The Turkish occupation of Afrin caused a massive displacement of populations and now appears as a planned and wilfull ethnic cleansing with multiple humanitarian consequences.
This occupation of Afrin by the Turkish State now raises serious humanitarian challenges at all levels. Women are particularly affected in many ways, leading to a massive lowering in their quality of life that can go as far as representing a serious risk to their lives and their dignity.
I. The Canton of Afrin and achievements regarding women’s freedom
Prior to the attempts at Turkish occupation on January 20 2018, women in the Canton of Afrin had made many advances in matters of freedom: a system for mutual aid and assistance had been set up by women’s homes, the communes and women’s assemblies, the co-presidency system guaranteed women’s participation at all decisionary political levels, without exception. The women in Afrin had also set up a defence force entirely made up of women, such as the Women’s Defence Forces (YPJ), the Social Defence Forces (HPC-Jin) and the Women’s Security Forces (Asaysa Jin). All of these women’s organizations had an autonomous status which allowed women to take their own decisions and carry out their own actions. Thanks to this progressist system, the women of Afrin were able to defend themselves and to defend their society against reactionay forces and the misogyny active within and without their society in the form of armed religious fundamentalist groups. Women in the Middle-East have been confronted with sexist policies that recently culminated again in feminicides carried out by ISIS and other Islamist groups active in the region. With the increasing power of ISIS, women were exposed to sexist crimes against humanity in the entire regions under Islamist control. The most violent and impressive example was the massacre in Sindjar in August 2014, where the world community was unable to protect thousands of Yazidi women from kidnapping, rape, sale on markets, toture and large-scale killings. Women in Afrin were able to protect themselves from these inhuman treatments thanks to their self-defence units, until 2018. Here, women played a key role in the development of a democratic and environmentally-friendly administration. Afrin is a symbol of women’s liberty and revolution.
II.War against Afrin : strong pressure against the population
Prior to the illegal invasion of Afrin by the Turkish State on January 20 2018, the peoples of Afrin were subjected to disastrous and ongoing brutality on their native land. Because of artillery shellings and air strikes against the different regions of the Canton of Afrin, 645 civilians were wounded, at least 232 were killed and 200.000 people were displaced from their villages, in search of safety in the town of Afrin. The negative impact of the war on the situation of women is evident. As the Turkish State has chosen, trained and supported the radical Islamist organizations as its allies, cruel examples of the anti-woman mentality became public during the war, such as the sexist mutilation of the the corpse of fighter Barin Kobane on February 1st 2018. Cases of rape and kidnapping of women were also reported in the villages taken over by the Turkish State and its allies, as mentioned above. Up until March 1st 2018, at least 82 people were wounded by artillery, airstrikes and Turkish snipers. Among them, some lost their eyesigh or some of their limbs and 23 were killed. The women also experienced problems because of the lack of food and water in the town of Afrin caused by the increase in population, particularly with the lack of milk for babies. Constant bombings also have a psychological effect that can lead to inability to breastfeed. Children suffer from fear and stress under the attacks. On the whole, the war phase against Afrin was very hard on the population. It was characterized by crimes against humanity, perpetrated in particular by the armed Islamist groups deployed by the Turkish State. War crimes such as targeting the homes of civilians, water supplies and dams, schools, bread shops, medical units, hospital staff and Afrin’s main hospital “Avrin” demonstrated the Turkish State’s strategy of total annihilation against the population during the operation.
III. Occupation of the town of Afrin : 14-18.03.2018
When the Turkish army and its allies bombed the town directly from March 14th to 18th 2018, a miminum of 47 civilians were killed and scores of others wounded, along with the spontaneous exile of the quasi-totality of the town’s population. This displacement occurred in a chaotic and dangerous context, the occupying forces even continuing to target the civilians fleeing the town, killing at least 13 people. A certain number of civilians also died on the road because of the terror that caused heart attacks along with the enormous exertions, for several people had to cover tens of kilometers on foot to the region of Shehba. Civilians who stayed behind in the town were subjected to the cruelty of the invaders, ranging from pillaging to expropriation, torture and extra-judiciary executions. Radical Islam discriminates heavily against women. According to information received, in occupied Afrin, women were treated like merchandise by occupying ofrces, they were collected, kidnapped and used as domestics and rape objects. It is obvious that the occupation of Afrin is a project of masculine domination bearing down for the total subjection of women and of the occupied society.
