By communicating with our sources in the city of ʿAfrin and various sub-districts, we were able to obtain information on the security situation, the social and living conditions in ʿAfrin and its countryside. The district is under control of armed opposition factions that dominant most aspects of life, despite the Turkish military presence in the city. The Turkish promises to the inhabitants to increase security remained unfulfilled.
The security situation
All sources confirmed that human rights violations continue on a daily basis. All sources linked the security situation to the resettlement process, which is carried out by several factions. A number of former armed opposition leaders act now literally as warlords. They divided the city of ʿAfrin and its countryside into their private areas, where daily and systematic looting, arrests and displacement take place. New military leaders have appeared on the scene, bragging about being warlords. An example of those is Abu Jammo, who is one of the most important opposition leaders, practicing this policy against the people. He is the general commander of Ahrar al-Sharqiya, resides in the city of ʿAfrin, and acts as a criminal against the residents of the neighborhoods al-Ashrafieh and al-Mahmudiyeh. He accuses the people of being close to the PYD in order to arrest them. Torture is practiced against the detainees in his prison in the neighborhood of al-Mahmudiyeh, which is a blacksmith workshop. He also authorized members of the faction to practice various types of terror, including frequent arbitrary shooting in the city of ʿAfrin. There are pillage, robbery and looting operations carried out mainly by Ahrar al-Sharqiya, whose members belong to the al-Shaitat tribe from the city of Deir ez-Zawr.
Abu Uday al-Sharqiya, is another prominent field commander in Ahrar al-Sharqiya. Since July 12, 2018, when he took over a strategic area in Rajo in the north-east of ʿAfrin, he started to occupy all empty houses in Rajo sub-districts, and instructed more than 200 internally displaces people (IDP) families from Deir ez-Zawr to come to Rajo. He promised the families that they will take over the houses and properties of civilians, and told them that they must settle in Rajo and forget about the city of Deir ez-Zawr.
There is also trespassing carried out by this person and his affiliates inside the city of Rajo. There, they gather the people of Rajo in the center of the town, to give them instructions under the pretext of keeping security. In fact, members of Ahrar al-Sharqiya loot several houses during such meetings, according to a plan they had set up before.
About twenty people from the village of Sharran and the villages of Qartaqlaq, Sinkerli, Matli, Dayr Sawwan, Khrebah, Alkah, Keferom, Kafermaz, Maryamin, amongst others, confirmed us that the Sultan Murad Division, which controls this sub-district and its villages, work on the establishment of a list. In this, all the property of those who have not yet returned to their villages, would be listed, including their houses, house furniture and agricultural land, lands with olive, walnut and other fruit trees etc. There, the security “institution” of the Sultan Murad Division will cooperate with the IDPs, who come from Homs, Qalamun, al-Ghouta and other districts in order to seize the properties and harvest the olives. They told the people that they would do so, and if anyone objects that, the division will confiscate his agricultural land and prevent him from harvesting crops. This caused great concern for the people. They told us clearly that this year is an excellent crop for olive trees, especially with the heavy rain that fell on their land. Accordingly, this caused the greed of the opposition factions and the IDPs. The people asked the head of the local council of Sharran, Zakariya Ali, to convey to the Turkish side, that
“the local council of the sub-district should organize a list of the properties and agricultural lands whose owners are still displaced in Shahba district. In the event that the original residents did not return, the local council will hire laborers, harvest the crops and secure olive presses. After that, crops and oils will be collected and marketed, preferably sold to Turkish traders, and that the funds obtained from those crops should be used to improve the living conditions of the residents and the sub-district, and to provide the necessary services on a daily basis, and to prevent the factions from exploiting the needs of the people and controlling their livelihood”.
