No accountability for Turkish-backed faction leader in north Syria’s Afrin yet

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – The human rights violations and abuses case filed against the leader of the Turkish-backed Sultan Suleiman Shah faction (locally known as al-Amshat Division) Muhammad al-Jassem, known as Abu Amsha, appears to have been put on the shelf without any accountability due to Turkish pressure and antagonism within the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).

Abu Amsha is one of the most prominent leaders of the armed factions, loyal to Turkey, who controls Sheikh Hadid district in Afrin western countryside following the Turkish invasion of Afrin in 2018.

Ignoring or postponing the accountability measures against Abu Amsha reflects the fragility of judicial authority in the Turkish occupied areas in the northern countryside of Aleppo, and points to a defect in the foundation and structure of the SNA and the affiliated military police.

How did it started 

Since Turkey and Turkish-backed armed opposition factions took control of Afrin during a military operation called “Olive Branch” in March 2018, cases of rape, murder, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, and complicity in violations against Kurds in Afrin city, including blackmail, property seizure, extortion, illegal logging, building settlements, and imposing royalties and taxes by the factions’ leaders have continued, according to human rights reports.

Accordingly, a committee of three members of the Syrian Islamic Council, an opposition religious institution, overseen by the commander of the SNA’s Third Legion, Abu Ahmad Nour, began investigating years of violations by Abu Amsha and other commanders.

On February 16, a decision was issued to isolate Abu Amsha and other five leaders, following escalation between his faction and the Azm Unified Command Room, that now includes most major Turkish-backed opposition factions, but the decision has not implemented according to North Press follow-up repots.

On February 22, the committee issued several new decisions against the leader of the Turkish-backed Sultan Suleiman Shah faction, most notably exiling Abu Amsha and his brothers outside the Olive Branch areas (Afrin region) for two years, according to what reported by the committee at the time.

What happened next 

Early in March, the Azm Unified Command Room announced it had started to implement the committee’s recommendations regarding al-Amshat violations.

One week after the Azm announcement, Abu Amsha appeared with a group of SNA military commanders in a meeting with the opposition Syrian Interim Government on March 8, which sparked widespread criticism on social media, amid silence from the opposition parties.

He also appeared on the 11th anniversary of the Syrian war in mid-March, as he made a statement on the occasion. 

Fulfilling Turkey’s interests

Turkey intervened to stop the process of holding Abu Amsha accountable for accused violations, as the opposition parties that headed and called for the accountability were subjected to Turkish pressure, which included threats to cut off salaries and restrict sources of income, as well as limit their role in controlling border crossings in the area, according to researchers. 

Observers of the opposition faction’s issues believe that Abu Amsha  has provided the most services to Turkey, and was its proxy in many issues, including sending fighters to Libya, so Abu Amsha and other influential commanders know that Turkey is the only one that can hold them accountable.

Abu Amsha’s fate 

Abu Amsha’s future with the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division remains unknown. There is no information confirming his dismissal till now.

The violations are ongoing against the people of Sheikh Hadid and other opposition-held areas, since leaders of opposition factions like Abu Amsha remain in the area without any real accountability. 

Researchers believe that even if Abu Amsha escapes accountability in the recent time, it won’t be for long, and when Turkey gets what it wants from him and other opposition figures, they will be finished.

Reporting by Shella Abdulhalim

Editing by Jwan Shkaki