The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Wednesday that Turkey-backed Syrian groups have been continuing illegal logging of trees in the northern Syrian district of Afrin, renown for its olive growing.
Members of the Suqour al-Sham Brigades, a faction founded in the early days of the Syrian war, cut down nearly 300 olive trees owned by the residents of a village in Kurdish-populated Afrin countryside, SOHR said.
The Syrian National Army fell nearly 155 olive trees in the same region, in addition to 50 others on the Aleppo-Afrin road, SOHR said, adding that chopped trees have been sold without the consent of local residents.
The Sultan Murad Division, an armed insurgent group in Syria, is mainly accused of cutting down the trees in Afrin and has seized 400 olive trees in Kafrum village in the Sharan district, according to the watchdog.
Turkey-backed armed groups have also been confiscating and selling the local resident’s houses and properties, while Ahrar al-Sharqiyah, one of the most prominent military factions operating besides Turkish military, have been imposing levies on construction operators in return for allowing them to work in Afrin, SOHR reported.
After Turkey and its allied Syrian militia launched “Operation Olive Branch” to dislodge Kurdish fighters affiliated with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and took control of Afrin in 2018, Turkey-backed factions have been repeatedly accused of systematically removing vegetation cover and selling it as fire logs for sums of money.
Deforestation in the area is also linked to Turkey’s efforts to build settlements for Arabs and Turkmens who have moved to Afrin after the Turkish operation, while thousands of local Kurds found themselves displaced.
Images from Maydanki artificial lake shared by a pro-opposition Syria TV channel showed extensive tree clearing in the region, Jordan-based Syria Direct reported on Saturday.
“Even the small island in the middle of the lake is no longer the same, half of the trees are gone,” Nurhat Hesen, a displaced Kurdish journalist from Afrin told Syria Direct. “The same thing happened in Afrin city: There were hundreds of trees above the Mahmudiya neighborhood. Now they no longer exist, they have all been cut down,” he said, adding that the videos circulating showed that crimes against nature continued in Afrin.
Hesen accused Sultan Murad Division of recent tree-cutting around the lake, which was created in early 2000s to store drinking and irrigation water and generate electricity through the hydroelectric Afrin Dam.
“We are not responsible for what happened in Maydanki,” a member of the division told Syria Direct, who asked to remain anonymous.
“There are several factions operating in the area,” the source said, adding that some fighters have engaged in illegal tree logging to feed their families under the current economic circumstances. Several people have been recently arrested over wood cutting and were handed over to military justice, according to the source.