On July 14, 2018, a meeting was held between the residents and the local council in the school of Sharran, and they agreed to convey that message to the Turks, amid people’s great fear that the security institution of Sultan Murad Division would know about their desire, especially in light of the emergence of military figures belonging to Sultan Murad Division, such as Abu Ali Hnaish and Abu Khaled Al-Homsi, who carry out thefts at any moment in broad daylight, when the inhabitants are out of house. The most terrible thing is when some IDPs come to one’s house after the robbery, telling the owner that all his properties are in Hnaish’s headquarters. The person goes there and when he sees his stolen furniture and household appliances, Hnaish elements offer to sell him his properties at high prices, and sometimes they force the person to buy them or he will be arrested and thrown into the prison of the security institution located in the court building in the center of Sharran.
In addition, the IDPs who settled in the local resident’s houses said that they would never leave the houses, even if their original inhabitants returned, and that they will take all the crops. They said, even if the entire Turkish army came, we would not leave the houses. Furthermore, according to their understanding of the Islamic Sharia, Abu Ali Hnaish and Abu Khaled Al-Homsi will impose on the people of the area a one-fifth Zakat tax on the income generated from their crops. The olive crop and its oil are the only source of income for all local residents, especially in light of the financial distress they are currently living through.
Regarding the security chaos in the city of ʿAfrin and the rural area, our sources confirmed the following: The explosion of the two car bombs that took place on July 1, 2018 close to the statue of Kawa at the entrance of the city of ʿAfrin, happened, because of the conflict between the Faylaq al-Jabhah al-Shamiyah and the Hamza Division. This opposes the claim that PYD cells or ISIS elements had carried out the bombing.
The opposition factions, represented by the Hamza Division, Sultan Murad Division, Ahrar al-Sharqiya, Ahrar Al Sham and the 23rd Division, have agreed to engage in mock clashes between each other, both inside ʿAfrin and on the main road that connects ʿAfrin with its sub-districts. The aim of such clashes, is to terrify the residents and force them to flee the district. Afterwards, the respective factions carry out systematic robberies. Actually, this happened on July 11, 2018, when battles took place between the Sultan Murad Division and the 23rd Division near Kafr Jannah. The same happened during the battles between the Hamza and Ahrar al-Sharqiya divisions in ʿAfrin on July 7, 2018. On July 9, 2018, a mock battle took place between the Faylaq al-Jabhah al-Shamiyah, the Ninth Division and Suleyman Shah Brigade near Sheikh Al-Hadid. All of those invented operations resulted in the robbery in a large numbers of houses, banditry operations and robbing people of their money and gold, and force them to flee to safer areas. ʿAfrin-ʿAzaz road is witnessing the systematic thefts carried out by groups of the 23rd Division and others.
The sources added that the opposition factions have worked since July 1, 2018 to invoke the existence of sleeper cells belonging to the PYD. They force the people to leave their homes under the pretext of search, but then harassing every household who does not have money or gold. In case people start discussing, the charge is ready: You are one of the PYD sleeper cells. Currently, each faction has its own detention center, in which torture is practiced, where, the simplest ways of torture is “Shabh”, putting one on a wheel. These factions do not care whether the detainee is young or old, and they do not have a problem whether he died or remained under torture. The most important thing for them is to terrify the people, humiliate them and prevent them from saying NO to any faction. Some of the most prominent places in which such brutal torture is carried out, are the “Black Prison” detention center of the Hamza Division located on Rajo Road, the detention center of Ahrar al-Sharqiya Division in the town of Trende, the detention center of Sultan Murad Division in the court of Sharran district, al-Malaab detention center, of Suleyman Shah Brigade. The latter is personally managed by Abu Amsha, the leader of the Brigade in Sheikh al-Hadid sub-district.
Despite all these violations, and the hundreds of complaints reaching them daily through the local councils, the Turks did not move, but continue to ask the people to be patient and promise that they will work to get the factions out. The Turks say that their goal is to educate as much local police as possible, and that the local police will be the best alternative for those factions. The Turks promise that the security chaos is at its end, and that they will build concrete towers along the main and sub- roads, where they will install surveillance cameras. They have promised furthermore that the aim is to stop the violations against the people and eliminate the security chaos. All people are waiting the fulfillment of the Turkish promises.
