A webinar, titled ‘Afrin: Four Years of Darkness under Turkish Occupation’, was organised by the Washington Kurdish Institute and the Kurdish Institute of Paris on Wednesday for an assessment of the ongoing situation in Afrin, North Syria which has been under Turkish occupation for four years now.
As the day marked the 34th anniversary of the Halabja Massacre, the participants observed a moment of silence in commemoration of all who were killed in the Iraqi army’s chemical attack in Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan, in 1988.
The webinar was opened by Sierwan Najmaldin Karim, the president of the Washington Kurdish Institute.
An evil answer to an evil Assad
Nadine Maenza, Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), gave the first speech.
Maenza said that the invasion of Afrin has been among the biggest mistakes that Turkey and the Syrian opposition had made during the Syrian war.
“Because after this, they could no longer propose themselves as the right answer to an evil Assad but instead these Islamist militia on the ground appeared to be an evil answer to an evil Assad.” she stated.
They reminded that multiple independent institutions, including the United Nations, have documented the horrific crimes by these forces, which included killings, rapes, kidnaps, extorsions, forced conversion, land appropriation, arrest of Christians for apostasy and torture.
Maenza, having made four trips to Syria so far and most recently in January, told that she had met with the victims and heard firsthand about these crimes.
She underlined that the USCIRF was reporting continued religious crimes in Afrin even for this past year, especially against Yazidi and Kurdish women and girls, including kidnapping, sex trafficking and even legal torture.
After her, Dr. Nazand Begikhani–General Secretary of Kurdish Institute of Paris, spoke about violations of rights and war crimes in general and about the “Missing Women of Afrin” in particular.
She said that besides many independent organizations, the cases of many abducted and missing women had been documented by independent researcher Meghan Bodette who had initiated a great project called “The Missing Afrin Women.”
Bodette collected data from local media agencies and human rights groups and documented 150 cases of missing women so far. Her project includes a website with an interactive map, a list of the names of the individuals, the date and the location of the incidents. The interactive map shows the last known location of each missing woman, their pictures and other details.
Refugees in Turkey will be settled in Afrin
Sinam Mohammed– Representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) to the US, also gave a speech and called for a UN session to be held on Afrin.
Mohammed stated that when Turkey and its backed militias occupied Afrin, they committed ethnic cleansing demographic changing and that this is still going on and didn’t stop until now.
Telling that she is also from Afrin, she underlined that she knew well from inside how people of Afrin have been suffering. She went on, saying: “My family was in Afrin. Their properties, their houses, everything has been occupied. And now they are displaced outside of Afrin in Shehba in northeast Syria. They lost everything.”
“And all the people in Afrin now, the majority are the fighters’ families and the Islamist groups who came to Afrin and occupying houses. The people of Afrin, they are living now in camps since four years. And every year they are asking ‘how can we go back home’. They are waiting. They are waiting to go back to their villages and homes. As well as my family and me.”
She continued explaining that we are now witnessing the demographic change by building settlements. She went on telling: “Unfortunately, many of the so called humanitarian organizations whose funding is from Qatar or from Kuwait are building settlements for the Arab Sunni people, for the fighters’ families, the refugees who are in Turkey to come and live in Afrin. It is a kind of demography changing now. This is what is happening. They are taking the property of people and building settlements in Afrin now.”
Silence of International Powers
Dr. Mannan Seuleiman– Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and also a member of the European and American Solidarity Committee for Afrin also made a presentation in the webinar. His presentation focused on the situation of Afrin before and after the Turkish invasion, the purpose of the occupation and its justification by Turkey, the means used by the Turkish army to reach its purpose, the violations committed by Turkey’s army and its proxy forces. Seuleiman also underlined the shameful silence of the USA and EU.
The webinar ended with the questions from the audience being answered by the speakers.