Young Kurdish woman found dead in Azaz

Monday, 8 June, 2020 , 17:39

Displaced Syrians from the northern city of Afrin, hold placards during a demonstration to condemn violations by local Turkish-backed factions in front of the UN office in the northern Kurdish Syrian city of Qamishli on June 1, 2020. Photo: Delil Souleiman / AFP | Shawn Carrié | 07/06/2020

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A Kurdish girl who had reportedly gone missing was found dead in the northwestern enclave of Azaz, a district under the control of Turkish-backed Syrian militias, a Kurdish human rights monitor reported Sunday.

Local sources reportedly identified the girl as a 16-year-old native of Afrin whose body was found mutilated and dumped in a field in the Azaz sub-district of Fairuziyah with three bullets in her body, the Human Rights Organization in Afrin told Rudaw English in an email.

Elham Ahmed, president of the executive council of the Rojava-based Syrian Democratic Council, tweeted a photograph purporting to show the young woman alive, along with her name.

Rudaw English is not publishing the victim’s name, as her identity could not be confirmed.

“These savages in the ‘Free Syrian Army’ are still called ‘freedom fighters.’ For years, Afrin was a refuge for women, but now it has become a slaughterhouse,” Ahmed tweeted. 

“She had been kidnapped by militias of Jaish al-Nukhba of Sultan Murad Division, using a van, at dawn on the day of Eid al-Fitr on May 23,” according to Hussein Naso, a Kurdish human rights lawyer who is based in Germany.

A spokesman for the Afrin Human Rights Organization told the Rudaw on Sunday that more than 6,000 people had been detained since the start of the operation in the Afrin region, of which about 3,000 were unaccounted for and more than 600 were women.

“What is being done under the control of these groups is a great crime against the Kurdish people,” Hussein Naso told Rudaw English on Sunday.

According to several human rights organizations, Turkish-backed armed groups in northwestern have committed repeated violations against the local population with impunity, including killing, kidnapping, and sexual violence.

Located on the Turkey-Syria border, Azaz was formerly controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) until it was retaken by Syrian opposition factions backed by Turkey. Both before and after the Turkish-backed Operation Olive Branch in March 2018, Afrin has escaped from the relentless bombing campaigns that plague the rebel-controlled enclave of Idlib, which has been in the crosshairs of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allied Russian Air Force.

In a recent report documenting human rights violations across Syria, The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Syrian National Army (SNA) fighters perpetrated the war crime of murder and repeatedly committed the war crime of pillaging.”

Accusations against the armed factions who police the streets of northwestern Syria have sporadically plagued the SNA since the first days that they entered Afrin, a district of northern Aleppo. Turkey has promised to help professionalize the umbrella grouping formed out scattered of anti-Assad rebels. While they have not been formally proscribed on international terror lists, accusations of “blatant war crimes” continue to be raised by human rights monitors who warn that factions operate with impunity from their superiors.

In 2019, Russia and Turkey reached a truce to cool tensions in northeast Syria by separating moderate opposition factions, from more extremist factions under the banner of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – offshoot of the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda.

Months after the takeover of Azaz and Afrin, the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report assessing the situation in Afrin under opposition rule. 

“The commission finds there are reasonable grounds to believe that armed group members in Afrin committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and pillage,” the report said.

“Numerous cases involving arbitrary arrests and detentions by armed group members also included credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment, often targeting individuals of Kurdish origin, including activists openly critical of armed groups and those perceived to be so,” the UN report added.

Equipped, trained and bankrolled by Turkey, the factions who police the streets of Afrin routinely and forcefully extort locals with impunity, and infighting among rival groups perennially escalates into bloody pitched battles between rival groups of gunmen.

However, for members of the SNA who commit violations against the civilians they rule over, accountability has been rare

Contacted via WhatsApp, a spokesperson for the Sultan Murad Brigade denied any knowledge of the incident. “The body has not been identified yet, and these accusations are baseless and only being spread by the PKK,” Spokesperson Mohammed Nour told Rudaw English, referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has historical and ideological ties to the Kurdish forces who formerly controlled the area.