Activists express concern on growing abuses in Afrin

Yazidi and Kurdish activists demand an international criticism of Ankara’s role in the region as brazen crimes on women, ethnic minorities and terrorist attacks continue to mount, making the city the weak link in the region – and a microcosm of Turkish-Kurdish feud

New Delhi: Human rights activists have called on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states to immediately discontinue support for the radical groups operating in Afrin backed by Turkey, who carry out gender-based violence and other crimes against women.

Afrin, once one of the only peaceful regions in the maelstrom of the Syrian civil war came under the control of Turkish-backed militias in 2018 following a major operation that ousted the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the area.

Since then, incidents of kidnapping for ransom, arbitrary arrests and seizure of properties have been rampant in the region with the United Nations (UN) and international governments playing mute spectators.

“They (Turkish forces and backed militia groups) are kidnapping women, killing civilians and destroying houses and shrines. To date, the international community has failed to bring attention to these crimes,” Sinam Mohammed, a Kurdish activist and representative of the Syrian Democratic Council said.

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“Lawlessness is very prevalent in the region. Armed groups, who are led by former ISIS leaders, arrest civilians arbitrarily, seize their properties and impose taxes with impunity. They target civilians for simply being Kurdish and accuse them of affiliation with the SDF,” Mohammed said, demanding an impartial international investigation into the cases of the women found in Syrian National Army detention, and of all victims of such kidnappings.

“Neither Turkey nor the Syrian opposition appears willing or able to bring justice for these crimes. Humanitarian organizations, like the UN, which so far have ignored these incidents must gain access to Afrin to document the scope and scale of violations, and the individuals and factions responsible must face consequences. Anything less puts every woman in Afrin at risk of being the next victim of horrifying abuse,” Mohammed said.

While supporting the demands raised by Mohammed, Executive Director of the Free Yezidi Foundation, Pari Ibrahim also voiced for consequences for the political leadership of those groups that claim to represent the Syrian struggle for freedom while imposing a brutal reign of terror on Yazidi women and the community.

“These are the steps of systematic persecution and forced displacement of minorities and ethnic groups in the region. The international community needs to remind the Turkish government that it urgently needs to take steps to prevent the crimes against humanity committed by its proxies, bring perpetrators to justice,” Ibrahim said.

She condemned the recent airstrikes launched by Ankara on the Sinjar mountains in northern Iraq, by calling them ‘concentrated attacks’ on areas inhabited by the Yazidi minority who are still trying to recover from the genocide perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS.

Ibrahim also expressed shock on Iraq’s unassertive response – handing the Turkish Ambassador Fatih Yildiz a letter of protest – on the bombings. “It is the territory of Iraq that Turkey attacked. Their response was very poor. This incident should be raised in the UNSC,” she directed.

Citing various accounts of sexual enslavement of Yazidi women by the Turkey-supported groups, Ibrahim exhorted NATO to intervene in Ankara’s increasingly brazen attempts to cultivate authoritarian rule and extreme nationalism, by attacking and occupying portions of Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

“Over 300,000 Yazidi populace have been displaced from their homes, more than 2500 women are missing and yet the UN continues to be a mute spectator,” Ibrahim said as she highlighted a resurgence of the Islamic State in the region with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan battling priorities – being more preoccupied with battling the Kurds than he is with reining in the terror group.

Ibrahim pointed out that Ankara’s administration is using the novel coronavirus pandemic to carry out demographic changes in a war-ravaged country grappling with an economic crisis.

Dawood Saleh, a fellow genocide survivor like Ibrahim, felt that Turkey is completing a war waged by the ISIS in the region at the cost of human lives. Speaking on Ankara’s offensive on Sinjar, Saleh said that the region is never again going to be a peaceful home for the Yazidis. He called the military operations by Turkey as irrelevant and violating Iraq’s sovereignty.

“And yet the Iraqi government continues to be indifferent to these attacks. We had hoped for a stronger reaction from them,” Saleh said, remembering the past attacks faced by the Yazidis by the hands of the Turks.

“Turkey wants to resurrect a neo-Ottoman empire, thus the war. We were expecting the world to stand with us, bring justice to our people, and help us to rebuild and return to our homeland,” Saleh hoped.

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