Civilians fleeing the city of Afrin in northern Syria walk at the mountainous road of al-Ahlam while heading towards the check point in az-Ziyarah, in the government-controlled part of the northern Aleppo province, on March 16, 2018. Photo: AFP/George Ourfalian.
By Hussein Omar
AFRIN, Rojava-Syria -- A wave of Arabization started in the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwest Syria soon after its takeover by Arab rebel groups and Turkish forces, a process that continues to this day, according to evidence on the ground and statements from international organizations, including the United Nations.
Kurds made up 95 percent of Afrin’s population before operation Olive Branch was launched by Turkish troops against the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG). Arab families from other parts of Syria have been since pouring into the city and replacing many Kurds who fled during the clashes.
Families from the province of Idlib were the first to turn up and settle in the surrounding villages. Idlib is under the control of extreme groups like the Tahrir al-Sham, which adopted its new name from the former al-Nusra Front to escape the UN terror list.
Before long people from Azaz, al-Bab and Jarablus came and settled in villages around Sharran and Rajo. Most have resettled in the Yezidi villages of Qastal Jindo and Baflon.
This Arab resettlement campaign in Afrin gained momentum after many families from East Ghouta were transported according to an agreement between the Syrian regime and the opposition under Russian auspices.
During the Turkish military operation with its Arab allies many Afrin residents fled to nearby regime-controlled towns for safety and vacating the city in the process. Their places were soon filled with opposition fighters and their families. The arrivals became a daily routine.
A source inside Afrin who did not want to be named told Rudaw that Arabs now make up at least 60 percent of the 200,000 people living in Afrin city.
Among the new residents are many Arab families who had sought shelter in Afrin in previous years and who stayed on during the Turkish invasion of the city.
In Mubata and three surrounding villages alone 231 Arab families have settled. Since the turn of events only 1,000 Kurds have been able to return to their homes and farms, facing the same number of newly-settled Arabs.
The Arabization process is more intense in the town of Bilbil due to its proximity to Turkey and strategic location. A source in Bilbil told Rudaw on condition of anonymity for safety reasons that 350 Arab families have settled there and only 10 Kurdish families have remained in the town.
Many Kurds who tried to return claim they were threatened by armed groups and forced to leave. Rashid Mohammed, a pharmacy worker, told Rudaw that he went to check on his home in Bilbil on May 8, but an armed group had kicked him out. Assad Qasim, an engineer, was also told to leave soon after he returned to his village of Qurna.
Rudaw has learned that 12 Kurdish villages near Bilbil have become no-go zones for their former Kurdish inhabitants due to a heavy military presence.
1,725 Arabs are reported to have settled in the following seven villages: Sharran, Kharaba Shara, Sinka, Matina, Qitma, Maydanke, Kafrjana. 172 families have also settled in rather distant villages from the town.
The town of Rajo is one place where the 700 original families outnumber new Arab settlers by two to one.
Video footage circulating on the Internet recently shows a Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighter calling on his friends, relatives and people of Qabun east of the capital Damascus to come to the villages near Afrin and turn the place “into a new Qabun”.
There have long been some Arab families living in the area, particularly in Jindires, since agricultural reforms in the 1960s. They used to make up 15 percent of the local population.