This article focuses on Turkey, its war in Afrin and its plans for Afrin without going into the details of the regional and international impacts of the war. The resistance, ideas and plans of those resisting, as well as the regional and international background and the collaboration of interests and contradictions of the different powers remain unmentioned.
by Songül Karabulut, member of IC Afrin Resist
On January 20, 2018, the Turkish state officially declared the start of the war against Afrin.
The reason that the state provided was that the security of the Turkish border was under threat by the YPG/YPJ units. They substantiated their accusations with 700 alleged attacks, which they claim were launched from Afrin to Turkey. The BBC has followed up on this claim and researched the mentioned cases with the conclusion that 674 of these alleged attacks never happened, meaning that they were completely made up, and that of the 26 incidents that could be tracked, only 15 came from Afrin, while the initiators of the attacks cannot be clearly identified. (1)
In fact, nobody believed this pretense of Turkey anyway. But there were different views on Turkey’s aim for pursuing with this war.
Looking at the past 2 months, we can clearly name what kind of war is taking place: The Turkish state is leading an occupation war against Afrin.
This occupation war has been conducted under leadership of the Turkish Army in cooperation with Islamist (jihadist) rebels, disguised under the label of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). On several fronts war planes, canons, mortars and all sorts of artillery attacks were launched simultaneously. Step by step, the aerial bombardments cleared the way for the ground forces until they could finally reach the city center of Afrin on the 58th day of the war, on March 18. [In order to prevent even greater massacres, the self-administration of Afrin evacuated the population due to the ongoing deliberate bombardments of civilian districts, hospitals etc.]
With the example of Afrin, we have once again seen why Turkey has been nourishing, organizing and supporting these Islamist rebels for years, despite international criticism. These groups act as stooges, mere proxies of Turkey to take care of the dirty jobs (murder, looting, rape, torture). They are the new contra-guerrilla of Turkey domestically, by being responsible for many attacks against oppositionals such as in Suruc, Ankara, Amed (Diyarbakir) etc. and during the massacres and destructions of Cizre and Sur in 2016, as well as abroad.
This war did not come unexpected. For years and especially in the past few months, this attack had been announced. If one looks at the statements of the Turkish President R.T. Erdogan and other state representatives before and during the attacks, one will understand the actual reasons and aims of this war without any difficulty.
The Turkish state has incessantly been expressing its hostility towards the structures of self-administration, which been built up step by step with the initiatives of the Kurdish people since the beginning of the civil war in 2011 with a lot of effort.
Turkey declares that it will not allow a system dominated by Kurds in proximity of its border. The developments in Northern Syria, where the Kurds, together with other peoples and communities of different beliefs are building up a grassroots democratic model within which they are claiming their ethnic and collectives rights, are seen by Turkey a threat and an attack, and are thus prioritized. For example, no reason to engage in action was deemed necessary, when Turkish borders were controlled by the terror group of the Islamic state.
For years, Turkey has been trying to convince the international forces to establish a “security zone” at the border between Turkey and Syria, which would be reaching 30km into Syria and would be under the control of Turkey. What Turkey perceives as security zone is seen as a threat by the population. The war against Afrin has illustrated that the concerns were not unjustified and still are not. Who is living along the border, whose area of settlement is there? Turkey undoubtedly aims for the land of the Kurds. The demand for a “security zone” has been repeated throughout the war in Afrin. In addition to this demand, the aspiration was voiced to settle the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey there, with the aim of keeping them further away from Europe. All of these arguments and plans are intended to displace the Kurds from their homeland, where they have been living since the Neolithic age and to occupy the area. In relation to Afrin, Erdogan claimed that he would free Afrin from terrorists and give the land back to its rightful owners, implying that the Kurds, who live there, are not the real inhabitants but the Arabs, preferably, those who are loyal to Turkey. After Turkey separated the enclave of Afrin from Kobane in its military invasion in 2016 in Jarabulus, al Abab and Azaz, it now tries to separate the Kurds in Bakur (Turkish part of Kurdistan) from those in Rojava (Syrian part of Kurdistan). [With that, Turkey follows up on the ethnic cleansing project of the Baath regime along the border, which started in 1960s.]
Representatives of the Kurds have repeatedly tried to inform the international public about the real aims of Turkey, among which is a genocide on the Kurds. With the occupation war on Afrin, we see the attempts to implement this genocide plan. Genocide has several levels. Besides the physical genocide, there is also cultural genocide, which the Kurdish people have been exposed to for decades. Displacement is a major part of this cultural genocide.
