Turkish gov’t detains 11 more people for opposing Afrin operation on social media

Turkish government has detained at least 11 more people over their critical stance against Turkish military operation in Afrin region of northern Syria on Thursday. In early morning raids across Turkey, police have detained 11 out of 18 people who were sought for allegedly taking part in the social media campaign against the war.

It was reported that Dilşat Aktaş, the Community House (Halk Evleri) co-chair, has also been among the detainees. Speaking to Bianet, the other Co-chair Nuri Günay said that no other detention warrant was issued for anyone from the executive board of Halk Evleri, but warrants were issued for 18 people consisting of members from Halk Evleri’s other branches and their executive boards.

Günay said that “We are celebrating the 86th anniversary of the foundation of the Community Houses these days. The Community Houses are among the organizations that struggle for equality, secularism, freedom, democracy and peace. It is a country-wide democratic mass organisation. In fact, this is an operation aiming to oppress all opposition. We see this as an attack against anyone who wants democracy.”

Turkish government has detained at least 786 people over their critical stance against Turkish military operation in Afrin region of northern Syria, according to official data rmleseade on Monday. The Turkish Interior Ministry said in a statement on Monday that a total of 85 demonstrations have been held in protest against the Afrin offensive since the beginning of the operation on January 20, 2018. A total of 786 people were detained for either attending such protests or “making propaganda against the offensive on social media,” according to the statement made by the ministry.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Thursday that Turkish government sees no difference between the YPG/PKK and its supporters. Speaking at a news conference alongside his Algerian counterpart in the capital Ankara, Çavuşoğlu reiterated Turkey’s stance on fighting terrorism at all costs. “No matter which country or force, those trying to back the terror groups YPG/PKK to us are equal to the YPG/PKK. We treat them accordingly,” Çavuşoğlu said. “We won’t give an opportunity to those coming to help the YPG/PKK,” he added.

Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ has claimed on Thursday that there have been no civilian casualties or injuries during Turkish military’s campaign in Afrin province of northern Syria.  Speaking at Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, Bozdağ has alleged that”To date, no civilians have died or even been hurt in Turkish Armed Forces operations.”

Speaking to pro-Kurdish Fırat News Agency about civilian casualties on Thursday, Afrin Canton Health Council Co-chair Ancela Resho has stated that during the 34 days of the Turkish military operation against Afrin, 176 civilians, including 27 children and 21 women, have been killed, while 484 civilians were wounded, among them 60 children and 71 women.

Kurdish Red Crescent (Heyva Sor) announced on Wednesday that Turkish military’s shelling has killed 17 women and wounded 44 women seriously in Afrin province of northern Syria.

Bozdağ has also claimed that Turkish military attack against PYD/PKK in Afrin is providing tremendous support for Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. “Anyone who backs or patronizes the terror group PYD/PKK, including the US, will face a response by Turkish military,” Bozdağ said.

The US has called the PYD/PKK a “reliable ally” in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terror group, against strong objections by Turkey, which has said that the group is an offshoot of the outlawed PKK.

Addressing reports of Syrian regime forces or regime-backed forces seeking to intervene, Bozdağ added that if the Bashar Al-Assad regime enters Afrin posing as the YPG/PYD/PKK they will be targeted, and if militias enter, they will be targeted too.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Thursday that hundreds of pro-Damascus fighters had deployed on frontlines in Syria’s Afrin region to help counter a Turkish offensive. “Groups aligned to the Syrian army came to Afrin, but not in the quantity or capacity to stop the Turkish occupation,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters. “The Syrian army must fulfill its duty… to protect Syria’s borders.”

Turkey has also sent hundreds of special operations teams and volunteer village guards into Syria’s Afrin district. “God willing, you will perform your duties and return safe and sound,” Police Special Operations Chief Selami Türker said at a ceremony in Ankara on Thursday, bidding farewell to 150 special operations police officers being sent to Afrin.

In the southern Turkish province of Hatay, on the border with Syria, Deputy Governor Orhan Mardinli attended the ceremony held to send two teams of 22 special operations police officers into Afrin on Thursday. “There are experienced men among you. You will perform an important task there,” Mardinli said, referring to security operations targeting outlawed PKK militants in residential areas of several southeastern provinces of Turkey, according to a report by Hürriyet daily news.

Hundreds of special operation forces of the police, the army and the gendarmerie were sent in cities including Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Mardin during months-long curfews starting from Aug. 16, 2015.

Similar ceremonies to send special operations police officers to Afrin were held in the southeastern provinces of Bingöl, Batman and Siirt. Some 25 police officers from the central province of Sivas, 23 police officers from the southern province of Antalya and 40 police officers from the western province of İzmir have also been sent to Afrin, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Gendarmerie special operations teams from the provinces of Adıyaman, İzmir and Kocaeli have also been sent to cities on the border with Syria to join “residential area operations” in Afrin, Turkish media outlets have reported.

Village guards from the Kulp and Ergani districts of Diyarbakır province, who have joined operations against PKK militants during curfews, have volunteered to join the ranks of the Turkish forces in Afrin, Doğan News Agency reported. Some 36 village guards from Kulp and 28 village guards from Ergani were sent in ceremonies on Feb. 20.

“By joining the operation [in Afrin] village guards of Kurdish origin will change the perception that this operation is being carried out against the Kurds,” Ziya Sözen, the head of the confederation of village guards, said on Feb. 12.

The Turkish General Staff has stated on Thursday that at least 1,829 PYD/PKK and alleged ISIL militants have been “neutralized” since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, northwestern Syria. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the armed militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. The military said Turkish Armed Forces had “neutralized” 49 more PYD/PKK and ISIL militants overnight.

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