AANES calls for international action on the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Afrin

Calling for sanctions against Turkey five years after the occupation of Afrin, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said: "We will not allow Afrin to be bargained over anywhere in the world."

Five years ago today, the Turkish army and its jihadist mercenary troops invaded Afrin and occupied the autonomously administered canton in northern Syria. The invasion, launched on 20 January in violation of international law, took place under the cynical name "Operation Olive Branch". The people resisted for 58 days until the YPG and YPJ (People's and Women's Defence Units) took a decision to evacuate to prevent further massacres. According to recent estimates by the autonomous administration, at least 1,500 people died in the period between the start of the war and the final occupation of Afrin on 18 March 2018.

Until the invasion, Afrin was the most stable region in Syria and was considered a safe haven for countless internally displaced people from other parts of the country in the midst of a brutally fought civil war. The attack on the region, formerly self-governing under the cantonal principle of Rojava, came at a time when a possible political solution was increasingly being discussed again after ISIS had largely been crushed. In its war of aggression, Turkey used the support of jihadist militias trained, equipped and financed by Ankara.

The population of Afrin was at least 95 per cent Kurdish until the occupation. More than 400,000 people were displaced, their houses and fields confiscated. Mostly Turkmen and Arab families from various countries were settled, who were mainly members of the occupying forces. The Kurdish language has been effectively erased, the names of most of the streets, squares, public and historical places in the canton have been exchanged with the names of Turkish and Islamic personalities and especially named after those who committed crimes against the Kurdish people. The sole official and teaching languages are Turkish and Arabic. The Islamic legal system (Sharia) is a compulsory subject in all schools. The Turkish settlement policy to change the population structure is supported by organisations from Qatar and Palestine.

In a statement marking the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Afrin, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) said the following:

"Despite all the time that has passed, the suffering of Syrians has increased and there has been no general agreement on a solution to the Syrian crisis. Moreover, the Turkish state continues its Ottoman occupation and its dangerous project in Syria. This project brings about risky consequences and is one of the main causes of suffering, displacement and destruction.

Afrin was occupied five years ago today after 58 days of resistance as a result of a clear agreement between the Turkish state and Russia. The genocidal policies of the Turkish state and its gangs against Afrin and its people, as well as kidnapping, killing, destruction of nature and cultural looting continue. In addition, policies to Turkify the region and war crimes are committed. The demography of the region is being changed, colonial settlements are being built and the original inhabitants are being displaced. At the same time, terrorist organisations violate international and humanitarian law and commit serious crimes with the support of the Turkish state. This policy continued even after the earthquake in the region. This disaster has revealed the true face of the mercenary gangs, their racism and hatred towards our people.

On the fifth anniversary of the occupation and suffering of Afrin, we commemorate the martyrs of the ‘Resistance of the Age’ that continues to this day. We salute the people of Afrin who were forcibly expelled from their land and continue to resist despite the harsh living conditions in the camps in Shehba. What is happening in Afrin and all occupied territories is hostility against Syria's identity and colourful society. In the face of this hostility, all circles within Syria are called upon to refrain from all forms of geographical, national and social racism.

We call on the active forces in Syria, the UN and legal and humanitarian organisations to work seriously to end their shameful attitude towards Afrin and the occupied territories and to recognise what is happening in Afrin as ethnic genocide and occupation. On the other hand, we urge the international community to hold those responsible accountable and to send an investigation team to Afrin to observe the tragic situation.

The liberation of Afrin is a strategic decision for us, and we will not allow it to be bargained over anywhere in the world. We condemn the regional and Arab powers that support Turkey's occupation projects against our people. We reject all agreements between Turkey and other parties, including the Syrian regime, at the expense of the Syrian people. We will build the just model of Democratic Modernity for the Syrian people."