Turkey castigates call to withdraw army and militias from Kurdish Afrin district

Jihadis in villages of non-Muslim Yazidi Kurds persecute them for their faith and ethnicity

Turkey has castigated the Arab League for demanding the withdrawal of the Turkish army and allied Syrian militias from the Kurdish Afrin district in Syria's northern Aleppo province.

From January 20th to March 18th, Turkish forces carried out an operation called Olive Branch against US-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) based in the enclave.

During the campaign surrogate Arab militiamen systematically expelled Kurdish civilians, looted houses, businesses and government offices, and bulldozed agricultural lands.

Kurds from Afrin based in Damascus told The Irish Times they had lost "everything": homes, land and olive plantations to which the men had regularly returned to take part in the harvest. They said their families had taken refuge at Tel Rifaat and nearby villages in Syrian government-held territory.


The exodus, estimated at 137,000 by the UN, has overwhelmed local communities and UN efforts to provide food and water. Families were initially camping on roadsides and under trees during bitterly cold weather. They have not been allowed to return home by Turkish forces.

Abu Mohamed, a Kurd from Afrin employed at a hotel in Damascus, said he travelled by bus to the north to fetch his parents. His work colleague Salah said his family had walked 40km to Aleppo, where they were provided with shelter and sustenance in the Kurdish Sheikh Maksoud district.


The UN humanitarian co-ordination body, the OCHA, which does not have direct access to Afrin, reports that 50,000 remain in Afrin city and 100,000 elsewhere in the district. Only the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkish relief organisations operate in Afrin.

The OCHA says partner organisations report 50 per cent of remaining residents do not have regular access to food, and only 25 per cent have adequate housing.

Kurdish homes have been occupied by radical fundamentalist fighters and families evacuated recently from eastern Ghouta, adjacent to Damascus, as well as jihadis from armed groups operating with Turkish troops under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army.

The London Independent's Patrick Cockburn reports from northern Syria that jihadis occupying villages of non-Muslim Yazidi Kurds persecute them for both their faith and ethnicity, destroy their houses of worship and attempt to convert them to Islam by force.

During the reign of Isis in northwestern Iraq, the terror group branded Yazidis "infidels", killed the men and enslaved their women and children. Cockburn says the "names of Yazidi villages are being changed", and says "many of the Sunni Arab fighters...who are under the command of the Turkish military are former members of Isis and al-Qaeda".

Kurdish mountain

There were 360 Kurdish villages in the Afrin district, which was known as "Kurd Dagh", the Kurdish mountain. Until Turkey invaded the area had been largely peaceful despite the seven-year Syrian war. Ankara regards the YPG as an offshoot of Turkey's Kurdish Workers' Party, which has fought for Kurdish rights since 1984.

Anticipating Turkey's presidential election – fast-forwarded from 2019 to this June – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has exploited Turkish anti-Kurd feeling and nationalism by touting his Afrin "victory", and has pledged to drive Syrian Kurds from the border with Syria.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times