Members of Turkey-backed Syrian militias stand in front of the destroyed statue of Kawa the Blacksmith, a Kurdish cultural hero, in Afrin in March 2018. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The head of Human Rights Watch criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for selectively relying on his agency’s reports to build a case against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
“According to Human Rights Watch, the YPG militants have violated international law by recruiting children,” Erdogan wrote in a column published by the New York Times on Monday.
He was referring to an August 3, 2018 report by the monitor that said the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) were recruiting children as young as 13 into their ranks.
In response to the report, the SDF ordered all factions fighting under its banner – which includes the YPG – to end the practice and threatened prosecution for those who failed to comply.
Human Rights Watch subsequently said the SDF had taken an “important step.”
In addition to concerns about child recruitment, the Kurdish administration in northern Syria has also been accused of stifling political opposition.
Erdogan used the report on child soldiers as part of his argument that the YPG are a terror organization, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and promised to “complete an intensive vetting process to reunite child soldiers with their families” after the United States withdraws from Syria and Turkey takes the reins in the war on ISIS.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, called Erdogan out on Twitter for ignoring his agency’s “extensive reporting on abuses by Erdogan’s own forces.”
Human Rights Watch published several reports over the past year about abuses committed under Turkey’s watch – by their own forces or their Syrian proxies – in Afrin, northern Syria.
They have condemned looting and destruction of Kurdish property by Syrian militias backed by Turkey, accused the Turkish military of failing to protect civilians in violation of the rules of war, and reported on Turkish border guards “indiscriminately” shooting Syrian refugees attempting to cross the frontier.
Turkey and its allied Syrian militias took control of Afrin during a two-month operation in early 2018. Thousands of civilians fled and many still have not been able to return home. The Syrian militias have persecuted the Kurdish population, torn down Kurdish cultural symbols, and removed Kurdish place names. The Turkish flag and language are now present on official buildings, including schools.
Kurds warn that a Turkish military offensive against their territory east of the Euphrates River will result in similar atrocities.
Turkey has denied they target Kurds and insist they make a distinction between the armed YPG and the civilian population.