IV. Massive Displacement of Afrin residents to the region of Shehba
Presently, 100.000 refugees occupy the region of Shehba. Approximately 20.000 displaced persons have sought refuge in Nubil, 10.000 in Zehra. An estimated 50.000 people have reached Aleppo, while some 5000 others have moved on to Minbic. In Shehba, a preliminary count in the towns and villages gives the following result: approximately 20.000 people have found refuge in Til Rifat, 12.000 in Fafin, in Ahras 10.000, 7000 in Babnis, 4000 in Halissa, 3700 in Um-Housh, 2500 in Ghirnata Farms, 3000 in Kefer Naya, 2000 in the new refugee camp ‘Wargeha Berxwedan’ and 1500 in Kefer Nasseh. More than 40.000 displaced persons are spread out among some twenty other villages in the region. The exact count of refugees and their needs is still ongoing. Among them, most of the 25.000 Yazidis traditionally lived in Afriniv. Many of them now live out on the streets, in damaged houses, in tents or in schools. After their violent expulsion from their homes in Afrin and the theft of their belongings by the Turkish State and its allies, they are now deprived of their fundamental human rights.
• Survival material
Food and water reserves are limited. The amount of healthy food is insufficient for it is not psssible for the local community nor for the aid organizations to provide varied foods covering essential needs in nutrients such as vitamins, proteins, minerals and fibers. So far, only the appropriate supply of bread has been implemented across the region. Persons suffereing from gluten intolerance are thus experiencing health problems. Milk for children and newborns remains problematic since adequate supplies are unavailable.
Moreoever, there is not enough clean drinking water available for the entire population. Indeed, several wells in the region have dried up or need electronic pumping equipment which is unavailable. Water presently used by the population has not been analyzed and constitutes a health risk.
Many refugees have suffered health problems during and following their displacement for they have walked over long distances in poor weather conditions and bearing heavy loads. Following this, many of them have stayed out in the open without blankets, so that common illness such as bronchitis and gastro-enteritis have spread quickly.
Health services in the region of Shehba can only respond to basic needs. Although the Kurdish Red Cross has built several medical hot spots and a hospital is being built in the village of Fafine, treatment possibilities are often very limited. There is a lack of qualified medical staff, of instruments, surgical equipment and labs, as well as medication. In many cases, people suffering from chronic illnesses cannot find the appropriate medication for their condition.
With the onset of the war against Afrin on January 20 2018, children and students could no longer attend their classes for security reasons. The totality of the existing 318 schools had to be closed down. The Turkish army often singled out schools among its public service targets. With the end of the operation by the Turkish army, some schools were re-opened by the invaders but it appears they are applying a policy of Islamist and Turkish nationalist assimilation on the children. Children and students who have become refugees are still deprived of their right to education for other fundamental needs such as food and water are still lacking for thousands of people. Education is still on hold but should pick up again soon.
Populations were fleeing from Afrin for fear of death and oppression by the Turkish army and its Islamist allies. They reached the region of Shehba in most difficult circumstances, in the hope of finding refuge from war events and, mostly from the oppression from a fundamentalist Islamist mentality leading most often to violence pure and simple against women and any form of opposition. But the refugees are still not safe for they are not protected by any international mechanism such as the UN. What’s more, they are in close geographical vicinity to the zones belonging to the forces occupying Afrin. The region of Shehba is very close to the Syrian town of Azaz, invaded by the Turkish State in August 2016 and which now shelters a certain number of Jihadist groups and soldiers. In fact, some of the refugees live 2 kilometers away from the forces they have just fled. Moreover, it is not impossible that the Turkish State envision pursuing its brutal campaign, commentaries have been made on a number of occasions by Turkish authorities regarding Til Rifat in the region of Shehba. Recent agreements between the Turkish State and Russia – whose troops are also stationed in Shehba, reinforce the fears concerning the safety of the displaced civilians. Thus, refugees from Afrin continue to live in fear of a future assault being their lot. They could be targeted again by airstrikes from the Turkish military.
