After little more than a month since capturing the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, the Turkish government and its jihadist allies are discussing plans to rule the city by Islamic sharia law.
A meeting recently took place between Turkish authorities and rebel leaders of the al-Rahman Legion to decide how to build an Islamic police force, sharia courts and other religious centers.
Al-Rahman Legion is one of the largest Islamist rebel groups that was in control of the eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-held area in Damascus. The group was recently expelled from the area after a Turkish- and Russian-brokered deal between the Syrian regime and groups rebelling against it, such as Al-Rahman. It has since resettled in the city of Afrin, along with hundreds of families from the Damascus suburban area.
Since 2012, Afrin had been run by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a U.S.-backed group that had a secular system of governance which rejected political Islam and promoted relatively liberal ideals.
Turkey, however, apparently views the group as an extension of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has been engaged in a 30-year insurgency against Turkish forces in an effort to attain greater Kurdish rights. The United States and the European Union consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.
The U.S., however, makes a clear distinction between the PKK and YPG; the U.S. views the YPG as the most effective fighting force in the war against ISIS terrorists in Syria.
Supported by a U.S.-led coalition, the YPG has liberated large swaths of territory from ISIS.
Prior to the Turkish invasion, Afrin was home to more than 500,000 people – mostly Kurds but with sizable Christian, Yazidi and Alawite minorities. The enclave also hosted more than 300,000 Syrians fleeing violence in other parts of the war-torn country.
At the onset of the Turkish offensive, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government declared it a "jihad" against Syrian Kurds. Turkish preachers gave sermons justifying the assault as a "holy war."
Turkey and jihadist groups are now forcing religious minorities in Afrin to convert to Islam. Yazidi temples, for example, have been destroyed by militants. Yazidi residents have been forcibly taken to mosques to convert to Islam.
Kurdish groups have accused Turkey's government of carrying out a campaign to create a demographic change aimed at dislodging native Kurdish civilians from their lands and replacing them with Sunni Arabs from Turkish-based refugees camps.
During its military offensive on Afrin, the Turkish government settled several thousand Syrian refugees in border villages that were recently taken from the YPG. The Turkish military forced Kurdish residents and Syrian rebel fighters to leave their homes and lands. After removing Kurdish forces in Afrin, however, Turkey continued its campaign to displace the residents of Afrin, and brought more Sunni Arab and Turkmen families to Afrin.
Jihadists view the Kurdish-speaking minority as kufar ("infidel unbelievers"),
Women have been forced to wear the hijab and strictly adhere to Islamic dress codes -- practices similar to those of ISIS during its brutal rule in cities across Iraq and Syria. Women who refuse are subject to persecution and kidnapping.
Setting up sharia courts and a sharia police force would be merely formalizing a practice that Turkey and its jihadist proxies in Afrin have already begun.
Pictured: Militiamen from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in Afrin, Syria, on February 7, 2018. (Image source: Qasioun News Agency/Wikimedia Commons)
Sirwan Kajjo is a Syrian-Kurdish Washington-based journalist and author.