Afrin: Incidents Of Desecration And Destruction Of Cultural Sites

By Alexander McKeever

Soon after the inception of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in January of 2018, reports began trickling out of Syria’s Afrin district detailing the desecration or destruction of numerous cultural sites in the region. Just two days into the operation, airstrikes inflicted significant damage on Ain Dara, a “Neo-Hittite temple…built by the Arameans in the first millennium BC.”

The Ain Dara temple site in 2010 (photo by Michael Danti)

The Ain Dara site after being damaged by Turkish airstrikes 1/28/19

The ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) Cultural Heritage Initiatives published a report on the incident, detailing the damage and concluding that “attributions of the damage to a Turkish airstrike(s) are credible.” The March 18, 2018 capture of Afrin city by Turkish-backed forces culminated in the symbolic destruction of the Kawa statue which depicted a hero from Kurdish (and Persianic) folklore, who, to millions, symbolizes freedom from tyranny.

Rebels pulling down the Kawa statue on 3/18/18, following the capture of Afrin city (Reuters/Khalil Ashawi)

For the next four months, ASOR continued to monitor and chronicle similar allegations from Afrin with their Safeguarding the Heritage of the Near East Initiative reports. While publication of these dispatches ceased for unknown reasons in May 2018, this article seeks to further investigate and add to the data they collected regarding incidents of desecration and of destruction visited upon cemeteries, religious shrines, and other cultural sites within Afrin during and after Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch.

While the damage exacted on such sites investigated here makes up only a portion of reported abuses inflicted on Afrin and its inhabitants by Turkey and its local partner forces, such incidents can be verified and documented remotely, using OSINT techniques.

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