Centre for World Environmental History

The Turkey assault on Afrin in northern Syria

CWEH Activists Blog: 26 April 2018
Carol Yong

“Did I tell you that a young woman from Lewes was killed last week in Afrin? Very sad”, Zuky (Serper) asked in his email. Yes, I replied. The breaking news of the British volunteer who died on 15 March during a Turkish shelling in Afrin appeared repeatedly in British media in following days.[1]

Afrin is a predominantly Kurdish district and town, but there are also diverse religious and ethnic groups such as the Yezidis and Alevi Kurds, and Assyrian Christians, Armenians, Turkmen and Syrian Arab communities. Located in the most westerly part of north Syria, Afrin is one of the three regions of the de facto autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), or Kurdish Rojava. Like Rojava territories Kobane and Jazira, Afrin is a Kurdish enclave and heartland of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the all-female unit, the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).

As known, Turkish forces started a military offensive in Afrin on 20 January to oust Kurdish forces on Syrian territory close to its border which it claimed posed a direct threat to its borderlands. Code-named “Olive Branch” operation, Turkish bombardments and shelling, backed by German-made tanks and weapons, on districts and the city of Afrin continue without cease from the first day. Especially appalling was targets have been largely civilians including the elderly, women and children, Kurdish villages, public infrastructures and buildings such as hospitals, and  convoys carrying food and medicine to Afrin.[2] On 18 March, the Turkish forces and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups announced they have captured the town of Afrin.

Targeting of archaeological and cultural sites in Afrin

For centuries Afrin’s inhabitants have lived a self-reliance existence, largely undistrubed. Never before in Afrin’s long history has its ancient settlements, inhabitants and environs been subjected to such a great deal of devastation and sufferings than Turkey’s attacks in the last two months.[3] An estimated 150,000 and 200,000 people, mostly Kurds, have flee the fighting; many of the displaced are stranded in a small area of Syria between Afrin and the Syrian-regime held area of Aleppo.[4]

What is less known is the devastation of many important archaeological, historical and cultural sites of Afrin, or what used to be there in Afrin since the early neolithic period. Various reports tell us that Turkish airstrikes had destroyed the ancient temple of Ain Dara, the statue of Kawa (an Iranian mythological figure), the Julianus Church, one of the oldest Christian churches in the world and listed UNESCO world heritage site since 2011, to name but a few examples – accusations the Turkish government denies.[5]

Not forgotten

Afrin is not forgotten: Thousands of Kurds reportedly waved banners reading "Erdogan assassin" and "defend Afrin" and shouted slogans of “silence kills” in protests outside the Council of Europe offices in Strasbourg, and in Paris, about 2,000 protesters marched from the Gare de l'Est towards the Place de la Republique.

On 20 March, a meeting in the UK Parliament in London was calling on the public to pressure their MPs to act and call for immediate end of Turkey’s aggression on Afrin.

In Austria, peaceful mass rallies were held in solidarity with Afrin, among others in Linz on 24 March. Several hundreds of women and men alike, from the very young to the elderly, clad in yellow-red-green – the Kurdish colours – carried banners, flags, placards and props, and chanted slogans: “Erdogan terrorist”, “German tanks killing the Kurds in Afrin”, and more. The atmosphere was festive-like but the march itself was not a comforting story. The story expresses and embodies one of many collective and personal costs and losses of the Kurdish peoples, young and old, women and men alike, in their on-going long struggle for autonomy.[6]

[2] “Atrocities of the Turkish Army in Afrin, March 14th - 18th, 2018”, Dossier of the  Information Centre of Afrin Resistance, Web: http://icafrinresist.com/; and Aufruf zur bundesweiten Großdemonstration in Berlin am 3. März 2018-Gemeinsam gegen die türkischen Angriffe auf Afrin! (Call for nationwide mass demonstration on 3 March 2018 in Berlin, in solidarity against ´Turkish attacks in Afrin!)

[3] “Atrocities of the Turkish Army in Afrin, March 14th - 18th, 2018”, Dossier of the  Information Centre of Afrin Resistance, Web: icafrinresist.com.

[6] The Kurdish Project, https://thekurdishproject.org/history-and-culture/kurdish-history/sykes-picot-agreement/