Turkish-backed militiamen patrol a street in Afrin. Photo: Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A UK-based conflict monitor has documented evidence of demographic change in the Kurdish canton of Afrin, northwestern Syria carried out by forces of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch.
A “demographic change is being carried out led by military powers that claimed the protection of the Syrians,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated on Wednesday.
An Observatory team reached the conclusion after traveling through western areas of Afrin and observing the situation there. Afrin fell to Turkish forces and their allied Syrian militias in late March after a two-month conflict.
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish party PYD and armed forces YPG/YPG as branches of the PKK and framed its offensive as a counter-terror operation.
The Kurdish groups deny the charge and accuse Turkey of making a land grab.
In Jandaris, southwestern Afrin, the Observatory witnessed widespread destruction. Many homes that were still standing had been painted with declarations that they were now property of Syrian factions of the Olive Branch forces.
Jandaris saw heavy clashes
during the conflict, including airstrikes.
The village of Kafr Safra, north of Jandaris city, is now a closed off military zone, housing Syrian militias and a Turkish military headquarters, the Observatory stated.
A “spray can is enough to turn a building, a farm or even a whole village into private property of a military faction,” the monitor stated.
At checkpoints, Kurdish citizens are singled out for insults, youth alleged to be affiliated with the YPG/YPJ are detained and tortured, and looting of property is ongoing, it added.
In addition to the military factions, evacuees
from former rebel-held areas of Eastern Ghouta and Qalamoun have arrived in Afrin while those who were displaced from the canton have been prevented from returning home.
Turkey, however, blames the PYD and YPG for pushing people out of their homes.
“Displaced under the pressure of PYD/YPG, the people of Afrin are now returning back to their homes,” Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdag said on Wednesday, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkish humanitarian agencies have delivered aid to Afrin and this week the Turkish military opened an emergency hospital in Jandaris, Anadolu reported. The hospital can treat 400 patients daily.
An estimated 50,000 civilians are believed to have remained in Afrin city and 100,000 in rural areas, according to UN figures. Some 137,000 people are still displaced and largely sheltering in the countryside north of Aleppo where conditions are poor and resources are limited.
The United Nations on Tuesday announced it was allocating $16.3 million for projects to help people displaced from Eastern Ghouta and Afrin – focusing on basic services like food, water, shelter, and health care.
Of this amount, 49 percent will be for the Afrin response and 51 percent for Eastern Ghouta.
“With this reserve allocation, the UN and partners are able to scale up the response to the crises in East Ghouta and Afrin. However, the Syrian Humanitarian Fund has depleted all of its resources,” said Ali al-Za’tari, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Syria. “We continue to appeal for funding to allow the humanitarian community to respond to those in need.”
International donors meeting in Brussels on Wednesday pledged $4.4 billion in aid for Syrian civilians – less than half the $9 billion the UN was seeking for its humanitarian efforts this year.
A group of nine aid organizations working in Syria said it was not enough.
"This conference did not go nearly far enough to provide adequate support to the millions of Syrians in need of assistance and who are left facing an uncertain future," read a joint statement issued by the group that includes Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council.