Turkey’s housing and settlement projects in northwest Syria, in predominantly Kurdish areas currently under Ankara’s control, could be part of a process to alter the region’s demographic makeup, human rights group Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) said in a report issued on 8 June.
Turkish-backed proxies have been in control in Afrin and surrounding areas since 2018’s Operation Olive Branch. They have seized property and homes left behind by locals displaced during the clashes, and are renting them out to pro-Turkey groups that have been brought in, making it more difficult for the town’s original population to return, STJ said.
There have been numerous rights violations and other issues in the settlements in Afrin and other parts of northwest Syria, and as the occupying power Turkey is responsible for them, the advocacy group said, calling on the UN Security Council and the European Union to take a stance towards Turkey’s “implicit demographic engineering efforts across Syria”.
Much of the Kurdish population has left, and the newly settled groups have mostly been Arab, resulting in a shift in the demographic makeup. The international bodies must ensure that the changes do not turn permanent via humanitarian aid and early recovery and reconstruction effort, the STJ said.
Settlement projects in Afrin aim to house the pro-Turkey Syrian National Army (SNA) fighters and their families. At the helm of the projects is the governor of Turkey’s border province of Hatay, which historically had a majority-Syrian Arab population, STJ said citing local sources.
The Afrin City Local Council, established by Turkey after the 2018 occupation, issues allocation documents to settlers, STJ said. These documents act as title deeds for buildings, but they do not pertain to the plots of land.
In some cases, entire villages have been constructed giving the appearance of public services. However, those projects have also been primarily intended to house fighters and their families. SNA-affiliated fighters and their families, hailing from areas in Damascus countryside, Homs and Hama, were the key beneficiaries of the project, while only 25 percent of the beneficiaries are civilians, according to SJT.
Islamist group Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) is among the organisations that financed the project, SJT added.