Washington Kurdish Institute
February 14, 2018
A war of choice, a campaign of unwarranted aggression against the people of a foreign land, is certainly a crime in and of itself – one of the most serious crimes imaginable. Thus, the Turkish state’s entire campaign against Afrin, Syria is a crime which warrants not only condemnation but decisive steps to bring this crime to an end.
The world nonetheless remains silent as the Turkish military and its jihadist allies attempt to destroy and conquer Afrin. Sadly, though predictably, both the Turkish military and its jihadist allies are clearly committing individual war crimes, and this is undeniable in the era of smart phones and social media in which fighters are eager to boast online about their exploits. The Turkish military, strongly supported by the Turkish media and public opinion within Turkey, target civilian as well as combatants (and it bears reminding that the combatants in Afrin are defending their homes and have not initiated any attacks on Turkey). A picture recently shared on social media show a proud young Turkish soldier in uniform holding a bomb, apparently to be dropped on Afrin, which features the following message in Turkish: “Afrin… greetings to the chosen family.” Such pictures, along with the reality on the ground, make it impossible to deny that Turkey’s campaign intentionally targets families (i.e., civilians) as well as the armed defenders of the city. Another item widely shared on social media is a short video of a two Turkish soldiers in uniform interrogating an old local man. The man is blindfolded with his hands bound behind his back, terrified. One soldier repeatedly strikes the blindfolded old man in the head with his pistol while the other, acting as a Turkish-Kurdish language interpreter, questions the man, who wails uncontrollably in pain and insists that he does not know anything about the location of weapons.
Turkey’s proxies on the ground in Syria, a loose coalition of various jihadist groups with Syrian and foreign fighters in their ranks, have also documented their own war crimes. One now infamous video shows jihadist fighters displaying the partially nude, mutilated and bloodied body of a Kurdish female fighter, identified as Amina Mustafa Omar (and codenamed Barin Kobani), with her breasts cut. The jihadists gleefully chat in front of the abused body and one places his boot on the bloody mass which was once her left breast. This is just one of a number of videos of Turkey’s jihadist fighters abusing the bodies of dead fighters. As Turkey’s proxy force consists of various parties who have disseminated videos of themselves beheading captives over the years, this is sadly no surprise. This self-documentation of war crimes by Turkey’s proxy fighters has become such a problem for Turkey that a warning was reportedly issued by Turkey to its jihadist allies concerning improper use of social media.
Turkey is a member of NATO and is often said to be a strategic ally of the US, though the war crimes committed by country’s military in Syria, while shocking, are absolutely consistent with past conduct. The Turkish armed forces have a well-documented track record of indiscriminate destruction of homes and abduction, torture, and killing of civilians. Quite recently, shadowy twitter accounts apparently associated with special operations units within the Turkish security forces shared footage of dead Kurdish combatants in Turkey. The special forces units apparently associated with these twitter accounts took great pride in leaving racist and threatening graffiti on the walls of areas that they attacked and destroyed in Turkey, while the world stood by idly. From December 2015 to February 2016, the Turkish army placed the Kurdish-majority city of Cizre (a historical hub of Kurdish culture) under siege and laid waste to the city to put down a Kurdish revolt. On February 7, 2016, over 100 civilians seeking shelter in basements in Cizre were killed. Soon thereafter, a Turkish fighter was pictured posing with a Turkish flag in front of a wall bearing the slogan celebrating this massacre – “Love is being experienced in the basement, my darling,” a repurposing of a lyric from an old Turkish love song lyric originally referring to the city of Bodrum (which means “basement” in Turkish as well). The message, like many others left on destroyed and looted buildings, is signed “PÖH”, the Police Special Operations (Polis Özel Harekat) department. A GRAPHIC video widely distributed in 2016 shows Turkish soldiers executing two captured, bound women who appear to be PKK fighters. And photographs dating back decades show Turkish soldiers posing with severed heads.
The Turkish armed forces are acting as an agent of aggression in Afrin and are taking their disregard for the laws of war and principles of human rights with them as they attempt to conquer the region, which was once an island of stability within Syria. Their brutality demonstrates the depravity of the armed forces and the state behind them, and those who remain silent are accomplices to systematic crimes against life which are being meticulously documented and broadcast live on social media, and will not be forgotten.