Turkey rejects HRW accusations of committing abuses in north Syria

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – A Turkish official denied on Friday accusations by a human rights organization that Turkey is responsible for abuses and possible war crimes carried out mostly against Kurds in northern Syria.

A senior official in the Turkish Foreign Ministry rejected the accusations and stressed that the report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) “did not reflect the realities on the ground.”

On Feb. 29, HRW said in a 74-pages report titled, “Everything is by the Power of the Weapon: Abuses and Impunity in Turkish-Occupied Northern Syria,” that Turkey bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes carried out by its forces and affiliated armed opposition factions in areas under its occupation in northern Syria.

The official who spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, also insisted that Turkey fully respects “international humanitarian law.”

The report documents that the Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, aka the Syrian National Army (SNA), and the Military Police established by Turkey carried out abductions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, sexual violence, and torture.

HRW pointed out that Kurdish residents overwhelmingly “have borne the brunt of the abuses due to their perceived ties to Kurdish-led forces that control vast swathes of northeast Syria.”

Turkey, along with its affiliated SNA factions, has carried out three cross-border military operations in northern Syria since 2016.

The first operation dubbed, Euphrates Shield, resulted in the occupation of the cities of Azaz, al-Bab, and Jarablus in the north of Aleppo.

In its second operation, Olive Branch, Turkey occupied the Kurdish-majority Afrin Region in the northwest of Aleppo in 2018.

In its third operation, Peace Spring, Turkey occupied the border strip stretching between the cities of Tel Abyad and Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) in northeast Syria in 2019.

Additionally, HRW found that Turkish Forces and intelligence agencies were complicit and involved or oversaw these abuses.

 “Turkish officials are not merely bystanders to abuses, but bear responsibility as the occupying power and, in some cases, have been directly involved in apparent war crimes,” Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director at HRW said.

The Turkish official, however, emphasized that the Syrian opposition now manages and controls areas in north Syria.

By Stella Youssef