A newly formed committee is examining accusations of violations committed by the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division of the Syrian National Army against residents of the Al-Sheikh Hadid district of Afrin, an area in the western part of Aleppo governorate. Some of the opposition groups in control of Afrin had agreed to form the committee, including the “Azzam” Unified Operations Room and the Revolutionaries Movement with which the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division is affiliated.
Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces seized the Afrin region from the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in 2018 as part of the so-called Olive Branch military operation, after which the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division was stationed in Al-Sheikh Hadid. The group’s commander, Muhammad Al-Jassem, nicknamed Abu Amsha, made the district into his own area of influence, banning other military factions and civilians from entering without permission and monitoring the area via his security apparatus.
In addition, Al-Jassem’s faction forced the original Kurdish residents of the area to pay rent for their homes, even those that they owned. Everyone who had been newly displaced to the area were also compelled to pay rent, mostly for homes that belonged to Kurdish families that fled during the 2018 military incursion. The Sultan Suleiman Division claims that rent collection is meant to protect residents. People displaced from Al-Sheikh Hadid must also pay the faction if they wish to return to their homes.
All olive mill owners must also pay the faction up to USD 10,000 in order to restart their factories, while anyone who owns more than 200 olive trees in the area must pay the faction a USD 500 tax. Civilians have also complained that the faction confiscated 25 percent of their olive oil production. This complaint was only confirmed when the committee reviewed local olive mill records, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report.
The committee returned 4,800 litres of the confiscated olive oil to its owners, yet the faction’s security office came back and seized the oil once again, publicly beating the owners. The violation was captured in photos and videos in the committee’s possession, one committee member told The Syria Report.
Through local mosques, the committee called for anyone with complaints to come forward. Later, committee members found that those who did come forward to be interviewed by the committee or present their complaints faced death threats and detainment from the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division. According to the correspondent, the faction also forced the mukhtar of Al-Sheikh Hadid to record an audio message calling on residents, especially Kurds, to cease their complaints. The message also claimed that the taxes were imposed only on residents loyal to the YPG and were meant to provide public services.