Afrin's occupation: The Gaziantep council, a source of stability or a 'council of traitors'?

by The Region    


The shops were still alight, windows were still broken, and many Kurds were still in tears when the Syrian opposition and the Turkish government coordinated a meeting on the day that Afrin, a formerly Kurdish held enclave in northwest Syria, was occupied by Turkey and its Free Syrian Army affiliates. 

Abdulaziz Temo, the Kurd who set up the council, told the NY times that Afrin had been "liberated". The most conservative estimates put the death toll of Afrin in the hundreds, while the UN estimates that 137,070 people have been displaced from Afrin. On the very day that Temo alleged that Afrin had been liberated, in fact, Aljazeera reported that its residents felt so desperate that they volunteered themselves to form a human shield to protect the city from a Turkish incursion. 

Turkey and the so-called Free Syrian Army brigades it backed, prevailed nonetheless. It was on that day that the so-called Afrin Liberation Congress, derided by its opponents as the Gaziantep "council of traitors", set up a provisional assembly in the Turkish city of Gaziantep that would form a parliament of 35 people. The precedent set by the PYD couldn't be avoided, and mimicry was the key to the occupational administration they set up. 

The council is made up of 24 Kurds, 8 Arabs, 1 Alevi, 1 Yezidi, and 1 Turkmen. And whereas the Turkish government allowed the opposition to latch onto diversity, gender it seems was too much for them to bare. Only 1 woman was elected in Afrin's new administration. 

Afrin has, since then, witnessed an influx of settlers from Arab regions. The UN is blocked access, but the Syrian Civil Defense -- often called the White Helmets -- oversee aid and distribution with close contact with the government. The White Helmets supported the occupation.  Hatay's governor's office oversees its socio-political development, ordering among other things, Erdogan's images to be paraded in every school. Turkish flags wave side by side with that of the Syrian opposition in all government institutions. Women have largely been excluded from politics. 

The Barzani aligned Kurdish National Council has mostly been supportive of the new administration, even if they condemned the invasion as it was taking place. As Fehim Tastekin has noted for Al-Monitor, a Kurdish National Council spokesman became infamous after saying that "the PYD is the name of cruelty. Cruelty reigns in Afrin," 

Nevertheless, media closely aligned with the Turkish government -- outlets like Daily Sabah for instance -- argue that the Afrin "local" council, seeks to bring "stability to the region." Immediately after the occupation, the Daily Sabah quoted Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who said that the ultimate goal of the administration was to ensure that Turkey didn't remain in Afrin. 

"We have stated from the beginning that we have no intentions to stay. We heard these claims during the Operation Euphrates Shield as well." 

Turkey still occupies Euphrates Shield territory, as well as Afrin. 

"In the Jarablus-Azaz line over 135,000 Syrian families settled there. 160,000 students are going to school" he continued.   

"We hope to make our council democratic, to some extent, and to make sure it represents the majority of the people with efficiency and integrity", councilman Azad Osman told Mohammed Abdulssattar Ibrahim, Alice Al Maleh, and Tariq Adely for Syria direct, "The council is only temporary," he said. 

In fact, some analysts believe that Afrin could be handed over to the Assad government, in exchange for a deal that will allow Turkey to occupy all territory held by the Kurdish-led PYD. If such a move were to take place, then the Syrian opposition would be ironically complicit. 

Last week (May 16), Minister Akdag has refuted these claims, and argued instead that it was "completely inconceivable to return Afrin back to the control of the Syrian regime".  

The expressed aims of the council, based on a document they released on their founding is as follows: 

1) Ensure peace and security in Afrin    

2) Collect weapons from civilians 

3) Help elect a local assembly 

4) Set up local law-and-order forces. 

5) Make all state organs functional 

6) Ensure that education, health and justice will be properly administered 

7) Provide compensation for victims of the latest violence. 

8) Respect women's rights 

9) Secure a free press and free speech. 

The council has trained a 450-strong police form, made up of FSA fighters trained by Turkey's police in Hatay.  But a Kurdish FSA commander in Afrin, who was part of the campaign -- Operation Olive Branch -- which invaded the enclave, told Ammar Hamou and Barrett Limoges of Syria Direct that local forces were facilitating settlement of displaced residents from Eastern Ghouta. Locks were broken, and Arab settlers were given Kurdish homes (One Arab they interviewed completely refused to take their homes). If that wasn't paradoxical enough, Turkey has even managed to bring Palestinian settlers to Afrin -- a move that only further complicates the effects of Turkey's foreign policy in the region.   

Illegal settlement and demographic change continue to take place in Afrin without the intervention of the police.  

"We, the Kurdish component [in the FSA], are trying to work against this with all our energy, one commander told Syria direct, "But we are in the minority", he said.   

Nevertheless, the local administration has attracted some members with its promises for bringing stability through occupation.  Khaled al-Khateb, writing for Al-monitor, interviewed Mohamad Sheikh Rashid, a member of the council who claims that it is "prioritizing securing the basic living needs for Afrin's citizens, such as re-opening the bakeries, supplying water, cleaning public roads and making fuel available to operate water pumps, the bakeries and public transport cars in the city." 

The only way, it seems, for Afrin's administration to gain popular legitimacy, is if it does so from a completely new populace. This is most likely the direction that Afrin's future is headed towards if settlement continues to go unabated.