Kurdish forces retreated from Afrin in northern Syria on 19 March after Turkey seized control of the centre of the city.
On 25 March Turkish state media said they had full control of the city and were now “sweeping for landmines and IEDs to allow citizens to return.”
The 200,000 Kurds who were in Afrin prior to the assault are likely to be forced into internal exile; many are heading towards Aleppo. And Turkey’s seizure of Aleppo could be catastrophic for the Kurdish cause not just in Syria but across the Middle East. One of the first acts of the encircling armies was the destruction of a statue of the Kawa, a legendary blacksmith important in Kurdish mythology.
Until now Afrin was a largely safe area, as most of the fighting by Kurds had taken place elsewhere in northern Syria, focused on driving Daesh out from Kobani.
Displaced people, of whom there are now millions in Syria, had previously gone to places like Afrin which had taken Syrian Arabs as well as Yazidis from Iraq.
The retaking of Afrin happened very quickly. The inappropriately named “Operation Olive Branch” was launched by Turkey on 20 January 2018. Compare this to the siege of Eastern Ghouta by Assad which has been ongoing since 2013.
The Kurdish forces dominate the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). While the SDF was focused on driving out Daesh it was tolerated, but Turkey was unhappy about the Kurds consolidating their power closer to the Turkish border, and realising a form of Kurdish self-determination. The trigger point was the announcement of a Kurdish-led border, semi-police force that would have US backing. Turkish forces did not want to clash with the SDF while they fought Daesh so have instead now taken Afrin.
More than 100,00 people have now left with 10,000 still living in Afrin. The Turkish forces and hardline Islamists within the Free Syrian Army are chauvinists who have already started sectarian attacks against the remaining Kurdish population. There has been widespread looting by the FSA and while properties are looted and the Turkish military refuses to let people re-enter the city.
Dashty Jamal from the Worker Communist Party of Kurdistan, who has taken part in the daily demos outside Downing Street, said:
“After facing 53 days of a war of unbalanced forces, with the help of the Islamic terrorist groups, despite a strong defence from the people of the city, the troops of the fascist regime of Turkey have besieged Afrin.
“Instead of letting the civilians of Afrin out, the brutal inhuman Syrian regime has blocked each and every safe route from the citizens. Thousands of the city’s population and the displaced people living in the city are confronting inhuman atrocities and crimes. The city of Afrin is part of the autonomous region of Rojava. The bombings and ground attacks by Turkey have led to thousands of people being displaced; dozens of people have been killed and wounded so far.
“Russia, playing a prominent role in the Syrian civil war, has given Turkey the green light to enter Afrin, and the USA, which who does not want Turkey to become Russia’s main and strategic ally, is silent and lets the city fall into the hands of the Turkish army.
“The European nations favour their NATO ally and have nothing to say. Thus with international permission of agreement and silence the citizens of Afrin are left besieged in the fire of the Turkish and Islamic Turkish-supported terrorism.”