Kurdish farmers blame Turkish-backed militias for olive crop seizure in Afrin - VoA

Kurds in the Syria’s northwest region of Afrin accuse Turkish-led forces of seizing the region's olive crops,  U.S. government-funded news outlet Voice of America (VoA) reported on Monday.

Ankara-backed militia have also imposed taxes, imposing duties on farmers for transportation in the region that Turkey took control of in 2018, following military operation, local sources said.

“In my village, the militias this season seized all the olives belonging to families who have fled their homes and lands following the Turkish invasion. In addition to imposing taxes, the militias also charge farmers at checkpoints for transporting their olive crops,” VoA cited Mohammed Billo, a journalist from Afrin as saying.

Armed groups in the region benefit Afrin’s olive as a main source of revenue, VoA reported, citing experts.

“There are about 18 million olive trees in the Afrin area,” Khorshid Alika, a Syrian economist told VoA. “The militias have been imposing high taxes on local Kurdish farmers. Most recently, for example, the armed groups in control of Kakhera village (in Afrin) levied 2,000 olive oil barrels as taxes on the village residents.”

Afrin farmers are denied to sell their oil crops and forced to do business only with either the militias or representatives of Turkey’s Agricultural Credit Cooperatives, Alika suggested, according to VoA.  

“Turkey and its proxies buy olives from local farmers at half the real price, collect them at an oil extraction plant near Afrin, and then export them to Turkey and ultimately the outside world,” he said. 

In January 2018, Turkey and its Syrian proxies invaded the Kurdish-majority region to remove Kurdish fighters affiliated with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main element within the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

Turkey considers the YPG and SDF as extensions of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed Kurdish rebel group that is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu denied the allegations about stealing Afrin’s olives, labelling them as “black propaganda” against Turkey.   

“The olives in Syria are being reexported via us, and the income from here is being distributed to the landowners. So, there is no theft or anything else. … This olive stealing and other [allegations] are part of this black propaganda,” Çavuşoğlu said.

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