On 14 July, the Turkish National Defence Department announced that a mass grave of 35 people had been found in the Afrin region of northern Syria which has been controlled by Turkey and Turkish backed militias and mercenaries since 2018.
Turkish government affiliated Anadolu Agency claimed that 35 people were killed by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) before Turkey took control of Afrin in 2018 and the bodies belong to those dead people. However, it has been reported, even by the UN, that many kidnappings and murders have been taking place in the region since Turkey took over control of the city.
After news reports began to question whether the bodies found in the mass grave might belong to people who have been kidnapped and murdered by Turkey and its backed militias and mercenaries, various human rights organisations monitoring the region have also voiced their suspicions and concerns.
In September 2020, the United Nations Syrian Commission of Inquiry report confirmed that the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) has been committing war crimes in Afrin and Serêkaniyê, including abductions, disappearances and gender-based sexual violence. Turkey was also held to be responsible by the UN report.
After the mass grave was found, the ‘Human Rights Organisation – Afrin – Syria’ issued a statement on its website and called for an independent investigation of the bodies, ANHA reports.
In the statement, it was noted that the region where the mass grave is found is newly built, and therefore, the bodies of Afrin people who were arrested and kidnapped in the past three years by Turkey and its armed affiliates and mercenaries might be buried there.
Appealing to the international community, the United Nations, international human rights organisations and non-governmental organisations, the ‘Human Rights Organisation – Afrin –Syria’ stated that in order to achieve justice, an independent investigation should be conducted in the region and with regard to the mass grave found in Afrin.
On 20 January 2018, Turkey launched its “Olive Branch” air and ground military campaign in Afrin, Syria, and after 59 days of clashes with People’s Defence Units (YPG) and Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) led by Syrian Kurds, it took over control of the city on 18 March 2018.
At least half of the Kurdish majority population of the city of Afrin, which has a population of 300,000, were forcibly displaced and many fled to the refugee camps of Shehba. Many of those who did not flee Afrin but resisted the oppression there were reportedly kidnapped, put behind bars, and murdered. The fate of many people who were kidnapped since 2018 remains unknown.