Three years after Turkey’s attack on Afrin, Syrian Kurds call for UN investigation

By Wladimir van Wilgenburg
This article originally appeared on Kurdistan24.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Three years after Turkey’s cross-border attack on the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) has called on the United Nations and the UN Security Council to ramp up its ongoing investigation into human rights violations and war crimes in the majority-Kurdish area.

“We call on the United Nations and the Security Council to form specialized committees to investigate facts and the crimes that were committed by Turkey and its mercenaries in Afrin, and also to bring them to justice and hold them accountable,” the SDC said in a statement to mark the third anniversary of the Turkish operation.

Three years have passed since Turkey and Turkish-backed groups launched the “Operation Olive Branch” on Jan. 21, 2018, resulting in Ankara’s control of the region amid widespread accusations of war crimes, including intentional ethnic cleansing, kidnapping for ransom, and gender-based violence (GBV). 

In a report published in March, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Turkish-backed groups “perpetrated the war crime of murder and repeatedly committed the war crime of pillaging, further seriously contravening the right to enjoyment of possessions and property.”

The UN body concluded that “if any armed group members were shown to be acting under the effective command and control of Turkish forces, these violations may entail criminal responsibility for such [Turkish] commanders who knew.” 

After Turkey occupied Afrin, it settled thousands of Syrian Arabs there who been displaced from other areas in the country by offensives conducted by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. This significantly altered the demography of Afrin.

According to a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published in June 2018, permitting ethnic Arabs to occupy houses of Kurds may be an intentional attempt to change the ethnic composition of the area permanently.

Meanwhile, thousands of Kurds from the city remain displaced from their homes against their will, living in dire conditions in camps in northern Aleppo during the winter with a lack of humanitarian support. Hundreds of them marched on Wednesday in the cold to protest the Turkish attack.

“It is the third anniversary that the people of Afrin are still looking forward to go back to their homes in Afrin,” Sinam Mohamed, representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in Washington and Afrin native, told Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday.

“I would like to ask the international community to work on ending the crisis in Syria in general and Afrin in particular so that our people will be able to live in dignity and freedom. I call on the new US Administration to end the Turkish occupation of Afrin and to end the human rights violations that are still committed by the groups affiliated by Turkey,” she added.

The SDC in their statement also held the Syrian regime and Russia “responsible for Turkey’s occupation of Afrin.”

Russia allowed Turkey’s invasion of the Afrin region of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) after local Kurdish officials and forces refused to hand it over to Damascus.

Editing by John J. Catherine