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While the World Looks Away, Civilians in Afrin Are Being Slaughtered
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On a green hillside in Afrin in northern Syria, Arab militiamen allied to the Turkish army which invaded this Kurdish enclave seven weeks ago have captured a group of terrified looking Kurdish civilians. The unformed and heavily armed militiamen are shouting “pigs”, “pimp” and “PKK – Kurdistan Workers Party – pigs” all the while chanting “Allah Akbar (God Is Great)”. The Kurds, their hands raised in the air, are led away by the militiamen and their fate is unknown.

There are many such videos and still photographs from Afrin taken by Kurds and members of the Turkish forces showing the shelling and bombing of houses, the mangled bodies of children killed by the explosions and others of Kurdish civilians being herded away. One horrific selfie taken by a militiamen shows him staring at the camera while over his left shoulder is a burned out civilian car in which sits the corpse of the driver, his white teeth thrown into relief because the rest of his body is burned black.

If any of these images were coming out of Eastern Ghouta, they would be leading every television newscast and dominating the front pages. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, would be holding up pictures of dead and dying children. But because these events are happening in Afrin and not in Eastern Ghouta, in the same country but 200 miles apart, they are almost entirely ignored by both media and foreign politicians.

Afrin is seeing the beginnings of a tragedy that could be every bit as bad or worse than anything witnessed in Eastern Ghouta today or East Aleppo in 2016. Coming upon pictures of children buried under broken concrete, one has to search for additional information to know if the deaths are of Kurds killed by the Turkish bombardment in northern Syria, or people in Eastern Ghouta slaughtered by the Syrian government at the same time in much the same way. The greatest difference between the two situations is that the atrocities in Damascus are publicised by the media across the world, while in the Kurdish case they are regarded as scarcely worth a mention.

Over the last week in Afrin, the siege of heavily populated areas has tightened and the death toll has risen – 220 dead and 600 injured civilians according to the local Kurdish health authority – and the suffering is likely to get a lot worse. The Turkish advance is speeding up, something the Kurds believe is happening because Turkey knows that international attention is focused exclusively on Eastern Ghouta. On Thursday, the Turkish forces announced that they had captured the large and strategically placed town of Jinderes, south west of Afrin City. The latter is the largest urban centre in the enclave where most of the population driven from their villages in the countryside have taken refuge. Such is the chaos in Syria that nobody knows how many people are trapped in Afrin with the UN giving a figure of 323,000 and Kurdish leaders saying that it is closer to one million.

Afrin is about three times larger in area than Eastern Ghouta before the latest Syrian government assault, but, as we have seen in other sieges in Syria and Iraq, civilian casualties go up as the besiegers press people into a smaller and smaller zones. The water pumping station in Afrin City was hit in the last few days, reducing the availability of drinking water.

As with Eastern Ghouta, there is a grizzly argument about whether or not the local inhabitants are free to leave Afrin or are being detained as “human shields”. Elham Ahmad, the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council, which administers Kurdish-controlled areas and has just returned from Afrin, denied this and told me that people were free to leave.

As in Eastern Ghouta, where are these poor people in Afrin to go to if they leave their homes? At best, they will end up in a refugee camp and taking to the road may not be the safest course as the captured Kurds shown in the video mentioned earlier learned to their cost. Afrin is some distance from the main Kurdish majority areas and the road there has to skirt Turkish army positions and pass through territory controlled by the Syrian government.

Another reason why the Kurds in Afrin may want to stay where they are, include the nature of the Turkish forces that invaded Afrin on 20 January. There are regular Turkish troops and special forces, but also as many as 25,000 fighters operating under the umbrella name of the Free Syrian Army. But evidence from the front line and from former FSA and Isis members suggests that many of these are battle-hardened Islamists who had previously fought with or alongside Isis and al-Qaeda. They detest the US-backed Kurds, who hold 25 per cent of Syria, as one of the main reasons for the Islamist defeat in the struggle for Syria. No Kurd who falls into their hands will be safe.

The Kurds have an additional fear that they are about to become the victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing under which they will be cleared out of Afrin wholly or in part. This enclave has traditionally been one of their core majority areas, but on the day after the invasion President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “55 per cent of Afrin is Arab, 35 per cent are the Kurds.” He added that Turkey’s aim was “to give Afrin back to its rightful owners.” It is a threat that carries all the more menace because the Syrian war has already seen widespread sectarian and ethnic cleansing, though the expulsion of a particular ethnic group from Afrin would be larger than earlier examples. The departure of the Kurds would have the advantage from the Turkish point of view of establishing a powerful Sunni Arab bloc north of Aleppo which would be under its influence.

