CAFRIN, Syria — On Tuesday, Turkish media, citing Turkish officials, claimed the unearthing of a mass grave in occupied Cafrin (Afrin) in northwestern Syria. By Thursday, Turkey’s National Defense Ministry claimed a total of 61 bodies buried in public areas. The Turkish government and its media outlets claimed the graves contained the bodies of people “executed by the PKK”, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partîya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK), which has been in armed conflict with the Turkish state since the 1980s.
There is no evidence the PKK ever had a presence in Cafrin but Turkey considers the mainly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG), who was the main security force in the region for years, a wing of the PKK. Turkey’s position on the YPG is not shared by any other NATO member. The YPG is a primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a partner force of the U.S.-led Global Coalition against Daesh. The SDF has suffered an estimated 11,000 casualties in the fight against the Islamic State.
What Turkey may have forgotten when making their claims of ‘mass graves’ and ‘civilian executions’ is that the site is an impromptu graveyard of members of the YPG and Women’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, YPJ) killed defending Afrin during Turkey’s January 2018 invasion of the region. Shortly after taking control of the city, they bulldozed the headstones marking the site.
Since Turkey made their false claims, the site has been geolocated, satellite imagery confirming the timeline of the establishment and destruction has been analyzed, and photos and video footage from the site before its destruction has been made public.
This was not originally an unmarked mass grave but an impromptu cemetery housing civilians and YPG fighters dug in the last days before Afrin was captured. It appears it was then destroyed before the Turks "discovered it" yesterday https://t.co/IJrdrwf0M7 pic.twitter.com/2mQdc5jrjl
— Alexander McKeever (@AKMcKeever) July 15, 2021
On Friday, General Commander of the SDF Mazloum Abdi stated via Twitter that, “Turkish occupation forces are making false claims a cemetery of YPG martyrs who fell in the defense of Afrin during the invasion is a ‘mass grave’.” He also called on the international community to investigate the crimes committed by Turkey and their Syrian National Army (SNA) proxies in Cafrin.
Turkish occupation forces are making false claims a cemetery of YPG martyrs who fell in the defense of Afrin during the invasion is a 'mass grave'. We call on the international community to investigate Turkish and militia crimes in Afrin and stop crimes against humanity. pic.twitter.com/1hY5lHcSyu
— Mazloum Abdî مظلوم عبدي (@MazloumAbdi) July 16, 2021