Turkish backed Syrian proxies who seized Afrin city center photographed looting businesses and belongings. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – People displaced from the northwest Syrian district of Afrin in early 2018 are taking part in a special forum in Amuda to share their stories of what took place when Turkey and its Syrian proxies took over the Kurdish-majority canton in March.
The International Forum on Ethnic Cleansing and Demographic Change in Afrin opened on Sunday in the Kurdish-controlled city of Amuda, northern Syria – known to Kurds as Rojava – to discuss population changes since Ankara launched Operation Olive Branch on January 20.
During the three-day forum, organized by the Rojava Center for Strategic Studies, panels are examining the legal, historical, political, military, economic, and human rights aspects of the alleged ethnic cleansing taking place in Afrin.
“The [demographic] change is being done on all levels – life, politics, demographics, social, and nature,” Abdulkarim Saroxan, a top official from Jazira canton, told Rudaw.
Testimonies from people displaced from Afrin will be heard and footage captured over the course of the year will be shown.
Afrin, which had been largely insulated from Syria’s brutal civil war, was seized by Turkish troops and Ankara backed Syrian armed opposition groups with the stated aim of pushing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) back from Turkey’s southern border.
Ankara believes the YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – an armed group fighting for greater Kurdish cultural and political rights in Turkey, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU.
The operation lasted two months and four days. The YPG retreated from Afrin on March 24.
More than 100,000 Kurdish residents were displaced by the fighting. UN reports indicate those who remained have endured looting, confiscations, restricted movement, and kidnapping for ransom at the hands of Syrian opposition groups.
Turkey and the Syrian opposition filled many of the houses abandoned by their Kurdish owners with Arab families fleeing the Syrian regime’s bombardment of Eastern Ghouta. Turkmen families have also been offered properties.
“This is a chance for the people of the Afrin region to have their voices heard, about the big catastrophe that has befallen Afrin,” Pir Rostam, a writer and researcher from Afrin, told Rudaw.
Although such forums shine a light on the situation, it is ultimately up to Kurdish politicians to resolve the issue, argued Rostam.
“The biggest opportunity falls into the hands of Kurdish politicians. If they are active and diplomatic, if Kurdish diplomacy can make its way into the world, into human rights organizations and international organizations, there you can make the world understand the Kurdish question and the tragedy of Afrin,” he said.