On 20 January 2018, Turkey launched the so-called “Olive Branch” air and ground campaign in Afrin, Syria, and after 59 days of clashes with People’s Defence Units (YPG) and Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) led by Syrian Kurds, it took control of the city, on 18 March 2018. Since then, there have been a number of reports regarding Turkey’s ‘war crimes’ and ‘violations of rights’ of the people of Afrin, including abductions, rapes, torture and murder.
At least half of the Kurdish majority population of the city of Afrin, which has a population of 300,000, were forcibly displaced to the makeshift camps of Shehba. According to a balance sheet released by the Human Rights Organisation of Afrin, Syria, after Turkey took control of the region, the percentage of Kurds in Afrin did not exceed 23%.
The demographic structure of the district of Afrin has changed considerably since 2011 at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, and the human rights organisation report says that this change is caused by Turkey in conjunction with international and local powers.
According to the organisation, Turkey has brought more than 400,000 people from abroad and settled them in Afrin’s villages and districts. The Kurdish names of streets, villages, and public areas in Afrin have been changed, and Turkish flags and photographs of Erdoğan hung in official institutions. The homes of tens of thousands of civilians forced to leave have been commandeered. The holy places, shrines and places of worship of Yazidis have been plundered.
The organisation reported that gangs kidnapped 7,754 civilians in three years and almost half of them have not been heard of since.
More than 646 civilians were killed, 500 of them by shelling and at least 82 by torture. In addition, 705 civilians were injured. Of these, 306 were children and 216 were women. Afrin’s natural resources have also been decimated: 327,330 olive trees and other species of tree have been cut down. More than 17,000 olive trees and other species have been burnt. In addition, 11,600 hectares the wooded land were set on fire. The olives are now taken to Turkey and sold in international markets such as Spain and the USA.
There are 96 historical hills in Afrin. Most of these hills have been excavated with shovels and plundered. At least 28 historical sites and warehouses have been destroyed and at least 15 cemeteries plundered. One cemetery has been converted into a livestock market, according to the report.