In a detailed and shocking report, Al-Monitor deals with interviews with women from Afrin, who have been imprisoned by Turkish mercenary groups, and who have witnessed torture, rape and harassment every day.
During 17 days of captivity, Leila Mohammed Ahmed witnessed, helplessly, 10 young women take their own lives after being raped by members of the Sultan Murad Brigade, a Sunni rebel faction which operates under the banner of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).
The 63-year-old Kurdish woman from Afrin, the majority Kurdish enclave in northern Syria that has been occupied by Turkish-backed forces since January 2018, relayed to Al-Monitor the suffering of her fellow detainees in a telephone interview.
“Some used belts to hang themselves, some pens or other sharp objects which they jabbed in their throats. Then there were the poor girls who just banged their heads against the wall until they collapsed,” Ahmed said.
“There were around 150 of us. We were given a potato with half a loaf of Syrian bread twice a day, and beaten every night from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Each night the men would take away a few of the girls to defile them, saying, ‘We are taking you to the doctor.’ It was like a tradition,” Ahmed said of the detention facility in the SNA-occupied northern town of al-Rai, her voice swinging between grief and rage.
The woman stressed that this bitter story has taken place throughout the occupied territories of Afrin and has created a pattern of violence and crime.
Turkish-backed opposition groups that once trained for the revolution in Syria are now being accused by the Kurds of crime, extortion, kidnapping and so on.
Leila Ahmed was arrested for having links to the Kurdish self-government that had previously ruled Afrin. Afrin has now lost the majority of its Kurdish population, and Turkey has turned it into a laboratory for population engineering and cultural imperialism, ethnic change, and the stabilization of its occupation in Syria.
Bassam al-Ahmed, a Syrian human rights activist and founder of Syrians for Truth and Justice, a nonprofit research outfit that is recording abuses by all parties in Syria’s decade-long conflict, told Al-Monitor, “Almost all the world was against Peace Spring. But with Afrin there was a huge silence. What is going on now in Afrin is a deep ethnic cleansing from which Turkey and the brigades profit financially as well.”
Leila Mohammed Ahmed is lucky. She was freed by Sultan Murad because “I was too old” and taken back to Afrin.
Her home in the village of Matina is now occupied by a Syrian Arab with two wives and 10 children; they were bused in from the Syrian city of Homs as part of Turkey’s alleged drive to ethnically cleanse Afrin of its Kurdish population.
In a March report, the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic said, “After the capture of Afrin, declared in 2018 … a security vacuum emerged, creating a permissive environment for fighters to engage in abduction, hostage taking and extortion.”
The report noted that similar patterns, “albeit to a lesser extent,” were observed in and around the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tell Abyad following Operation Peace Spring, “mostly affecting returnees of Kurdish origin, including women.”
“While detained, Kurdish (and on occasion, Yazidi) women were also raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence, including degrading and humiliating acts, threats of rape, performance of ‘virginity tests,’ or the dissemination of photographs or video material showing the female detainee being abused,” the report added.
Meghan Bodette, a Washington-based researcher and founder of “The Missing Afrin Women Project,” says she has documented 135 cases of women who are still missing out of 228 cases in total of reported kidnappings.
She said 91 women are reported to have been released, while two were reportedly killed in custody.
“From speaking to survivors directly and reading other testimonies, I assess that the real number of kidnappings and disappearances is likely higher than we know, due to the difficulties and dangers of reporting these abuses and Turkey’s refusal to allow independent media and human rights organizations access to the area,” Bodette told Al-Monitor.