Members of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) coalition training in the northern Aleppo countryside. (Photo credit: AA
Many have expressed skepticism that a brewing Turkish-Syrian reconciliation process could bring about an eventual withdrawal of Ankara’s forces from Syria
A joint report published on 1 February by two Syrian rights groups highlights the ‘systematic policy of oppression’ adopted by Turkiye and Turkish-backed armed groups against the Kurds in the northern Syrian city of Afrin.
The report was released by Human Rights Organization-Afrin and Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) and is based on testimonies from dozens of individuals obtained between 2021 and 2022.
“Witnesses shared their traumatic experiences of torture and ill-treatment during their visits to detention centers. They described arbitrary arrests, cruel torture, and acts of sexual violence. Most of the arrests were made in March 2018 by the Turkish Army and allied Syrian armed groups after Turkey’s invasion of Afrin,” the report reads.
“After their release, most of the victims fled Afrin towards camps for internally displaced people and safe areas in Aleppo, out of fear of being rearrested, as has happened to survivors who remained in Afrin,” it adds. According to the report, most of those who gave testimonies were Kurdish, except for six Arabs and two Yazidis.
In 2016, the Turkish military invaded northern Syria in an operation dubbed ‘Euphrates Shield,’ which aimed to combat both ISIS and Kurdish militants. In March 2017, Ankara announced the successful completion of the operation.
Despite this, Turkish troops remained in the country, as the Turkish objective of capturing the northern town of Manbij remained unfulfilled.
By December 2017, the Syrian National Army (SNA) had been formed, a coalition of different Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions, thereby establishing an official proxy for Ankara and marking the start of Turkiye’s occupation in northern Syria.
The factions within the SNA, which include the Sultan Murad Division, the Sham Legion, and the Suleiman Shah Brigade, have all – according to the report – been involved in arbitrary arrest campaigns against the predominantly Kurdish inhabitants of Afrin. According to the report, Turkish intelligence has also been a part of these campaigns, including arbitrary arrests and torture.
Throughout October 2022, Afrin witnessed heavy clashes between the SNA and the extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Despite temporarily withdrawing some of its forces from the city at the time, following a Turkish-sponsored agreement, HTS has recovered partial control over Afrin.
According to Al-Akhbar, the former Al-Qaeda affiliate is attempting to consolidate its foothold in the predominantly Kurdish town in northern Syria.
As Turkiye and Syria continue along the path of reconciliation, some have expressed hope that this will lead to a withdrawal of Turkish forces from the country. Others are more skeptical, suggesting that Turkiye may not easily be willing to abandon its expansionist policy in northern Syria.