretext that the person had been in some way affiliated with Kurdish forces.”


All adding to the list of examples of Turkey’s (in)capacity to govern the (now increasing number of) territories it occupies (adding, of course, to the escalating criticism of the current AKP regime’s capacity to govern inside Turkey).


As well as civilians not being allowed to return to Afrin, many who have managed to do so have found their homes occupied by Turkey’s so-called FSA fighters and their families including now “…thousands of fighters, their family members and civilians displaced and evacuated from the Eastern Ghouta, rural Homs, and Hama governorates (who) are now occupying homes of mostly Kurdish civilians who fled violence in Afrin in February and March.


The Stockholm Centre for Freedom adds[10]:


“OHCHR is concerned that permitting ethnic Arabs to occupy the houses of Kurds who have fled effectively prevents the Kurds from returning to their homes and may be an attempt to change the ethnic composition of the area permanently.”


…in other words ethnic cleansing…[11]


Freedom of Movement


OHCHR has confirmed reports that Afrin district has been divided into so-called “security squares” amongst the different Turkish-backed armed groups, including the recently arrived Jaish Al-Islam and Failaq Ar-Rahman. Each square includes a number of neighbourhoods that are held by specific armed groups, which have established several checkpoints around these areas to control the movement of civilians.


Screening Procedures and Deprivations of Liberty


OHCHR continues to receive reports from Afrin  district of civilians, including women, being taken from their homes or detained at checkpoints, based on accusations of being former fighters of/or affiliation with Kurdish forces. The whereabouts of a large number of such civilians remain unknown.


Freedom of Speech -Targeting of Journalists and Activists


OHCHR has confirmed reports of attacks directed against journalists and activists by Turkish-affiliated armed groups in Afrin and other areas in northern Aleppo Governorate… OHCHR also received reports that similar attacks against journalists and activists continue to take place in an attempt to stifle public criticism of Turkish forces or affiliated armed groups.”


Do we need to ask why, with the situation in relation to freedom of speech[12] deteriorating on a daily basis in Turkey?


“According to advocacy group Sweden-based Stockholm Center for Freedom that tracks cases of prosecutions of Turkish journalists, Turkey has 245 journalists locked up behind bars as of January 24, 2018. An additional 140 journalists face outstanding arrest warrants.” (Wikipedia[13])


Public Health and Hygiene


Aside from incidents of lawlessness, which have affected the operations of at least one hospital in Al-Bab, there are also indications of an acute lack of access to basic humanitarian assistance, including healthcare in Afrin.”


…alongside reports of Turkey’s refusal to allow humanitarian organisations, other than its own, to enter the region to provide assistance and aid, of course.




This Report adds little new to anyone carefully monitoring reports that have come from this tragic region since the recent Turkish assaults, but what is of more concern now is this finally documented lawless and obviously criminal behaviour appears to be increasingly accepted widely as it is cynically presented to the world by the Turkish regime as bringing order to areas previously controlled by “terrorists”.


The suspension of disbelief now by the International powers, linked to their inaction in responding to gross human rights abuses, in the interests of their own geo-strategic maneuvering, is an insult to their citizens’ commitment to human rights and the rule of law and appears to be deteriorating at a regular pace now with serious implications for the world we are about to inherit…


Previously other reports had earlier documented similar atrocities


For example Firat News (ANF) had also reported[14] that in addition to “raping, harassing, abducting, robbing, torturing and killing the people who refuse the invasion” an ongoing abuse of the Yazidi[15] population by Turkish Forces was also continuing:


“Turkish soldiers are forcing long dresses and headscarves on women in the city, and the Êzidîs are forced to pray like Muslims, as their places of worship were exploded. The Êzidîs of Afrin have been forced out of their lands by the Turkish state’s barbaric attacks, and are protesting the Turkish state and their allied gangs’ inhuman attacks.”


This concern that Sharia law[16] or Islamic traditions will be implemented on all minorities in regions now controlled by Turkey is also widespread.


