Kurdish journalist Nazım Daştan, who reported from the battleground during Turkey’s military operation targeting the Kurdish-majority province of Afrin in north Syria in 2018, spoke to Mezopotamya News Agency on the fourth anniversary of the operation, which started on 20 January that year.
He stated that Afrin had in fact been previously targeted by armed groups under different names prior to Turkey’s operation.
“Between 2012 and 2018, various groups such as ISIS, Al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army were involved in attacks. The names changed but the address was the same. These groups, organised and directed by Turkey, targeted Afrin in order to eradicate the revolution in Rojava.”
Daştan indicated that the Turkish military finally stepped in when these groups proved inefficient, launching a military campaign on 20 January 2018 with over 70 war planes and armed drones.
He emphasised that a new phase had actually been about to begin in Syria before the Turkish campaign was launched.
“ISIS was defeated. They only had a few areas under their control, like Deir ez-Zor and Baghouz. So, just as the parties were about to step into a new phase in which the political crisis could have been resolved, Turkey entered Syria with its own forces, taking a step that would push the Syrian civil war back to the situation it was in in 2012.”
“The events in Afrin following the occupation show that it had actually been planned as genocide. While the Kurds accounted for 90% of the total population before the occupation, they now make up only about 20%. (…) There is also systematic femicide in Afrin. As well as the destruction of historical sites belonging to various peoples and beliefs, and construction of mosques on sites which are in UNESCO’s cultural heritage list. If you were to ask me whether there was genocide going on in Syria, I would show you the picture in Afrin.”
Impact of the occupation
Turkey’s military operation, ironically dubbed ‘Olive Branch’ by Turkish authorities, went on for a period of two months and left nearly 700 dead on the side of the Turkish forces and affiliated groups, and more than 1,580 dead on the Kurdish side, according to data by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR).
The Turkish military incursion into Afrin also led to the deaths of more than 380 civilians including 55 children, and resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Human rights violations following the occupation varied from seizing olive crops and thousands of barrels of olive oil, collecting illegal royalties and taxes, seizing and looting houses, seizing and selling farms to establishing military headquarters and camps in and on citizens’ property.