Rojava Information Centre (RIC) reports that in Turkish occupied Afrin in Syria, in recent weeks, “dozens of arrests have targeted Kurdish members of the proxy councils Turkey has built up in the region to legitimize its occupation”.
Those arrested include “many members of Syrian Kurdish-nationalist opposition bloc ENKS, which is linked to the Turkish-controlled Syrian opposition. Arabs transferred into the region from elsewhere in Syria by Turkey have also been seized, with an estimated 20 to 25 local council members detained to date”. Hussein Ibesh, head of ENKS’ Afrin branch, has faced arrest and commanders of small Kurdish forces used by Turkey “have also been disappeared by their own allies”, reports RIC.
RIC has documented the extensive nature of the operations: “Arrests have targeted dozens of local council members in the towns of Jinderes, Mabatli and Rajo. In Jinderes, the first major arrest occurred on 9 September and targeted Subhi Rizq, president of the Turkish-controlled council there, along with eight other council members and affiliates. All of these individuals were ENKS members and three have been released, while the location of the remaining six is still unknown. In Mabatli, eleven local council members were arrested in September; local council vice-president Salah Shabo was arrested on 12 October, along with six other council members. Four more council members were arrested on 14 October. Similar arrests targeted council members in Rajo”.
Furthermore, “Kurdish mukhtar (village chief) Nabi Jafar Omar was also seized by Turkish intelligence services, despite his previous support for and legitimization of the Turkish presence in Afrin. Meanwhile, on 1 October, a round of arrests in Istanbul targeted 11 Kurdish ENKS supporters now resident in Turkey”.
Reasons for the arrests
The seizure of thousands of people by Turkish-backed militias ever since the Kurdish enclave’s invasion and occupation at the beginning of 2018 has been reported by human rights groups in numerous reports. However, these new arrests of members of proxy councils signals a new trend. “Possible reasons” for these arrests, RIC concludes, “include Turkey’s opposition to ongoing negotiations between ENKS and the PYD-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC); Turkish anger over a new UN report highlighting atrocities committed by its militias in Afrin and elsewhere; and further attempts to reconfigure the ethnic make-up and political infrastructure of Afrin in Turkey’s favour”.
Hassan Hassan of the Human Rights Organization – Afrin has concluded that this new wave of arrests is most probably linked to the US-sponsored talks between the SDC and ENKS. He suggests that it is one way in which Turkey can express its displeasure and exert “pressure on the ENKS side not to enter into any deal” with the SDC. It also enables Turkey to restructure the councils in accord with its priorities. According to Hassan: “Turkey is attempting to reshape these councils under Turkmen dominance” in order to create a ‘Turkmen belt’ in Afrin. Turkmen militias, he argues, are Ankara’s preferred partners. These arrests ensure the removal of Kurdish and Arab council members.
The researcher Caki further suggests that some of those arrested may be suspected of having provided information that appeared in a recent United Nations report that was highly critical of Turkey and its proxy forces in Afrin. The reorganisation of the councils, through conducting such arrests, may also be paving the way for further radical demographic changes for the region.