Turkish-backed Syrian militias routinely commit human rights abuses in northern Syria – op-ed

Turkish-backed Syrian militias have committed systematic human rights abuses in northern Syria, most recently the kidnapping of women and children, the Jerusalem Post said in an op-ed on Tuesday. 

“Hundreds of women have been reportedly kidnapped, which appears to be a systematic campaign to kidnap and disappear Kurdish and minority women,” the Israeli newspaper said.

The Hamza Division, one of the Turkish-backed rebel groups controlling the once Kurdish-majority district of Afrin, reportedly abducted and held women inside its secret prison, falling victim to human rights violations, including rape and forced marriages, it said, citing news outlet Kurdistan 24.

The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria, de facto autonomous region in northeastern Syria, has called for an international investigation into the kidnappings.

“So far, the U.N. and other groups devoted to human rights have not documented the recent allegations of systematic kidnapping of women and use of secret prisons to hold them, or what crimes may have been committed against them,” the Jerusalem Post said.

Turkey in Jan. 2018 declared a military offensive into Afrin, a mainly Kurdish populated canton cut off from the rest of Kurdish-held territory. After a two-month offensive against Kurdish militia, Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army took control of the enclave’s main town in March 2018.

The operation led to the displacement of 300,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds in what the Jerusalem Post called “ethnic cleansing reminiscent of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s”.

Following an in-depth investigation into life in Afrin under Turkish military occupation, Amnesty International in August 2018, said Turkish forces have been giving Syrian armed groups free rein to commit serious human rights abuses against civilians in Afrin.

Human Rights Watch documented in April 2018 that Syrian armed groups were looting and destroying civilian property in Afrin and surrounding villages, exacerbating the plight of civilians.

“Turkey has systematically re-settled mostly Arab refugees in Kurdish homes, hoping to stoke tensions between Kurds and Arabs while encouraging the rebel groups it backs to embrace extremist religious ideology that labels Kurds ‘atheists’ and ‘infidels’,” it said, citing reports that the Kurdish population of Afrin had dropped from 90 percent to some 30 percent.

The article drew parallels between the actions of the Turkish-backed militias and the Islamic State (ISIS), an Islamist militant group that once controlled large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

“The end result of kidnapping women is to create a kind of Islamist far-right state similar to ISIS where women cannot walk alone or leave their homes without fear of assault and kidnapping,” the Jerusalem Post said.

“Shrines of the Yazidi faith have also been destroyed and desecrated, similar to how ISIS destroyed them in Iraq. The targeting of women will also continue, because there are no strong groups to prevent it or any authorities that enforce the protection of women’s rights in Turkish areas of control.”

However, Turkey will not rein in allied Syrian militias as Ankara “has no desire to antagonise its allies on the ground”, it said.