The Turkish Ministry of Defense published a series of messages on its social media accounts and on its website on the occasion of the anniversary of a unilateral military operation called “Operation Olive Branch” carried out in the north of Syria against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), between January 20 and March 24, 2018. Turkey defines the YPG and SDF as the Syrian branches of the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK), with which it has been fighting for nearly 40 years and designates as terrorist organizations. Commemorating the fallen soldiers, the ministry claimed that the city of Afrin had been liberated from terrorists in a statement in which France and the United States, which allegedly helped the terrorists, were referred to as the “superior minds” of the terrorists, without mentioning them by name. .
“Despite the bad weather and the terrain, Hero Mehmetçik [an emotional term used to refer to soldiers of the Turkish Army], who drew his strength from the prayers of our noble nation, entered one by one the dens of terrorists, which are the product of a superior mind and built of concrete, and buried the terrorists with their dreams in the tunnels that they dug,” the statement reads.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly said that underground tunnels built by YPG militants were built with cement supplied by French industrial giant Lafarge, accusing France of supporting terrorism. Erdoğan also expressed his dissatisfaction that the Americans did not consider the YPG a terrorist organization, as pro-government media frequently mentioned that the tunnels were planned by the Americans. The tunnels were described as “French concrete, American engineering”.
The ministry also alleged that although the operation was delayed, civilians and the environment, especially historical and religious buildings, were not affected. According to the ministry, the targets to be reached were determined with the meticulousness of a jeweler. Phrases such as “meticulous of a jeweler” sound quite strange for this kind of statement in Turkish.
“Afrin has not become like Raqqa, Aleppo, Mosul and Eastern Ghouta, which other countries have destroyed, and thanks to the sensitivity of the Turkish armed forces, the infrastructure, architecture and historical and religious structures of the city were not damaged,” the ministry said. referring to allegations that the Americans destroyed many towns in northern Syria and Iraq in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
In September 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that the human rights situation in places under Turkish occupation was grim, with violence and criminality.
“I urge Turkey to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, to report on the fate of those detained and abducted by affiliated armed groups, and to hold those responsible accountable for what may , in some cases, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes”, noted Bachelet.
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 116 civilians were killed in these areas and some 463 injured between January and September 2020 by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Those killed included 15 women, 20 boys and two girls.
The UN organization also claimed that armed groups affiliated with Turkey seized and looted homes, land and other property without any apparent military necessity and occupied many of them with their own families.
Observers Claim that many historic artifacts were damaged amid the conflict, including the Iron Age temple of Ain Dara in northwestern Syria.
Other allegations regarding the region under Turkish control are that some factories were dismantled and brought to Turkey and that olive oil from the Afrin region was exported via Turkey. Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli, in a statement in 2019, announced that the amount of olive oil to be transferred to Turkey would be limited to 600 tons and that was not a significant amount. given the 200,000 tons of Turkey’s annual olive oil production. Government officials have also said that the main purpose of bringing olive oil from Afrin to Turkey was to prevent its revenue from reaching the PKK. However, olive oil from Afrin exceeded 13,000 tons per year according to Turkish media reports.
Many Turkish businessmen are known to take advantage of the current situation in Syria through illegal trade. For example, Murat Özvardar, the husband of CNN Turkish affiliate journalist Hande Fırat, was accused of looting an industrial area in northern Syria. The couple denied the allegations.
According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, 6,370 terrorists have been neutralized in four years. Turkish authorities often use the term “neutralize” in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered, were killed or captured. However, there is no possibility to verify the statistics published by Turkey. Turkey has also been criticized for reporting a large number of deaths of ISIS militants to prove it was sincere in its fight against ISIS.
Nordic Monitor previously reported on the nationalist language used by the Department of Defense in communications. The ministry, which was a rather boring institution in recent years, has transformed into an efficient government body after the government placed the General Staff under the ministry on July 15, 2018. Without a doubt, the appointment from former Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar to Defense Minister was instrumental in the change. For many, Akar is still the de facto chief of staff, so much so that, unlike previous defense ministers, Akar even had a special uniform prepared for him. Akar, who has succeeded in establishing a command echelon composed of commanders who are loyal to him, imposes himself as the sole arbiter of the army. One of the most influential figures in Erdoğan’s cabinet, Akar is often mentioned in post-Erdoğan storylines. Since one of the easiest ways to gain public attention and support in Turkey is through nationalist and religious rhetoric, the Ministry of Defense produces nationalist videos and propaganda material to polish the image of Akar.