The occupation war of Turkey in Afrin through the example of images
The images, which circulated around the world during the war in Afrin speak for themselves. Shocking video footage, showing the mutilated body of the female fighter Barîn Kobanî, the body of a YPG fighter being kicked with feet, or a farmer being shot cold-bloodily.
Many pictures and videos show the extremist jihadists raise the Tauhid-finger and shout “Allah-u-Akbar” over and over, resemble those one can easily find with fighters of the Islamic State. Another picture says in Turkish: “We do not know who burnt down Rome, but we burnt down Rajo” next to a Turkish flag and soldiers doing the sign of the right-extremist Grey Wolves. The journalist Christoph Sydow writes accurately in a commentary for the German magazine Der Spiegel: “In the pictures from Afrin, one only recognizes at second sight that the city has not been captured by the Islamic State, but by the Turkish army and its allies.”(2)
The videos and pictures of the Turkish Army and its Islamist allies express a lot violence and hatred. Violence is an important indicator of occupation. Afrin could only be “occupied” with the application of physical and psychological violence, as the occupation was opposed with exacerbating resistance. The city was constantly bombed from the air, which was the only way in which the Turkish soldiers and special units with their jihadist allies could gain ground without sparing to murder everyone that comes in their way. This has been sufficiently documented in pictures and videos. The Turkish state already showed in 2015/2016 what it is capable of. In the war against the Kurdish population inside Turkey, the state used brutal violence, bombed and destroyed cities completely. The state deliberately killed civilians and burned over 200 of them in basements. Likewise, in the war on Afrin, the army specifically targeted areas of civilian settlements and killed civilians without sparing children, women and elderly people. What has happened in Afrin has not yet been fully revealed and documented.
Only a few pictures and their interpretations:
When the forces of the Turkish Army and its jihadist allies reached the city center, the news about looting and theft increased. Again and again pictures emerged, which showed the troops plundering the belongings of the population.
From chicken, ducks, sheep, and goats to vehicles like tractors. The lootings reached their peak in the city center. There are pictures showing that no shop remains undamaged, everything has been taken away and the interior has been destroyed. Flats were looted as well. Food, electronic devices, jewelry, furniture, vehicles, in short: everything imaginable was taken away. The picture reminds of times, when mercenaries were promised war booties if they take part in a war. Everything which belongs to the enemy could be looted. Precisely this mentality was proven with the pictures published. A clear picture of occupation wars.
Another rule of the occupation mentality is to attack the ideals and values of the people, to humiliate and degrade them. This practice could be seen in Afrin repeatedly. During Turkey’s war of aggression, again and again graveyards and religious sites like mosques were bombed and destroyed. On March 18, the day when the city was entered, the statue of Kawa the Blacksmith, a Kurdish mythical character, was attacked and destroyed. Kawa is the symbol of the liberation of the people from the oppression of tyranny. Additionally, pictures of martyrs, symbols of the self-administration, as well as pictures of the Kurdish peoples’ representative Abdullah Öcalan were destroyed.
A definite rule of an occupation force is to hoist its own flag. On the same day, on top of the building of the municipality, the Turkish flag was hoisted and soldiers, certain of their victory, took pictures in front of it. The massage is very clear: I subjugated it, it is mine, I am the master now.
Although the verbal statements as well as the practice in Afrin show the clear aim of occupation with the aim of a genocide, Turkey tries to cover up its intentions.
The attempt to cover up the occupation
On March 18, Erdogan announced the invasion of the city center with the following sentences:
“I want to deliver a good message to you. The city of Afrin has been under our control since 8.30 this morning. In the city center, no longer the rags of the terror organization are being waived, but the symbol of peace and security are being hoisted. Now we can see the Turkish flag together with the flag of the FSA” (3)
To sell this well-documented occupation war to the outside as an “liberation war”, Turkey of course initiated steps. On March 18, the exact date when the statue of Kawa the Blacksmith was destroyed, the Turkish media wrote that in the border town of Gaziantep, with the participation of 100 people, the “Afrin liberation congress” had gathered and a 30 people “city council of Afrin” had been established. Hasan Şindi was named as a spokesperson of this “city council”. (4)
According to information, apart from members of the jihadist groups from Azaz, al-Bab and Shahba, people from Afrin, living in Europe also participated in this congress. Furthermore, members of the Turkish secret service, the army and the security forces, as well as advisors for Turkeys foreign policy were present. All this shows the aim with which this congress took place – to develop a contra structure. This group will perform espionage work for the Turkish state.
