Members of the Yezidi (Ezidi) community in the Kurdish-run enclave of Afrin of northwest Syria told the news outlet Kurdistan24 on Saturday that they are concerned about potential mass killings against them by the Turkish military and Syrian radical Islamist militants affiliated with them.
Pir Shammo, an Ezidi religious leader in Afrin, told Kurdistan24 that they fear the massacres they had already experienced in the past would be repeated.“Displacement is no longer our only fear. Many people have been forced to leave their countries, this happens. Again, we are in fear of massacres and mass killings,” he said and added that “In the 21st century, we thought there would be no more genocides and massacres against certain nations, but in Afrin, history is repeating itself.”
A cave in the Qibari village of Afrin countryside has been a temple for the Ezidis. The temple was shelled last week by the Turkish army, according to the report.
No official statistics are available to confirm how many Ezidis live in Afrin, but Ezidi and Kurdish sources say there were an estimated 25,000 living there in 2011. In the aftermath of the Syrian war and the subsequent emergence of terror groups, and due to fears of persecution, thousands of them left the region and migrated to Europe seeking asylum.
In 2012, Syrian regime forces withdrew from Afrin, and the city fell under the control of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main fighting force in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkey argues that its offensive in Afrin is justified because it targets the YPG, which Turkey accuses of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) designated as a “terrorist organization” by the US, the European Union, and Turkey. However, US officials maintain that Turkey’s offensive in Afrin distracts the global coalition battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from doing the more important work of eliminating the extremist group from the region.
Meanwhile, the Turkish General Staff said in a statement on Sunday that a total of 2,018 PYD/PKK and alleged ISIL militants have been “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region on Jan. 20. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.