The Kurds of Afrin could end up like the Greeks in Cyprus who fled or were driven from the northern part of the island by the Turkish invasion of 1974 and are still trying to return to their homes and lands 44 years later.


I have been struck since 2011 by the unbalanced way in which the Syrian war has been reported by the media. Vast attention was given to the sufferings inflicted on the people of East Aleppo in 2016 under attack by Syrian government and Russian airstrikes, but very little notice was taken of the almost complete destruction of Isis-held Raqqa, with massive civilian casualties, at the hands of the US-led coalition.

I used to attribute such uneven coverage of the war to the greater skill and resources of the Syrian opposition in recording and publicising atrocities committed by the Syrian government and its allies. Isis had no interest in the fate of civilians under its control. But in Afrin there is no shortage of film of the suffering of civilians, but it simply is not widely broadcast or printed. In many respects, the role of the international media in the Syrian war has been as partial and misleading as the warring parties inside the country or their foreign sponsors without.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Kurds, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. KA says:

    I have been struck since 2011 by the unbalanced way in which the Syrian war has been reported by the media.” ???? After all these years? Still “struck”?

  2. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    [While the World Looks Away, Civilians in Afrin Are Being Slaughtered]

    If you want to save civilians, then ask the axis of evil US-Israel-Britain (CIA-Mosad-MI6) to fuck off from Syria. It is YOU and your representative, axis of evil, responsible for the crime against humanity in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran and elsewhere.

    Stop your propaganda right away and stop supporting the US/Israel pawns, the traitor kurds.

    Down with the propagandists including, louis proyect, Juan Cole, Nader Hashemi, and many more, as CIA propagandists spreading lies and deception for the project of the criminal zionists and imperialists.

  3. Renoman says:

    It’s called war! Any afternoon in WW2 made this lil thing look like a cake walk, we won’t even mention Genghis.

  4. KenH says:

    And while the world looks away, white South African are having their land confiscated by the African National Congress and rhapsodizing about murdering all the white people. Are liberals like Cockburn capable of empathy for people whose skin isn’t brown or black?

    If any brown or black people are having their human rights trampled then liberals will shed tears, gnash teeth and spill ink for weeks on end, but if whites are on the receiving end then they simply ignore it and pretend that it isn’t happening. Establishment cucks aren’t much better.

  5. Anonymous [AKA "vega56"] says:

    Patrick Cockburn, plz be honest….compared to other drone footages of captured towns by any forces only those from turkey show about 5% the damage. The Nature of all Syria’s and Irak’s mess is the result of American and Brtitish goverments shitting around in the backyard of other countries.

  6. Kiza says:

    Every now and then this “highly awarded British journalist” shows his real MI6, pro-establishment face in an article. All other of his articles are just to suck you in.

    Just a little more sophisticated propaganda than MSM.

  7. When Cuckburn starts writing about White South Africans being slaughtered then I’ll know he’s a man of integrity and principles. Until then he’s just another agenda driven propagandist.

    • Agree: Dan Hayes
  8. Turkey alone hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, considerable amount of them ethnic Kurds. How many refugees does your country host? How many does the leader of the Arabs, the American puppet Saudi Arabia host? What about the fithy rich Gulf countries? All of these refugees have lost family members, their homes, their futures. Who has caused this catastrophy? Yes, don’t be ashamed, tell it. YOU have deliberately caused this situation, the western-based world oligarchy looking for a new world order in Middle East and elsewhere. And you Sir, you are simply the paid propagandist for these war-mongering world elite. Turkey has especially taken the “Olive Branch” in Afrin operation slow, as to minimize the civilian casualties. The US-backed PKK terrorists who rule Afrin do force the civilians to stay in the confrontation area, as to use them as a civilian shield.

  9. Tenet says:

    “Afrin is about three times larger in area than Eastern Ghouta before the latest Syrian government assault”

    No mention of the fact that Eastern Ghouta is occupied by Islamists who have been shelling civilian neighborhoods for years now. And who are firing at civilians who try to leave. Recently the Syrian government negotiated with the Islamists to let a convoy of cars leave. The convoy started moving, but then the Islamists started firing at the cars in the front, firing rockets at them to burn everyone inside. Will Cockburn write about that?

