Turkish-backed factions impose royalties on Syria’s Afrin farmers

AFRIN, Syria (North Press) – With the advent of olive harvest season, Turkish-backed armed factions started to impose royalties on owners of olive trees and olive presses, local sources from Afrin region, northwest Syria, said. 

this year, the factions abolished all the authorization given to the residents by the Turkish-affiliated local councils and seized all the lands whose owners are not present in the area, the sources added.

In the past years, residents of Afrin resorted to gain authorizations to be able to take care of the trees of their relatives who were displaced, but with the abolition of these authorizations, the factions seized them and prevented the relative to harvest them, according to the sources.

The city of Afrin and its villages, north Syria, have been controlled by Turkish forces and the affiliated factions since March 2018.

At that time, the Turkish operation caused the displacement of more than 300,000 people, according to a report published by the Human Rights Organization-Afrin in January 2020.

The Afrin region has been witnessing cases of killing, kidnapping and arrest, in addition to frequent bombings, amid the inability of the factions controlling it to settle the security in the region.

The number of olive trees in Afrin before the control of the Turkish forces amounted to 18 million, according to the statistics of the Agriculture Board of the Autonomous Administration in Afrin.

Stealing the harvest

According to sources from Sheikh al-Hadid district, the leader of the Turkish-backed Amshat faction called Muhammad al-Jassem known as Abu Amsha imposed this year four US dollars on each tree, whether it was fruitful or not, in addition to 25% of the oil production.

Meanwhile, local sources from Bulbul and Jindires districts told North Press that the factions imposed a tax of 20% of the oil percentage on the population.

This year, the Human Rights Organization-Afrin documented that the Turkish-backed Suqur al-Shamal Brigade harvested the crops of many villages in Bulbul district, where the number of trees that were stolen reached more than 50,000 trees.

In a statement issued on October 10, the National Initiative for Afrin condemned the Turkish-backed armed factions for threatening the residents, who refuse to give them the olive crop, of killing.

Random royalties

The statement said that the so-called “local councils” established by Turkey have not yet issued any circulars regarding the olive crop, unlike in previous years, which motivated the Turkish occupation militias, namely the Syrian National Army, to issue circulars of their own that serve the interest of the militia leaders who control the villages.

The statement pointed out that these factions had harvested crops in the villages of Bulbul district, north of Afrin, at an early date, despite the immaturity of the fruits. They then opened a special olive press in the village of Aboudan, “which prompted the residents to hasten to harvest their crops before the factions seize them.”

On October 10, The Turkish-backed Sultan Suleiman Shah faction prevented residents of the Sheikh Hadid district, in Afrin countryside, from picking the olive crop under the pretext of the outbreak of coronavirus.

The source added that the members prevented the residents from going to their lands and ordered them to return to their homes until further notice on the pretext of imposing a curfew due to coronavirus, “”But we were surprised the next day by the theft and harvest of more than a thousand olive trees belonging to the villagers.”

Royalties on olive presses    

According to the owners of olive presses in Afrin, the factions controlling the villages and districts of Afrin imposed, with the start of their work, $250 on each press, and the factions indicated that the collection of royalties will continue at later periods.

A press owner in Jindires district said that the leader of Ahrar al-Sharqiya faction shared with him a percentage of the press’ profits and forced the villagers to extract their oil from his press.

In Bulbul district, the leaders of the Turkish-backed Elite Army (Jaysh al-Nukhbah) imposed royalties of 50% of the oil production in return for allowing them to operate their olive presses.

Ibrahim Sheikho, spokesman for Human Rights Organization-Afrin, said that the sale process is limited to local traders who deal with Turkish traders, as there is a representative of Turkey in each olive press who supervises the process of extracting the oil to be transported to Turkey.

According to Sheikho, in the 2018 olive season, Turkey transferred more than 70,000 tons of olive oil to its territory. In the 2019 season, the amount of oil transferred to it, reached 50,000 tons, which it exported to Spain as a Turkish product.

Last year, the quantity ranged between 90,000 and 100,000 tons of oil, according to the spokesman for the Human Rights Organization-Afrin. 

Reporting by Dijla Khalil