Turkey 'turns blind eye' to Syrian rebel abuses in Afrin: Amnesty

by Raziye AKKOC
Syrian Kurdish civilians live in fear of the checkpoints manned by Turkish-backed Arab rebels around Afrin where the United Nations and human rights groups have a documented a litany of abuses, including beatings, torture and kidnappings for ransom

Amnesty International on Thursday accused Turkish forces of allowing Syrian armed groups to commit major rights abuses in the northern region of Afrin, urging Ankara to end the violations immediately.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels seized control of Afrin earlier this year after a military operation dubbed "Olive Branch" which ousted a Kurdish militia that is an ally of the United States but Ankara regards as a terror group.

Amnesty said that, since the takeover, residents in Afrin had been "enduring a wide range of violations" which Turkish armed forces "turned a blind eye" to.

"These violations include arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and confiscation of property and looting to which Turkey's armed forces have turned a blind eye," Amnesty said.

A Turkish diplomatic source told AFP there had been similar "untrue allegations" previously, but "information and documents have undermined" the veracity of the claims.

Looting incidents were quickly investigated and Turkey, with Syrian groups, "urgently took the necessary measures", the source added.

Some of the Syrian groups as well as Turkish armed forces have taken over schools, disrupting education for thousands of children, Amnesty claimed.

The rights group said residents told them that Afrin University was "completely shut down after it was destroyed and looted", adding that only one school in Afrin city was accessible.

The Turkish diplomatic source said Ankara had been working to focus on schools' needs and ensuring that the infrastructure was completed for the 2018-19 academic year.

- 'Wreak havoc' -

Turkey says the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia it ousted from Afrin is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency in Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the European Union.

In the case of one woman, her uncle has been missing since an armed group escorted him to his house after he returned to his village three months earlier.

"They wouldn't tell his wife where they took him," the unnamed woman told Amnesty, denying the man, head of a local committee, had any links to the YPG.

Amnesty said some homes have been "occupied" by displaced families from the central Homs province and the southern area of Eastern Ghouta which was recently recaptured by the Syrian regime.

But the Turkish source said 80,000 Afrin residents were able to return to their homes.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East research director, said the Syrian armed groups continued to "wreak havoc on civilians, unchecked by Turkish forces".

She argued that 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 added.

The Turkish source said humanitarian aid and primary healthcare services were routinely reaching the region.

The source added that the Syrian groups or those under their control were "banned from searching villages using their own initiative and setting up checkpoints".

The entrance to Afrin, seized by Turkey and allied Syrian rebels earlier this year after a military operation ousted a Kurdish militia that is an ally of the United States but Ankara regards as a terror group