And in an earlier report[17] Human Rights Watch had called for an end to the ‘cycle of abuse’ in Afrin repeating ongoing (but not addressed) reports of looting and violence against Kurdish and other civilians in the Turkish occupied Afrin region.


A recent video interview by Firat News of (which you can view/read here[18]) of a resident who stayed in Afrin for 3 months following the Turkish occupation, enumerates a long list of atrocities (including torture, theft, abduction and murder) perpetrated by the occupying power:


“They arrested me. I was left in jail for 10 days. They had turned a house into a jail, where they tortured me. I promised them money to save myself. They let me go on condition that I bring them 5.000 dollars in 5 days. But we had no money. We are unemployed, the roads are blocked, they left no option for us to work. They already take all that the people have. They take the last cents people have, even if it means they kill them.”


As the Report comes to an end the Human Rights body urges:


As a matter of priority, OHCHR urges the Republic of Turkey to ensure that all armed groups over which it exercises control in Afrin and other areas of Syria strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law. Furthermore, OHCHR urges all parties to strictly adhere to all applicable rules of IHL in relation to the protection of civilians…


And following a  number of recommendations concludes:


Furthermore,   all   parties   must   comply   with   all applicable  international  human  rights  obligations  in relation  to  persons  residing  in  the  territory  over which  Turkish  military  forces  and  affiliated  armed groups exercise control, including but not limited to respecting  and  protecting  the  rights  to  life,  liberty and   security   of   person,   freedom   of   movement, access to basic services (healthcare, education etc.), freedom of  expression  and opinion,  and freedom  of discrimination  based  on  race,  religion,  political  or other opinion…


Sure. Why not.


Yet having read this we are now about to watch the joint patrolling of Manbij by co-operating Turkish and US military units….as Marcel Cartier eloquently put it in his recent article[19] on Manbij after visiting the area:


“What’s clear from Turkey’s history of genocidal policies toward its own Kurdish population, as well as recent events in Afrin, is that there will be nothing ‘safe’ about any occupation in the northern region of Syria. Such a catastrophic series of events would crush the most inspiring project of radical grassroots democracy we have yet to witness in the 21st century.”


Words fail. No friends but the mountains – “Kurdun heval ninin bes ciya… / Yarên kurdan ji bilî çîyan tune”..?


My question now is:


…when you look at the long list of Turkey’s supposed allies[20]: do the citizens of Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States, Greece, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, though many with their own skeletons in a lot of bloody closets…


…do the citizens in these countries accept an “ally” that, as Patrick Cockburn in the Independent[21] pointed out recently, as well as arming former ISIS militants, establishes now, to replace the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, a governing body composed of “known local criminals, smugglers, or drug dealers”..?


Maybe, after reading this report, someone should ask each and every one of these countries?… And their citizens..?


séamas carraher




Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Civilians in North-Western Syria

Monthly Human Rights Digest | Syria June 2018[22]


Wladimir van Wilgenburg’s article in Kurdistan 24[23]


The Stockholm Centre for Freedom: UN Report: Large scale Human Rights abuses in Afrin[24]






Watch: Video Footage of  Turkey taking control in Afrin[27]

  1. Human Rights Digest:
  2. press releases:
  3. June Report then:
  4. Democratic Federation of Northern Syria:
  5. UN Human Rights Group:
  6. NATO:
  7. Democratic Union Party (Syria):
  8. media reports:
  9. murder each other:
  10. adds:
  11. ethnic cleansing…:
  12. freedom of speech:
  13. Wikipedia:
  14. also reported:
  15. Yazidi:
  16. Sharia law:
  17. an earlier report:
  18. view/read here:
  19. in his recent article:
  20. supposed allies:
  21. the Independent:
  22. Syria June 2018:
  23. Kurdistan 24:
  24. Large scale Human Rights abuses in Afrin:
  25. Global Rights:
  26. Global Rights:
  27. Turkey taking control in Afrin:

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