    This is hilarious:

    “As with Eastern Ghouta, there is a grizzly argument about whether or not the local inhabitants are free to leave Afrin or are being detained as “human shields”. Elham Ahmad, the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council, which administers Kurdish-controlled areas and has just returned from Afrin, denied this and told me that people were free to leave.”

    Oh! Case close then! They must be free to leave if one Kurd says so! What great reporting. Meanwhile in the real world, Kurds have ethnically cleansed entire Arab towns, and have repeatedly fired on civilians when they seek to leave a combat zone. The Kurds sided with the Islamists in Aleppo, and only switched sides when it was clear their side was losing. The Islamists and Kurds in Aleppo had mined the roads out from eastern Aleppo, and snipers killed those who still tried to flee through these roads.

    “The Kurds have an additional fear that they are about to become the victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing”

    Those poor innocent Kurds! Never mind that this is majority ARAB territory, and that Kurds have ethnically cleansed villages, and forced school children to speak Kurdish. Never mind that Kurds are only ten percent of the population in Syria, where they came as nomads to take land, and are now occupying 25% of the land. But THEY fear ethnic cleansing.

    They take the land in Syria’s north with the water reserves that all Syrians badly need. They do this with the Washington invader’s support, hoping that depriving Syrians of water will provoke the government to more war. But THEY fear ethnic cleansing.

    The Kurds disarmed the Yazidis in Iraq, and didn’t tell them ISIS was approaching, so that ISIS could kill them all and enslave the young women, rape them over and over again. The Kurds did this so that when U.S. bombs drove back ISIS, they could take the Yazidi land. But THEY fear ethnic cleansing.

    Nice propaganda there.

    • Replies: @Bianca
  10. Bianca says:

    I sometimes just cannot believe the sudacity if the “Western” propaganda. To your list I wid just like to add a few more data points.

    Afrin was a center of smuggling arms, supplies, money — from the same Western cry babies, to Turkish Kurds and then to Syria. That is ending.

    YPG refused Sirian/Russian offers that would have returned Afrin within Syrian jurisdiction. All they had to do was to disarm, let Syrian Afmy in, and turn over regional administration. If they did that, Turkey would have knly secured ghe birders, snd wiled out smuggling routes. What was clear — that it cannott be any more clear — Afrin is either Syrian snd within Syrian jurisdiction, or is creating an sn srmed secessionist enclave. They refused to accept Syrian sovereignty — and decided to fight for independence wigh US blessing. But then, they appealed to their status as Syrian citizens — demanding Damascus defend them!

    YPG is controlling their ”borders”, thus Syrians could not go there without YPG permit. Many Arabs are selling property there, afraid that Kurds will kick them out, and keep the property. Thus has slready happened in Manbij.

    Heavy bombing by US destroyed Manbij and leveled Raqqa. But thus author can only badmouth Aleppo — as if the world is dumb. Aleppo residents received urgent assistsnce after liberation from Nusra. Within weeks demining was conducted allowing tens of thousands to return home. Received health care, food, mattresses, blankers, medicine. Electricity and water restored, buses and train lines put in operation. What about Raqqa? Bidies still under rubble, mines killing people trying yo get back home, and Kurds creating an occupation regime, forcing local governments consisting kf Arab majority — to swear allegiance to Kurds.

    Kurds must know that Turkey will not accept their de facto independence from Syria under the guise of US continued excuse to stay in Syria. At present, Kurds have been stretched thin across 25% of Syria, under US special ops watchfull eyes. But now they are abandoning far flung areas, and rushing back to Kobane and Hassakah areas. This us leaving US very thin on the ground, and unless mire troups are sent in — this situation is nit sustainable. Local self defence units in Raqqa are already bring formed to kick out remaining YPG.

    Turkey and Iraq just signed agreement on fighting YPG/PKK Kurds. This is clearly in preparation for Turkey’s offensive in the north-east, to insure that PKK dies not just move into Iraq. US in Iraq supported PKK against Peshmerga — in fact, when ISIS abandoned Sinjar and Kurkuk, US literally gave them to PKK. This is why Peshmerga did not defend them when Iraqi Army reclaimed those towns.

    Also, various FSA units in that region is made up of Arab and Turkmen ethnically cleansed by Kurds in the hay day of taking over Arab regions. While from the military discipline point of view this is not the best solution, but one can hardly expect Turkey to lose soldiers in order to get Kurds stopped in their very transparent effort to take territory from Syria and property from other Syrians.

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