URFA - Journalist Nazım Daştan, who has been following the attacks on Afrin that started on January 20, 2018 which lasted for 2 months with international support, said, "The genocide was carried out within the framework of agreements. The forces in the region participated in this."
The air and ground attack launched by Turkey against the Syrian city of Afrin on January 20, 2018, with international support, continued until March 18. The city where paramilitary groups trained by Turkey were deployed come to fore with harassment, rape, extortion, theft, human trafficking, destruction of historical areas and nature and ethnic cleansing. It was also noted by the United Nations (UN) that the city, which was a center of democracy, science and education, was turned into a crime zone.
According to the data released by the Human Rights Organization of Afrin on December 31, 2021, regarding the city turned into a military base by the Salafi groups; Since March 18, 2018, more than 300,000 civilians have been displaced from Afrin, and around 400 thousand people from different regions have been settled in Afrin. The Kurdish population was reduced by up to 25 percent. In 4 years, 8.063 people were kidnapped, 84 women were murdered, 6 women were driven to suicide and 70 women were raped. According to the balance sheet, more than 655 citizens were killed and more than 696 people were injured, including 303 children and 213 women. More than 333,900 olive trees and other trees in forest areas were cut down. Nearly 60 historical sites were destroyed. Again, according to the balance sheet regarding the crimes committed in 2022, shared by the Afrin Human Rights Organization on January 17, 2022, 25 citizens living in the villages and districts of Afrin were kidnapped and approximately 900 olive trees were cut down.
Journalist Nazım Daştan, who followed the conflict in Afrin that started on January 20, 2018 answered our questions about the conflicts in Afrin, what happened since then, the agreements made, and what has changed in the last 4 years.
How was Afrin before January 20, 2018?
After the civil war that broke out in Syria in 2011, the peoples started to establish their own systems. In this context, the first spark of the revolution was Kobanê, then Dêrîk and then Afrin. Afrin has a unique feature. The system created by the peoples in Afrin has is not a system created and maintained only by the Kurds. Together with the Kurds, all the peoples living in these lands established a system together. Despite the pressure experienced in the Syrian civil war, this common system has become a model. Afrin is an important place not only in this sense, but also in terms of being the gateway to Aleppo and being right next to Idlib. Geographically, it is a center located west of the Euphrates. The system, which was established in Afrin in 2012, was the target of many attacks until January 20, 2018. The place where the first attack against the Rojava revolution took place is Afrin. The first attack was made in 2013 on the village of Qastel Cîndo, located between Afrin and Azez. The liquidation of the revolution was planned before, but the system formed by the peoples prevented it. Violent clashes were taking place not only in Afrin, but also in Aleppo, which is right next to it. Hundreds of thousands of people migrated to Afrin from the surrounding cities. Afrin provided these people with the opportunity to live. Afrin had a unique model in both the Rojava revolution and the Syrian civil war.
During the two months of war, you witnessed a lot. Can you tell us a bit about that what happened back then?
Organisations like ISIS, El Nusra and FSA attacked from 2012 to 2018. The names of these organisations changed but the target remained the same. These organisations mobilised by Turkey was attacking to liquidate the revolution. Even though the war was violent in many parts of SYria, Afrin was considered to be a de-escalation zone and a positive model. That's why it was targeted by Turkey. When Turkey could not achieve its goals with these paramilitary groups, it started an occupation itself on January 20, 2018. The groundwork of this occupation was pre-prepared. When MİT President Hakan Fidan said they would go to Syria and shell Turkey, it was a sign of the attack against Afrin. It started on January 20,2018 with more than 70 war planes. The people had a plan how to respond to these attacks. All of the people in Afrin took part in the defense, it was not just the Kurds. Whole families, mothers, fathers, children fought against Turkey. They were trying to protect Afrin. This determination of resistance prevented Turkey from advancing for 2 weeks. This continued until Turkey got support from Russia and NATO countries. When the attack started, Turkish authorities said that the operation would end in 24 hours. But the attack was encountered bu a resistance that stopped Turkey for more than 2 months. The resistance of Afrin frustrated the gangs affiliated with Turkey.
What struck you the most about these four years, what would you want to say?
