Farhad Shami, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Media Centre, marked the sixth anniversary of the Turkish offensive against northern Syria’s Afrin on Saturday with a social media post that described it as “an attempt to break Afrin’s olive branches”.
“Six years on the occupation of the City of Olive. Six years and Turkish terrorism continue obliterating all forms of history and life,” Shami wrote.
Shami further conveyed a message of resilience and determination, despite the challenges faced over the past six years. “Six years and our people are still steadfast. Six years and our heroes are still resisting on its fronts,” he stated.
The statement went on to underline the commitment of the SDF to the liberation of Afrin, promising to oust the occupiers and restore the city’s vitality. “We pledge to expel the occupier and liberate Afrin. Its olive branches will blossom again,” Shami declared, expressing hope for a future where the city can regain its cultural and historical significance.
Afrin (Efrîn), once known for its rich agricultural heritage and iconic olive groves, has been controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups since 2018.
Destruction, displacement and deforestation
On 20 January 2018, the Turkish government announced the start of the offensive “Operation Olive Branch” against the Kurdish city of Afrin, in the Afrin Region of northern Syria.
Until Turkey’s ground offensive displaced nearly 300,000 Kurdish residents, the city had been a relatively peaceful area where civilians affected by the Syrian civil war had sought refuge.
To this day, reports continue to pour in of serious human rights abuses committed by the Turkish armed forces and Syrian armed groups allied to them.
One of the first acts of Turkish forces and allied groups after taking control of the city in March 2018 was to destroy a statue of Kawa the Blacksmith, the original hero of the Kurdish festival of Newroz.
🔴It has been six years since Turkey launched its ‘Operation Olive Branch’ to take control of Afrin. The destruction of the statue of Kawa the Blacksmith, the symbol of Newroz, was one of the first acts of Turkish forces and their allied Syrian groups after taking control. pic.twitter.com/8iMVckl7nf
— MedyaNews (@medyanews_) January 20, 2024
After the Turkish-led forces captured the region, they began implementing a resettlement policy, moving Arab refugees from southern Syria into the empty homes of displaced locals. The Kurdish population of Afrin city, which was estimated to be over 90 percent before the Turkish attack, has now been drastically reduced.
Detailed reports also show that more than half of Afrin Region’s forest cover has been lost since the Turkish takeover. According to Netherlands-based peace organisation PAX, the intense deforestation was caused by Turkish-backed militants involved in the timber trade, the Turkish armed forces cutting down trees to build outposts, and an influx of internally displaced people from other areas who needed a supply of timber.
Olive farming, a cornerstone of Afrin’s economy and cultural identity for generations, has also been devastated, with evidence confirming the involvement of Turkish-backed militias in uprooting and selling Afrin’s olive trees.