Turkey’s 2018 military offensive in Syria’s northwestern Kurdish city of Afrin was not a particular emergency operation related to the Syrian crisis but a Turkish colonisation project, the Syrian Democratic Forces commander Mazloum Abdi said on Saturday, the fifth anniversary of Turkey’s takeover of the city.
Abdi said that the occupation of Afrin in northern Aleppo “represents the peak of international crimes committed against civilians,” and vowed to continue to exert pressure until the perpetrators stand trial in the international courts, North Press Agency reported.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on 20 January 2018 together with factions known as the Syrian National Army (SNA), aiming to take control of the Afrin region, which until then had been a relatively peaceful area where the civilians affected by the Syrian war had found refuge.
On 18 March 2018, Turkish forces drove the Kurdish-led autonomous administration out of Afrin, leaving groups of their allies in control.
Turkey’s Afrin offensive displaced nearly 300,000 Kurdish inhabitants who since then have been taking refuge in the countryside north of Aleppo, locally known as the Shahba region.
“In the city of Afrin, which was captured by Turkish forces yesterday, scores of civilians have been killed and injured due to airstrikes and explosive hazards,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the next day.
After Turkish forces took control of the region, Turkey implemented a resettlement policy and settlers who are mostly families of Arab and Syrian Turkmen militias moved into the empty homes that belonged to displaced locals.
The district of Afrin had among the highest number of deaths in the February earthquakes of any in Syria, due to collapsed buildings which had already been weakened and structurally damaged by clashes.
According to the Strasbourg-based NGO Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), the Turkish operation critically transformed Afrin’s demographics through “a policy of Turkification”.
The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) called on international powers in January to conduct independent investigations into violations in Afrin and noted that the region had been living through a tragedy since the Turkish offensive, citing “daily cases of kidnappings, murders, the seizure of property and looting of civilian homes, along with the unlawful torture of indigenous people in detention centres”.
United Nations war crimes investigators also previously documented arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, looting and confiscation of property in Afrin by Turkey’s allies.
On Friday, 118 Syrian organisations urged the UN Security Council to take necessary measures against the SNA’s human rights violations, to redress the victims and to punish the perpetrators.