4 years have passted. January 20, 2018 was the start of a new era in Syria. ISIS was defeated, they had only Dêra Zor, a very small city. A political solution was being discussed but Turkey made a move and it entered Syria on its own. It invaded a very important city, Afrin. Everyone was sure ISIS was defeated but with Turkey's move, ISIS was revived. It was not just an occupation it was attempted genocide. 90% percent of Afrin was Kurdish before the occupation, now the population in Afrin is 20% Kurdish. It was a systematic move targeting demographic change. Afrin is being destroyed and people are forced into migration. Historic places are destroyed. Places under UNESCO protection are demolished and they opened Quran courses in these places. It was nothing less than a genocide.
What was it that they targeted in Afrin?
An important resistance took place in Afrin. When Turkey couldn't get what it wanted, when it wanted, in Afrin, it targeted living quarters. One of the very important thing targeted by Turkey was the water resources. Many years ago, against the great resistance in Dimdim Castle, the water sources were poisoned and the Kurds were tried to be taken over. When the resistance could not be broken in Afrin, water resources and dams were targeted and tried to be destroyed. The direction of the water flowing into Afrin was changed, schools, churches and mosques were targeted. Hospitals were targeted. We journalists documented all of these things. The people who were resisting were driven out of Afrin and the resistance was sought to be frustrated. These attacks are still being carried out systematically in Afrin.
Afrin was sacrifices to negotiations by international powers. The attacks continued despite the ceasefire decision of the UN. What can you say about this?
The attacks and occupation of Afrin was carried out with the approval of the international forces, especially the agreement made between Russia and Turkey. Eventually, US and Europe became accomplices. Turkish occupation was not possible without the approval of these forces. When the invasion was started in Afrin, the forces that had been fighting in certain parts of Damascus for 7 years and supported by Turkey began to be removed from those places. It was done under an agreement. When the war in Afrin was prolonged, we understood a little better that peoples were massacred with the approval of international agreements. When we came to the last days of the war, we saw and documented that the troops full of green buses from Damascus were brought to Afrin. They attempted a genocide when they understood that they can't break the occupation in Afrin. We have documented 4 years of attempted genocide and attacks. The UN told that they decided a ceasefire. However it looked like this did not include Afrin. Turkey was stuck at the border in the first month of the war. It was seeking help from Russia and European countries. They bought time for Turkey to recover. There was not a ceasefire in Afrin. It was a game of the international powers to buy time for Turkey.
Who were the groups brought to Afrin under the name of FSA, who did these groups consisted of? Who did you see?
There were more than 50 organisations among those who attacked Afrin. All religious groups organized under the name of the FSA took part in the occupation. The most notable among them were those who previously led ISIS groups and held senior management positions. Among them was Muslim Şişani, a close relative of Ömer Şişani, who was at the head of the ISIS gangs that attacked Kobanê. Şişani is one of those who took part in the Afrin occupation with his entire group. They were groups such as Al Nusra, Cephet Şamiye, Hamza Brigade, Murat Brigade, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Brigade that were previously involved and organized under the umbrella of ISIS. These were the groups that attacked Afrin as well. And Turkey was on the background of it, rubbing its hands for genocide, attacking from the air and ground. All of these groups first called the FSA than took the name SMO were paramilitary gangs that have shed the blood of the peoples before.
The photos of ISIS posing with machetes when they entered Afrin were interpreted like ISIS was revived. A lot of people were arrested, killed and kidnapped in the past 4 years. What can you say about that?
Afrin is an example of a place that lacks human rights completely. Afrin was invaded 4 years ago but the attacks on Afrin continues. Women are abducted and taken to Libya or Turkey and driven into prostitution. Just like they sold the women into slavery 4 years ago. We don't know what happened to thousands of people. Speaking about human's rights in this situation is absurd. War crimes are being committed by Turkey. Turkey must be dragged into international courts. Many countries were prosecuted in the Hague for similar crimes. This should happen for Turkey as well. Thousands of people were displaced and the demography was changed. Turkey considers Afrin its own. It has a governor in Afrin, it opens post offices in Afrin. It is taking over Afrin and it is preparing for more.
MA / Emrullah Acar