A graveyard during the funeral for Syrian Democratic Forces fighters in the northern Syria Kurdish town of Kobane, on November 6, 2018. File photo: Delil Souleiman | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Citing religious rules, Turkey-backed Islamist factions in control of Afrin are systematically destroying cemeteries in the Kurdish enclave.
A resident of Afrin who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation said that on Wednesday militants of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) removed tombstones from the graves in Edama village in the district.
The tombs were also leveled. The militants told the residents that their reason was religious and the tombs were too high above ground and needed to be flattened.
Last week, Turkey’s proxies also went to Meydanke village in the Shera district of Afrin under the same religious pretext, doing the same thing to that cemetery.
In December, more than 500 tombs in Sinare village in the Shera district were destroyed by the militants. Their reasoning reportedly was to enlarging the roads.
In Islam, there are rules for tombs, but certain Salafist fatwas decree for tombs to be flat with the land and that it is irreligious to have them adorned or be above ground.
The groups operating in Afrin took over the city with Turkish help on March 18, 2018, after 58 days of fighting. Turkey claimed that the city was run by terrorists and that it posed a danger to Ankara’s national security.
Afrin, a Kurdish majority district known for its olive trees, was stable and safe prior to the invasion, hosting numerous refugees from the rest of Syria. It was a canton of the Northern Syrian Federation, administered by TEV-DEM.
Yezidis, Assyrians, Syriacs, some Arabs and Turkmen participated in the defense of Afrin under the banner of the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).
Since the takeover, half of the population has been living in camps. Their houses have been occupied and olive groves and factories taken over.
Kurdish symbols — like the statue of Kawa the Blacksmith — have been destroyed, and streets and other places have been changed to Turkish or Arabic names. Kurdish has also been removed as an official language, replaced with Arabic and Turkish.
The groups have committed human rights violations and engaged in looting. They have regularly destroyed cemeteries, each time citing different reasons. Claiming violation of religion is the latest trend.