The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has released an informative video about Turkey’s 2018 invasion of the Kurdish-populated city of Afrin (Efrîn) in northern Syria and its aftermath.
The video comes a day after ECCHR and Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) jointly filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office accusing Turkish-backed armed militias of committing crimes under international law in Afrin.
Here is what has happened so far in the region since Turkey seized Afrin, according to ECCHR and STJ:
In January 2018 the Turkish Army and their allied armed groups invaded the region of Afrin, Syria. What started then has been continuing until today.
An attack on the local mainly Kurdish population consisting of torture, killings and arbitrary arrests, expulsing them from their homes and thus depriving them of their livelihoods.
These acts committed by Islamist militia groups and the Turkish Army constitute crimes under international law. Together with six survivors of these atrocities the ECCHR, Syrians for Truth and Justice and their partners have filed a criminal complaint to the German Federal Prosecutor, demanding an investigation into the perpetrators and offering evidence for such investigations.
But to understand why this happened let’s look back to Afrin before the invasion.
In northwestern Syria, along the Turkish border lies Afrin, a district renowned for a beautiful landscape and rich agriculture. An estimated 13 million olive trees covered the landscape, with over 360 Kurdish villages.
A stand as the most densely Kurdish populated region in Syria. However, Arab communities, Alevi, Yazidi and Syriac Christian minorities have historical roots there and the land was graced with numerous religious shrines and archaeological sites that reflect this diverse local culture. At the heart of Afrin city stood the monumental statue of Kawa the Blacksmith, a symbol of Kurdish resistance.
In 2011, a wave of uprisings against the Bashar Al-assad regime swept across Syria, met with a harsh and brutal response from the government. This marked the inception of a violent and catastrophic conflict in the country.
Kurdish armed forces, known as the PYD, established an autonomous administration across northern Syria which expanded to include Afrin in 2014. For four years, Afrin avoided becoming a site of intense violence. It served as a relatively safe region for those seeking refuge from other parts of the country, where the agriculture-based economy continued and even grew.
However Turkey views the PYD as a terrorist organisation and perceived the autonomous Kurdish corridor along its southern border as an existential threat, which the Turkish military moved to disrupt.
Operation Olive Branch was launched in 2018 to seize control of Afrin. The attack began with extensive and indiscriminate air strikes followed by a ground invasion. However, by the time the city was also taken on March 18, it had already been mostly evacuated.
Cultural monuments including Kawa the Blacksmith were destroyed as Turkish flags were raised over the landscape. The Kurdish-lead administration was pushed out and armed groups allied with the Turkish military took control of Afrin.
Since the invasion a Turkish backed administration has been established in Afrin. Armed groups which continued to hold power with knowledge and support of Turkey commit daily atrocities like arbitrary arrests of civilians, torture, sexual violence and killings.
At the same time, systematic looting and property theft continue to displace the original population and prevent their return. Armed groups quickly seized the abandoned properties, spraying their names on buildings to signal zones of control.
Many of the olive trees have been stolen, cut and burned.
Celebrations of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, have been banned.
School curriculums and street signs that were once in Kurdish have been changed to Turkish and Arabic.
The Kurdish population of Afrin which was estimated to be above 90% before the invasion has now drastically dwindled.
These acts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, these can be investigated anywhere in the world.
Yet the atrocities in Afrin that cause great suffering to the local population continue with impunity to this day. On behalf of the victims the ECCHR, Syrians for Truth and Justice and their partners demand the German Federal Public Prosecutor to investigate these crimes and the persons known to be responsible for them.