We contacted a large number of the local residents in the city of ʿAfrin and its countryside to find out about their living conditions and the availability of basic materials for daily life. They told us that first, people generally suffer from weak financial conditions, as people do not have the money to meet the daily needs, and that they are waiting for the olive harvesting. Second, the people depend mainly on the food baskets, which are distributed from time to time by Turkish organizations. The most important one is the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, which is very active in the city of ʿAfrin and its sub-districts. In the past months, food baskets were distributed at the rate of one basket per family per month, which is not a sufficient quantity, as a family would need three food baskets per month instead of one. In addition to that there is a high population density in the city of ʿAfrin and its surroundings. After large numbers of IDPs from al-Gouta, Homs, Hama and other districts have arrived, relief baskets were also given to them, which does not allow an increase of the share for the local families.
The basic goods such as rice, sugar and baby formula are available especially in the city of ʿAfrin, but at high prices. The Turkish organizations distributed quantities of baby formula in ʿAfrin city, which covered the need. Other goods are available, but the financial weakness of the citizens prevents them from buying. Our sources told us that the main reason for the high prices of the goods is that they are coming with traders from the city of ʿAzaz, which is the most important commercial center in the north of Aleppo. The basic goods come from Turkey through the areas under control of the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations.
Water, electricity, food and health
Water and electricity services are lacking in the city of ʿAfrin and its sub-districts. A large section of ʿAfrin city is supplied with electricity by generators. In ʿAfrin countryside, no one in any village dared to bring a large generator to feed the village because of the fear that the factions would steal it the same day. Even if the generator was handed over to a certain faction for the benefit of the village, it will create a struggle with other factions that will try to steal it. This is the great problem that makes the areas of ʿAfrin suffer from the lack of water and electricity. Currently, the city of ʿAfrin and its countryside depend on well water available in many houses, or on buying trucked water, which is of course, at very high prices. All of that is because the factions do not run the turbines of the 16 October and Medanki Dams to secure water for the city of ʿAfrin and its countryside.
Electricity service in the district is worse than that of water. The people returned back to one hundred years ago. They live in the dark, except for those who managed to bring solar panels, which are expensive and subject to theft by the factions at any moment. The lack of electricity caused a clear economic recession, as the plants did not continue to operate and the prices of food increased. All of that made life miserable for the citizens, who are waiting for actions that would improve their situation.
Our sources stated that since July 20, 2018, the bakeries have started to sell bread at high prices. At the beginning, when the opposition factions have taken control of ʿAfrin, they used to run the bakeries and distribute the bread for free. Lately, the factions forced the people to buy bread on high prices on the pretext that the producers need to purchase flour from the black market because the material is not available on the market anymore. All those are baseless lies, as the factions receive flour from a number of Turkish organizations that send it as aid to the people of ʿAfrin. The factions receive the flour and sell bread to people.
Regarding the health service, the Turks allocated one ambulance for each village to transport the injured and patients to the city of ʿAfrin. A field hospital has been established, known by the residents as the “military hospital”, which offers a number of simple medical services. Any difficult medical case is send to either the Blue Hospital near the Bab El Salama border crossing in the city of ʿAzaz, or to the National Hospital of Mare’, because of the presence of doctors and the availability of modern equipment in those hospitals.
We would finally note that the service condition in ʿAfrin and its countryside began gradually to improve through the supervision of the local councils, who were able to make agreements with the Turks drivers to provide them with garbage trucks, as well as pesticides and fertilizers for treating the agricultural crops, and spraying houses to get rid of poisonous insects. The local councils instructed local committees to bring trucks in order to remove the depressions in the ground that the PYD forces had built, as well as clean the streets daily. These actions gave the people a new sense of hope that the Turks may fulfill their promises to hand over the city of ʿAfrin to its people, withdraw the armed factions, and allow the return of the displaced residents to their homes.
The Kurdish Future Movement in Syria