Adding to this, we should note that the region of Shehba was also a war zone until 2016, because it was controlled by ISIS and has only recently been liberated. This is why a number of houses are still damaged and unsuitable both as living quartiers and as areas in which children can play. Also, ISIS fighters left behind a number of landmines in previously occupied areas. Removal of landmines has not been completed, making the zone dangerous for civilians. Children, particularly, are at risk of easily walking over mines in the abandoned houses or along the foot paths. A certain number of landmine victims have been recorded in Shehba after March 18 2018.
V. Responsibility of the international community
Given the atrocities to which people were subjected in the canton of Afrin and the ongoing humanitarian catastrophy in Shehba, it is important that the international community take its responsibilities and not turn a blind eye. During the war against Afrin, several appeals were made for political support but all measures taken by the international community proved unsuccessful in stopping the horrible situations imposed on the civilian population, and on women in particular.
During the 8181th meeting of the UN’s Security Council, Staffan de Mistura, special envoy of the Secretary General to Syria, noted that “recent development in Syria have raised questions concerning the durability of the Astana dis-escalation agreements.” Following this, the UN’s Security Council adopted resolution 2401 on February 24 2018 suggesting a thirty-day ceasefire over the entire Syrian territory. Despite this, the United Nations have not taken any responsible measures to stop the tragedy, nor to implement their own decisions, nor to stop the violation of international law and fundamental human rights in Syria and, more specifically, in the Afrin war of occupation.
• Strong political measures are now inevitable in order to put an end to the Turkish occupation of the canton of Afrin and ensure the departure of all occupation forces, including the Turkish army and Islamist forces, as well as the administration imposed by the Turkish State. Their presence in Afrin is in violation of international law and international agreements, disregarding the sovereignty of the Syrian State as well as the right of people to self-determination and safety. Not only does this invasion counter the advances in terms of women’s freedom and rights to self-expression, advances accomplished during recent years in these regions. They encourage the propagation of a culture of rape and feminicide, disregards the right of women to existence, integrity and dignity. All democratic political powers in the world must work to end the occupation and allow women and all Afrin inhabitants to live in dignity. The end of the occupation can assist in the recovery of the interior stability the people of Afrin had reached prior to the Turkish agression.
We call on the UN to play its role in influencing the political situation on the ground and maintaining international law.
• Moreover, the health and safety of the populations in the region of Shehba must be protected. While they sheltered tens of thousands of refugees from other regions in Syria, the populations of Afrin are now subjected to the same fate: living in unacceptable conditions of squalor under severe restrictions. What’s more, the refugees are still not safe as they remain unprotected politically to this day and must live with the prospect of further attacks by the Turkish State and its Islamist allies.
The United Nations must shoulder their responsibilities to the refugees subjected to the Turkish aggression in the region of Shehba. The refugees must acquire a protected status under the UN.
This applies notably to the two refugee camps (‘Wargeha Berxwedan’ in Fafine, ‘Serdem’ in Til Sosin) in the region of Shehba, recently built to respond to housing needs of the population.
A large scale UN humanitarian aid program should be readied in all urgency in order to send necessary materials to meet fundamental human needs of the population, notably:
(b) medication for chronic illnesses
(c) medication for maternity units
(d) pediatric medication
3. Medical Equipment
(a) ambulances, mobile clinics
(b) surgical instruments, urinary catheters
(c) bandages, sterile gauze, bindings
(d) anesthesia machines, coagulation instruments, X-ray machines, artificial respirators, equipment for osteoporosis, sterilization instruments, defibrillator, oxygen generators, blood testing equipment.
(e) other medical material, surgical thread, nylon, medical alcohol.
4. Food, Hygiene
(a) survival rations
(b) baby’s milk
(c) hygienic supplies
(b) water pumping stations
(c) solar pannels
The Kurdish Red Cross Appeal (Heyva Sor)
• An international judiciairy mechanisms must be put in place to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, such as the crimes that were committed during the war against Afrin and the ensuing occupation by the Turkish army and its affiliated Jihadist groups. All those responsible for the illegal occupation as well as subjects guilty of pillaging, rape, murder and massacres of women and the people of Afrin must be brought to trial before an international tribunal. A special mechanism must thus be put in place to collect testimony and proof of human rights violations, receive requests and listen to the victims and witnesses to the war crimes and the human rights violations.
Afrin • Déplacements de populations et réfugiés Cliquez pour lire