Afrin and Raqqa: fearful symmetry

Reports of rights abuses in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin, taken by Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army allies from Kurdish defenders in March, continue to mount.  An Amnesty International alert issued Aug. 1 charges that Afrin residents have been arbitrarily detained and tortured, with houses and businesses looted and confiscated, and schools destroyed or taken over by militia forces. These abuses mostly took place “at the hands of Syrian armed groups equipped and armed by Turkey,” while “Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye.” Thousands of children have had their education disrupted by the take-over of their schools for use by rebel militias and even directly by Turkish troops.

Meanwhile the pro-opposition website Syria Call on Aug. 12 cited sources on the ground accusing the Kurdish militia that was driven out of Afrin, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), of rights abuses in areas that remain under its control. Specifically named are Manbij, the town likely to be Turkey’s next target, and Raqqa, the former ISIS de facto capital. In Raqqa, the YPG is acting as the central pillar of the US-backed militia coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In both, the YPG is accused of press-ganging local youth for compulsory military service, in some cases deporting them to camps in the desert far from their homes, for training. All youth between 18 and 28 are reportedly subject to this forced conscription.

Afrin is a formerly Kurdish-majority city where displacement of Kurds and an influx of Arabs and Turkmen under Turkish occupation is affecting a demographic shift. Raqqa is an Arab-majority city which has been under occupation by Kurdish-led forces since it was liberated from ISIS last October. This situation obviously further heightens the risk of Kurdish-Arab ethnic war in northern Syria. It may begin as soon as Turkey makes its move for Manbij.

Photo: SDF