The resistance in Afrin against the Turkish and jihadist invasion has been ongoing for over five weeks. Contradicting his earlier statements predicting a fast and risk-free victory, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now admitted that it is not possible to say when “Operation Olive Branch” will end.
The TV stations supporting the Afrin resistance have been playing back the timeline of confident statements in the Turkish press about how fast Afrin would fall: “three hours,” then “three days,” then “a week,” then “we don’t know.”
There are many jokes about this being made on the front lines, in the streets and in the houses in this district, places where a popular resistance has taken hold which is, in fact, already victorious. The popular mobilization is going on unabated, and it is common knowledge that Turkey is trying to frighten the population to make them give up the battle.
It is precisely the people of Afrin, defying the air strikes with their marches and going on with their lives in their villages, who are making problems for the military strategy of the Turkish army, based on technological superiority.
On Feb. 13, the women of Afrin marched in the thousands against the Turkish, Islamist and Salafist aggression. While the protesters were massed together, only a few hundred meters away, Turkish mortar rounds hit the street next to the hospital: two were killed and three wounded, all civilians. On Feb. 15, the anniversary of the arrest of the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, thousands of people marched in Cindirese, just a few kilometers from the front and a preferred target for bombing runs.
Arin is a young girl from Cindirese and a soccer player for the Afrin team. She shows us her bandaged ankle: “I got hurt when they bombed my house. Now the house is destroyed. These girls are my neighbors, their home was hit as well,” she says, pointing to two girls who are accompanying her.
During the demonstration, the Turkish army was bombing villages only a short distance away, and some mortar shells came down over the city center. On Feb. 19, the people of Afrin welcomed a convoy of 700 people coming from Aleppo—and again, rounds from the Turkish artillery reached the city, just a short distance from the marchers.
On the night of Feb. 22, a civilian convoy coming from the district of Cizire and the Euphrates region was hit by Turkish bombardment as they were walking on the road.
One person died and 14 were injured. Ararat, a media activist from Qamishli, tells the story of how he was stuck in one of the cars that were blocked inside the village during the attack: “They hit the first car. Then we stopped, and we went near a wall to protect ourselves. A grenade fell a few meters away from me. I threw myself to the ground, I felt the explosion, and shrapnel pierced the walls of nearby houses.”
Heife, who is from Shingal, was in another part of the convoy: “We, however, had to run through the olive groves to get to safety in the next village. There were explosions all around us, we had to throw ourselves to the ground to avoid being hit.” Her eyes light up with rage as she talks. This was no accident. The Turkish army tried to justify itself, saying that it had been a military convoy, but its version was contradicted by the facts, documented by the images of destroyed civilian cars that were published the next day.
The number of civilian victims is increasing day by day, as Turkish bombardments are hitting civilian buildings: schools, bakeries, archaeological sites and water pumping stations; the Medanki dam, the Metina water purification plant and the Cindirese pumping station, leaving 5,000 families without water. The situation is made even more dramatic by the shortage of medicines and medical supplies, all because of the embargo which has been imposed on the Afrin district for a long time.
On Feb. 16, the Turkish army used unconventional weapons in the village of Aranda, in the Syve region. At least six civilians were poisoned. The director of Afrin hospital, Xelil Sabri, said in a press conference that the results of the analysis confirmed that chlorine gas had been used.
However, the international community has remained silent. Zhara, a Kurdish Christian, comments: ”This shows that Erdogan is someone without any humanity, but it is not the first time that this type of weapon was used against the Kurds.” Siar, from Afrin, asks: “Why did the Pope meet with Erdogan and give him a medal symbolizing peace? Erdogan’s actions are against Christian principles. I got the impression that the Pope was not acting as a spiritual guide, but as a politician.”
Meanwhile, a military agreement was announced between the YPG and the regime in Damascus for the purpose of defending the borders of the district, where a hundred fighters from a militia linked to the Syrian army have arrived. The political power remains in the hands of the district’s own institutions, as Zilan, a member of the women’s movement, explains: “The regime wants us to give up control of the district, but for us that is out of the question.”
On Feb. 22, in Afrin’s central square, around a thousand people gathered, curious, to watch the men from the Damascus-aligned militia shouting the slogan “One, one, one, the people of Syria is one!” from two pickup trucks, together with around a hundred people sporting the flag of the Syrian state and signs featuring photos of Assad, as they listened to a speech in Arabic.
Hamer, a member of the youth movement, explains: “They asked to do this rally in order to get the message out that now the war is between the Syrian state and the Turkish state. But then, they will not stay in the city, but will go to the front lines.”
After the rally, there was no longer any fighting force from the Damascus regime to be seen in the cities, and even the flags of the Syrian state disappeared. At this stage, what really matters to the people is stopping the air strikes. For now, the military agreement seems to be for the most part a merely symbolic one—proven by the fact that, up until the time of the writing of this article, Turkish warplanes have continued to bomb the district of Afrin without pause.
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