Afrin, a city in northwest Syria, has been grappling with instability and lawlessness since coming under Turkish control in March 2018. A recent theft of essential equipment from the Tarnada water station, the third such incident within a year, has led to a water shortage in part of the city, affecting the daily lives of its inhabitants.
Unidentified individuals, believed to be aligned with Turkish-backed militias, stole equipment including pumps, batteries, and parts of the primary generator from the water station. This follows a previous theft by elements from the “Faylaq al-Sham” militia, who stole pipes from a water well near Tarnada village in July 2022.
With the repeated thefts underscoring the vulnerability of public infrastructure in Afrin, locals not only face the threat of theft and violence but also the disruption of vital public services.
In addition to the thefts, Turkish-backed forces have been involved in various human rights abuses in Afrin. In the last week alone, several such incidents have occurred, such as the Al-Amshat militia imposing a financial levy on aid recipients, coercing residents into protests against recent US sanctions, abducting two young men and extorting their families for their release. Furthermore, a Turkish electricity company in Afrin shut down amidst protests over price hikes, leaving residents without power.
The US has recently announced sanctions against Turkey-backed Syrian jihadists, including the “Faylaq al-Sham” militia. The sanctions, announced by the US Treasury Department on Thursday against two Turkish-backed armed groups in northern Syria, were in response to serious human rights abuses perpetrated against Kurdish residents of the Afrin region.
Compounding the situation is the widespread seizure and resale of properties in Afrin. Properties seized from displaced residents are being sold at significantly reduced prices, often to individuals affiliated with armed factions. This practice reflects a broader pattern of disregard for property rights and the rule of law, contributing to ongoing instability in the region.
According to a UN report, Turkish-backed groups continue to engage in looting in Afrin, with numerous instances of theft and appropriation of civilian houses, agricultural lands, and olive harvests. The report highlights the systematic nature of these actions and their impact on the local population.
Two Turkish-backed groups, the Sultan Murad Division and the Hamza Division, have been involved in wide-scale looting in northern Syria, according to another report. The groups have been accused of stealing cars, agricultural equipment, and other valuable items, further exacerbating the lawlessness in the area.
The Turkish military operation to capture Afrin from Kurdish forces began in January 2018 and concluded with the city’s capture in March of the same year. The operation was part of Turkey’s broader strategy to clear its border areas of Kurdish population. Since then, the region has seen a rise in criminal activities, including looting and property seizures, leading to international concern and condemnation.