Open letter calls for UN action against Turkey’s crimes in Afrin

Appeal for international action against the war crimes of the Turkish state against Kurdish women in occupied territories of northern Syria.

The Women's Commission of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) wrote an open letter calling on the United Nations to stop the war crimes of the Turkish state against Kurdish women.

The letter with the signature Leyla Birlik, Spokeswoman of the KNK Women's Commission, is addressed to Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.

A copy of the letter will also be sent to Dr. Michelle Bachelet Jeria, High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the United Nations, and UN Women Liaison offices around the globe.

The appeal which is also supported by 134 women’s associations from Kurdistan, Europe and all around the world, reads as follows:

“Dear Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka,

As Kurdish women's organisations from all four parts of Kurdistan and the Diaspora, we are writing to you concerning serious and systematic war crimes faced by women in autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) also known as Rojava and more specifically in Afrin.

Afrin was invaded and occupied by the Turkish state on March 18, 2018. Prior to the illegal Turkish occupation, Afrin was part of the AANES and was an area where relative stability, economic prosperity and gender equality prevailed. Before the occupation, 92 percent of the population of Afrin consisted of Kurds. After the Turkish invasion, approximately 300,000 people from Afrin were subjected to forced migration and had to live in Shahba as internally displaced persons under very harsh conditions. Unfortunately, despite this reality, the UN has still not yet defined this occupation by the Turkish state, which ignores the international legal norms, as an 'occupation'. This unacceptable situation clearly legitimises the colonisation of Afrin by the Turkish state. This silent complicity has directly led to the Turkish state escalating its occupation now to the level of ethnic cleansing. In Afrin, the Turkish state applies colonial, racist and deeply repressive laws.

Some of the war and humanitarian crimes committed by the Turkish state in Afrin so far:

· Systematically changing the demography of Afrin by placing Uyghur, Arab and Turkmen jihadist militant groups and their families in Afrin, supported and controlled by the Turkish state.

· Violating the rights of the Christian, Alawite and Yazidi faiths.

· The looting of civilian homes and workplaces in evacuated areas.

· The illegal sale of olives and olive oil grown and produced in Afrin on the market in Turkey.

· Pillaging of natural underground and surface resources.

· Providing compulsory Turkish education to Kurdish children.

· Systematic assimilation policy for Turkification.

· Destruction of or illegal sales of historical artefacts.

· Kidnapping to Turkey of the very few remaining Kurds in Afrin and the surrounding Kurdish villages.

· Systematically physical and psychological torture of Kurds.

· Banning of the Kurdish language, imposing Turkish as the language of education and daily life.

Dear Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka,

While the Turkish state is implementing genocidal policies against the Kurdish people, it exhaustively uses feminicide as a means of war against Kurdish women both because of their ethnic identity and women's identity. However, gender-based violence against women - especially rape – during war was declared as a war crime by the UN.

ISIS gangs supported by the Turkish state implemented similar methods against Yazidi women in Shengal (Sinjar) in 2014. The Turkish state tries to legitimise these crimes by exploiting Islam. However, this has nothing to do with Islam, but with the fact that the Turkish President Erdogan and the male-dominated Turkish state culture abuse Islam for their own purposes.

Just between March 2018 and November 2019, 1,200 Kurds were the victim of violence carried out by the invaders, 40 women were killed, 60 women were raped, 100 women were subjected to physical torture and over 1,000 women were abducted.

Crimes committed by the Turkish state against Kurdish women in Afrin include:

• The sale of abducted Kurdish women in Turkey.

• The rape of women by Turkish soldiers and gangs.

• Child marriage and forced marriages.

• Child abuse.

On 28 May 2020, due to the clashes between the armed groups affiliated with the Turkish state, the al-Hamza Division jihadist group published a video on social media about the release of 11 abducted Kurdish women. Currently, there is no information regarding the fate of 10 of those women. These women have been subjected to severe torture and rape before. This situation led to indignation among Kurdish women and the Kurdish people.

As Kurdish women, we consider these attacks as an attack on each and every one of us. Unless the expansionist policy of the Turkish state led by Erdogan is stopped and this invasion continues not to be defined as an occupation by the UN, the Turkish state which introduced neo-Ottomanism the Middle East will continue to be a threat to the lives of all Middle Eastern women. Wherever it invades and intervenes, it sells women, rapes and harasses them with help of mercenary gangs and its army.

For this reason, the United Nations should not be content with just criticising the Turkish state, it should punish it harshly with sanctions for its direct crimes. All the practices of the Turkish state and its armed proxy organisations against women in Afrin fall under the title of war crimes.

All UN standards of law are being trampled on. The UN’s continued inaction brings into question the organisation’s dedication to its founding principles, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and to the Geneva Convention are brought into question.

We expect you, referring to your authority within the framework of the UN’s women’s treaties to stop the war crimes such as occupation, exploitation and rape by the Turkish state and start sanctions against Turkey for these systematic crimes by putting UN mechanisms into practice.”