‘Operation Olive Branch’ is cynically misnamed
AFRIN, a district of the Syrian Republic, was an area of peace and sanity in a country racked by civil war. Since the war, Afrin’s population had almost doubled as hundreds of thousands of mostly Arab refugees sought shelter with the local Kurdish population.
Three years ago the world watched a ragtag band of men and women fighters in the Syrian town of Kobane use light armaments to hold off a vast army of Islamic State (Isis) militants with tanks, artillery and overwhelming logistical superiority.
When Kobane’s defenders (Kurds) won the battle against Isis, it was hailed as the closest one can come, in the contemporary world, to a clear confrontation of good against evil.
The misnamed “Operation Olive Branch” invasion and attack targets Kurds and seeks to undermine their political gains in Syria. The alleged “security threat” is a pretext to destroy the development of a pluralistic, gender-egalitarian and autonomous selfgovernment that is being implemented in Afrin and Northern Syria (Rojava).
Another openly expressed aim of this invasion is to change the demographic composition of Afrin by displacing the Kurds and settling in the FSA militia and thousands of Syrian citizens currently living in Turkey. These attacks are reminiscent of the old apartheid raids in newly independent Mozambique and Angola.
The Turkish government’s reference to Article 51 of the UN Convention does not justify its invasion of Afrin. The invasion has endangered many innocent civilians. Afrin and its villages had been bombed by the Turkish army before the start of the “Olive Branch” operation.
During the 34 days of the Turkish state’s invasion in Afrin, 176 civilians, including 27 children and 21 women, were massacred, while 484 civilians were wounded, among them 60 children and 71 women. Afrin has not conducted a single attack against Turkey.
The invasion is neither a case of “fighting terrorism” nor of “self-defence.” It is an unprovoked attack on the Kurds and their political existence, as there has been no attack from Afrin into Turkey. The Turkish state’s claim of the presence of Daesh/Isis members in Afrin is simply untrue.
The current attack against Afrin must be seen in the context of treatment of Kurdish people. In Turkey more than 100 democratically elected mayors have been imprisoned in the mainly Kurdish south-east of Turkey.
This usurpation of democracy was not approved by the Turkish parliament. Instead, President Erdogan used emergency powers to annul the 2014 local elections. In 94 municipalities (out of 103 in the region), the powers of the mayor, municipal assembly and board have been taken over by a stateappointed “trustee”.
A total of 106 Kurdish co-mayors have been arrested, with thousands of councillors. Tens of thousands of municipal employees have been sacked. Many detained mayors face long jail sentences – prosecutors have demanded 230 years’ imprisonment for Gultan Kisanak, co-mayor of the city of Diyarbakir and an outstanding champion of women’s rights in Turkey.
“Without local democracy, there can be no democracy,” she says. In Turkey, 500 academics who signed the Academics for Peace petition in January 2016 have been fired, some subject to travel bans and having their passports revoked, preventing them from working in Turkey or abroad, with a 148 trials scheduled through to May 2018. Journalists have been arrested and detained.
These attacks, along with the arrests of HDP MPs, reflect the increased repression by the Turkish state, which has devastated the mainly Kurdish region since the end of the peace process in 2015.
Turkey’s breach of the Geneva Conventions placed restrictions on the behaviour of belligerent parties during the conduct of military operations. The 4th Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocols also protect civilians and their properties, as well as public properties, such as schools, universities, hospitals, places of worship, bridges, farms and factories. These principles are based on the distinction between military and non-military targets in Article 48 of Protocol I of 1977.
International humanitarian law has provided general and special protection for civilian objects. In flagrant disregard of international law, Turkey is targeting innocent civilians and the destruction of cultural objects. The Turkish army also attacked the infrastructure in Afrin, including dams and factories, constituting a gross violation of international law.
Turkey’s breach of international law is not merely the opinion of solidarity groups; the Council of Europe has through the European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey 2 812 times since 1959.
Religious extremists who surround the current Turkish government know that Rojava does not threaten them militarily. It threatens them by providing an alternative vision of what life in the region could be. Above all, they feel it is critical to send the message to women across the Middle East that if they rise up for their rights, let alone rise up in arms, the likely result is that they will be maimed and killed, and none of the major powers will raise an objection. There is a word for such a strategy. It’s called “terrorism” – a calculated effort to cause terror.
The Kurdish Human Rights Action Group (KHRAG) in South Africa calls on Turkey to immediately stop its war in Afrin. Turkey should not try to delegitimise people’s rightful claims to self-determination by branding them terrorists, and should seek a political solution through dialogue based on dignity, human rights and not the barrel of the gun.
Cape Times, 26 februari 2018.