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Syrian rebels look shops after capturing Afrin from the YPG
Image: Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic

Turkey accused of 'turning blind eye' to Afrin abuses

August 2, 2018

Amnesty International says Turkish forces in the northern Syrian city of Afrin are giving Syrian militias "free rein" to commit serious human rights abuses. The group alleges torture, forced disappearances and looting.


Human rights organization Amnesty International accused Turkey on Thursday of allowing Syrian armed groups to commit a wide range of violations against civilians in Afrin.

Turkish forces aided by allied rebels captured the northern Syrian town in March from the US-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a terrorist group. According to Amnesty's research, scores of displaced residents have since returned to their homes, only to be subjected to rights abuses.

Read more:Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

A man holding two girls by their hands
Civilians return to Afrin after Turkish armed forces took control of the town Image: picture-alliance /dpa/AA/B. e. Halebi

What Amnesty's investigation alleges:

Amnesty interviewed 32 people, both current and former Afrin residents, between May and July 2018, who said:

  • Residents in Afrin are enduring "arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, confiscation of property and looting."
  • Most of the abuses were "at the hands of Syrian groups that have been equipped and armed by Turkey."
  • Some of the rebel groups and Turkish armed forces had "taken over schools, disrupting the education for thousands of children."
  • Afrin University was "completely shut down after it was destroyed and looted," according to residents cited by Amnesty.
  • Civilians have been punished or had their property seized on "baseless accusations of affiliation to the YPG."

Read moreAfrin, refugees, rights: EU-Turkey summit set for showdown

Humanitarian crisis in Syria

What does Turkey say?

Turkey has denied allegations of human rights violations, dismissing them as propaganda. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also previously said that Turkey has no wish to occupy parts of Syria and wants the rightful owners to return.

Amnesty said it sent its preliminary findings to the Turkish government, which questioned the impartiality of the research, but did not "provide a concrete response" to the charges.

Amnesty's Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said Turkey was responsible for the welfare of civilians as well as maintaining law and order, since it was the "occupying power" in Afrin.

"Without further delay, Turkey must end violations by pro-Turkish armed groups, hold perpetrators accountable, and commit to helping Afrin residents rebuild their lives," she said.

Read more:Germany sells arms to Turkey despite Afrin offensive, media reports

A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel celebrates after capturing Afrin in March
A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel celebrates after capturing Afrin in MarchImage: Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic

Turkey's role in Afrin: It's not the first time troops backed by Turkey have been accused of abuses in Afrin. In June, Human Rights Watch said militias had looted and destroyed property belonging Kurdish civilians after the town was seized. Ankara has said it wants to make Afrin into a safe place for displaced residents to come back to, but it's not clear how long its forces will maintain a presence there.

Read moreWho are the Kurds?

The battle for Afrin: On January 20, the Turkish military and their Syrian allies launched "Operation Olive Branch" against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the northern Syrian enclave. Erdogan had long threatened to flush out what he considers to be Kurdish "terrorists" along Turkey's border with Syria. The intervention opened up a new front in the Syrian conflict and increased tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, who have been at odds over Syria.

What is the YPG? The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) are part of the US-led international alliance fighting against the "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria. Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey, the US and the European Union. The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and advocates for political autonomy and cultural rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority. 

nm/rt (AFP, Reuters)

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