Newly surfaced evidence confirms the involvement of Turkish-backed militias in the uprooting and selling of olive trees from Afrin (Efrîn), northern Syria.
This discovery, supported by video footage showing trucks transporting uprooted olive trees, highlights the ongoing exploitation of Afrin’s natural resources for profit. This development adds to the list of economic and cultural damages Afrin has suffered since the Turkish military operation began in 2018.
The Turkish military intervention, named Operation Olive Branch, commenced on 20 January 2018, with the Turkish Air Force bombing over 100 targets in Afrin. The operation, targeting the Kurdish-led autonomous administration, drew international concern and criticism. On 18 March 2018, Afrin fell to the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and the Turkish Armed Forces, leading to extensive looting and the displacement of the local population, predominantly Kurds.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey of resettling Arab and Turkmen families in the captured villages. This claim was indirectly supported by Turkish President Erdoğan, who stated that the area was more suitable for Arabs to settle for climatic reasons.
Despite these claims, the United Nations reported in June 2018 on the unstable security situation under the control of Turkish-backed militias. The report highlighted acts of lawlessness and criminality, including theft, harassment, cruel treatment, and other abuses committed by groups such as the Sultan Murad and Hamza Divisions.
Amnesty International shed light on the dire human rights situation in Afrin. On 2 August 2018, they reported that Turkish forces allowed Syrian armed groups to commit severe human rights abuses against civilians, including arbitrary detentions, torture, and looting.
The uprooting and selling of Afrin’s olive trees, as captured in the footage, represent not only a significant economic loss but also a severe blow to the region’s cultural heritage and environmental sustainability. Olive farming, a cornerstone of Afrin’s economy and cultural identity for generations, has been devastated. The destruction of these trees symbolises the wider devastation inflicted upon the region since the Turkish military intervention.