Photoblog: Syrian civilians return to Afrin

Photoblog: Syrian civilians return to Afrin
See in pictures: Civilians have begun returning to Syria's northern town of Afrin after months of escalating violence between Kurdish militias and Turkish troops supporting anti-government Syrian rebels.
2 min read
24 Mar, 2018
Residents of Afrin have begun returning to their home-town [Aaref Watad]
Syrian civilians are returning to the northern town of Afrin after the Turkish military and allied Syrian fighters seized control of it from Kurdish militants.

Turkey’s Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar announced on Thursday that civilians were returning to areas cleared of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants in Afrin.

Most of the city's 350,000 residents have fled since Turkey and allied Syrian rebels on January 20 launched an air and ground offensive to chase out Kurdish fighters.

The US warned its NATO ally Turkey that it is "deeply concerned" by reports that a Turkish-led assault on the Syrian city of Afrin had triggered a civilian exodus during the peak of the operation.

The town is slowly coming back to life after people begin to gradually return.

The troops faced little resistance from the Kurdish militias, and Turkey on March 18 declared control over Afrin amid its ongoing Operation Olive Branch, which begun in January.

Despite Syria descending to full-scale war, which has so far killed hundreds of thousands of people after dictator Bashar al-Assad violently crushed peaceful protests, locals returning to Afrin are trying to resume normality.

Ankara’s rocky relationship with Kurdish militant groups in Syria begun before the conflict in the war-torn country erupted, with Turkey being wary of the Kurdish armed group controlling swathes of land along its border.

The Turkish based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has fought a bloody insurgency in Turkey for nearly 35 years.

The areas nearby Afrin which civilians fled to after the fighting escalated were so packed, that they were forced to sleep in mosques and schools.

A spokeswoman for the UN's humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) in Damascus said during the exodus the situation inside Afrin was looking "very serious”.

"As the military operations get closer to Afrin city, they are putting a lot of people at risk, in addition to displaced people in the city," Linda Tom said.

Aaref Watad is a journalist and photographer from northern Syria. Follow him on Twitter @aboshamariha