Kurdish woman reportedly murdered in Turkish-occupied Afrin

Photos of the 16-year-old victim, said to have been shot, were posted on the Internet.

An internally displaced woman, sits with her relatives inside a tent near the town of Afrin, Syria, February 17, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWI/FILE PHOTO)
An internally displaced woman, sits with her relatives inside a tent near the town of Afrin, Syria, February 17, 2020
Turkish-backed extremists continue to harass and murder Kurdish and minority women in Afrin in northwest Syria, an area they occupied and ethnically cleansed in 2018.
According to reports, a 16-year-old Kurdish teenager was found murdered this week after being kidnapped by a Turkish-backed group called Sultan Murad. Photos of the victim, said to have been shot, were posted on the internet. They show a woman laying in mud, her headscarf pulled back slightly and her eyes closed. She is considered the latest of dozens of women kidnapped since Turkey took over the peaceful area inhabited by the Kurdish minority in Syria.
Turkey attacked Afrin in January 2018, claiming it was a “security threat” because the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) administered the area. The Syrian regime had withdrawn from Afrin years before as Syria descended into chaos. The YPG is one of many groups in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who fought ISIS with the US-led coalition. Ankara had accused Washington of “training terrorists” in eastern Syria and decided to attack Afrin because Ankara didn’t want to attack US-backed partners then.
The Kurdish minority in Afrin, who had never carried out any attacks against Turkey and were trying to live a life surrounded by war in Idlib and other areas, suffered under months of bombardment by F-16s, and then attacks by Turkish-backed Syrian extremist groups. These groups sacked Afrin city and drove more than 160,000 Kurds, Yazidis and other minorities from the province, occupying it and settling others in Kurdish homes.
Since then, Afrin has been caught up in battles between the Syrian rebel groups that Turkey backs, with frequent gun battles and the targeting and killing of women. Women are singled out by Turkish-backed groups, many of which share the same extremist ideology that ISIS and similar groups adopted.
For instance, when Turkey invaded Tel Abyad in October 2019, one of the first targets were women activists, such as Hevrin Khalaf. An unarmed local politician in her twenties, she was hunted down and pulled from her vehicle, beaten and shot to death, her head and body trampled by Turkish-backed Syrian groups. Turkish media called her execution a “neutralization.”
SIMILARLY, Turkish-backed Syrian groups mutilated the bodies of women they accused of being members of the YPG in 2018. In late May 2020, after fighting between Turkish-backed groups, numerous women were found being held in a secret prison “black site” in Afrin. Video showed them fleeing. They had been kidnapped, held and subjected to abuse by these groups.
To dehumanize Kurds, they often call Kurds “infidels” or “atheists,” using similar language used by ISIS during its conquest of Syria and Iraq in 2014. In some cases Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS in Iraq have been trafficked to Turkey or to Turkish-controlled Idlib near Afrin. Videos show the Turkish-backed extremists shouting religious slogans and vowing to cut the throats of minorities.
Women appear to face the brunt of the human rights abuses. For instance, in mid-May the Kurdish media outlet Kurdistan24 reported that “forced marriages” were now common in Afrin.
It appears that the goal of the constant harassment, kidnapping and killing of minority women is intended to remove women from the public space and keep them at home. While women played a role in the administration of Afrin prior to the Turkish invasion, today they do not occupy political or leadership positions. The same is the case throughout Turkish-occupied areas of Syria. Women have been cleansed from the political realm, sidelined and kidnapped. This pattern of intimidation is similar to all groups that share the ideology of Turkey’s extremists, from the Taliban to ISIS.
There are many other women still missing in Turkish-occupied northwestern Syria. The Kurdish media group Rudaw reports that the family of another 24-year-old woman, who was disappeared in Afrin in March 2018, “hold out hope” for her return. Her relatives told Rudaw she is held by the Turkish-backed Hamza Division of the Syrian National Army.
The frequent reports of killings and kidnapping of women fit a pattern. Two years of occupation of Afrin have brought insecurity to people living there, particularly minorities. Human rights groups have no access to Afrin, nor do independent media. As throughout Turkey and Turkish-occupied areas of Syria, there are no critical media allowed or any independent reporting.