Kurds flee Afrin

As Syria’s war enters its eighth year, the country’s north is once more on the move, reported Martin Chulov in the Guardian newspaper.

The focus this time is Afrin, a region in Syria’s north-west that was, for a long time, relatively unscathed by the conflict and something of a safe haven for displaced people. But all that has changed since the Turkish army invaded the region in January, in an operation codenamed “Olive Branch”.

"We sat this out for the past seven years,” said Hero, a Kurdish Afrin resident who fled the Turkish assault to Aleppo. “We bothered no one and watched the storm pass all around us. Then the Turks came for us.”

At least 250 civilians have been killed as the Turks and their proxies have advanced through Afrin, targeting its largest city. Many other have fled the advance and fear they may not be allowed to return to the majority-Kurdish enclave once the fighting draws to a close.

A key factor behind the Turkish invasion of Afrin, according to Chulov, has been the deterioration in relations between Ankara and Washington. This has been fuelled by U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorists due to their connections with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting against Turkey for decades. Turkey launched its invasion of Afrin on Jan.20th, shortly after the Pentagon said it planned to form a border militia from a Kurdish-led force it had formed in north-eastern Syria to fight against ISIS. This was too much for Ankara, which feared its hold in its 500 mile shared border with Syria would be weakened and launched Operation Olive Branch in response.

Afrin’s Kurds, bearing the brunt of the invasion, fear that Turkey and their allies in the largely Arab Free Syrian Army (FSA) aim to change Afrin’s demographics, replacing the Kurdish majority with Arabs. The use of the FSA, originally formed to fight against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to fight against Kurdish forces adds a new and troubling dimension to Syria’s conflict says Chulov.   

As Turkish forces enter the centre of Afrin, and appear close to fulfilling the aims of Operation Olive Branch, the Syrian conflict appears as far as ever from resolution. Appeals from the international community for respite fall on deaf ears, “Basically, anything goes,” said a western official. “There is no right or wrong any more. The international order is dying in the ruins of Syria.”