Now representatives of the government and loyal media try to present this “contra-institution” as the legitimate democratic representation. It can be read that representatives of all ethnicities and religious groups, as well as people from Afrin, who are very thankful for the “liberation” of Afrin, were present at this congress.
It is also not a secret, that Turkey is supporting groups inside the Federation of Northern Syria/Rojava, who act as “opposition”, but are actually trying to undermine the model together with Turkey and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Iraq. Hasan Sindi is not an unknown person in this regard. He is said to be cooperating with the Turkish secret service and he has been made responsible for murders and provocations.
All news about looting have been dismissed by the Turkish government as lies, but after the information about the looting spread to the extent that it could no longer be hidden, the government tried to present them as individual cases. Foreign minister Cavusoglu said about this topic “We as a nation, as the government, as a state are against everything that is inhumane. We are against abuse and looting (…) Information reached us that those, who have been looting, were people coming from Aleppo. In this regard, the FSA is at least as sensitive, as we are.” (5)
The Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish disaster prevention (AFAT) are also trying to cover up the occupation. As we can see, they are partially successful. The German TV Tagesschau reported: “Patiently, women and men are waiting in front of the trucks of the Turkish Red Crescent, boxes with food are being unloaded and distributed among the population of Afrin. Nobody needs to wait to eat until he is home, says Ibrahim Alten of the Red Crescent. “Our field kitchen distributes warm food. There are beans, rice, yoghurt and bread.” (6)
But all attempts at trying to present this occupation as something other than what it is are showing a tragic comedy.
Plans of Turkey for Afrin
On March 21, Erdogan made the following statement during a meeting with AKP members of parliament: “In the following days, we will assign a governor and more personnel for the local administration” (7) In Turkey, there are 81 provinces with one governor each. After the occupation of Jarabulus, the first governor outside of Turkey was allocated. With Afrin, there will be the second. In that sense, the number of provinces of Turkey reaches 83.
Government sources declare that their primary concern is to make Afrin “livable”. The local government is to consist of ethnicities and representatives of all major clans. The security is to be provided by the FSA in first place until local security forces will be build up. As soon as the security of Afrin is guaranteed, 350.000 to 400.000 people will be brought from Kilis, Hatay, and Gaziantep to Afrin. In the last days, there have been increasing reports that further jihadist groups from Eastern Ghouta will not be moved to Idlib, as was previously claimed, but to Afrin. Also, the statements of Erdogan that “We also have to do something for the family members of the martyrs of the FSA, we have to soothe their sorrow with new regulations” indicated that they might be “rewarded” in Afrin.
Turkey has violently displaced the self-governance structures which have been built up by the people step by step since 2011 and which was able to administer a population of about 1 million people – half of whom were refugees, who fled from Kobane or Aleppo to Afrin – in peace and security, in order to now establish a region, which is foreign ruled and foreign populated.
Before the civil war started in 2011, Afrin’s population was 90% Kurdish. Erdogan now gives new numbers for the demography: According to his statement, Afrin is 50% Arab, 35% Kurdish and 7% Turkmen, with the Kurdish population not being native to the region, but having migrated there later on.
We are witnessing an occupation being conducted in the 21st century, through ethnic cleansing with the support and toleration of international institutions and states in accordance with their interest-driven politics. The values such as human rights, freedom, justice and democracy, which people have been fighting and paid a high price for since the beginning of inequality, oppression and exploitation are being stepped on by states and governments. The worldwide solidarity actions show that the people know that these values are betrayed by the states and that they have to be defended.
But this cold, interest-driven politics of states is not only short-sighted, but also very dangerous. Since Turkey is not being stopped in an occupation war that violates international law, it turns Afrin into a stronghold of radical-Islamist groups, which Turkey builds up as its second unofficial army. Turkey tries to give the occupied areas to those jihadists for their envisioned Islamic State, which again is bound to Turkey. Every day, we see what these mercenaries are capable of. Whoever thinks that these deadly weapons will only be used against Kurds, will wonder early enough, but then it might already be too late.