Over 150 women reported kidnapped in Afrin since 2018 – Reports

161 women and girls whose identities are known have been reported kidnapped by Turkish-backed armed groups since the start of the Turkish invasion of Afrin, Syria, the Missing Afrin Women Project has found. 

Local human rights organizations claim that hundreds of women and girls have been kidnapped during this time period. The details of most incidents are unknown, as communities fear retaliation and outside journalists and observers cannot enter the area.

The Missing Afrin Women Project compiles reports from media and human rights groups documenting these incidents, including the name of the individual, the date and location of the incident, the armed group responsible, and whether the individual has been reported released, as well as relevant details about the incident.

Cases with allegations of torture or of sexual or gender-based violence are marked as such.

In 17 incidents, reports included allegations of torture in custody. Six out of the 17 individuals who were allegedly tortured in custody were reported to have been kidnapped by one armed group, the Hamza Division.

In five incidents, reports included allegations of sexual violence in custody. Three of these cases involved minors.

Six of the women reported kidnapped were identified as Yezidis, including a mother and daughter who were both kidnapped and released twice. One Yezidi woman was reportedly tortured and forced to renounce her faith in custody.

Of the 132 cases where reports alleged that a specific armed group or element of the security forces was responsible for the kidnapping, 34 kidnappings were attributed to the Turkish-backed military police, 17 were attributed to the civilian police, and 15 were attributed to the Hamza Division. 

Reported pretexts for kidnapping include accusations of working with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria or the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include actions as innocuous as voting in an Autonomous Administration local election; false terrorism allegations; and documenting information about the situation in Afrin or sharing such information with outside sources. 

Only about one out of every three victims has been reported released; the whereabouts of the majority are unknown. 

Reports from the region and interviews with survivors suggest that torture, cruel and degrading treatment, and sexual and gender-based violence are pervasive and systemic, beyond the individual cases where these crimes were reported. 

“We were dozens of kidnapped women of different ages, among us were minor girls, who were always raped; one of them, named Zaloukh, died from heavy bleeding after being raped,” one survivor said

“They were transporting us during the night hours outside the prison, after blindfolding us, they were tricking us that they were about to execute us. They were defaming their weapons, putting their rifle barrels on our forehead, while others were shooting in the air, to terrorize us. Many of the abductees committed suicide, and others were killed in cold blood, and their bodies were thrown in the forests near the villages in Azaz, Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarabulus. Those crimes were committed against unknown abductees,” she described. 

In a video interview conducted by Hawar News Agency, a local media outlet, a woman who was kidnapped by the Military Police in June 2019 along with her daughter described similar conditions. 

“The gangs kidnapped us from our house for unknown reasons. They took us to the commercial school. There they beat us with water hoses. They insulted us. Every time we were beaten, they claimed I had connections with the YPG and was supposed to give them information, she said. 

“One of these militiamen named Abu Haydar interrogated me during the torture. They kept saying that I was part of the YPG and asked me what information I gave them. When I said that I had nothing to do with it and did not give any information, they threatened me to kill my daughter or give her drugs…Abu Haydar threatened me constantly. He threatened to kill my daughter, rape me, take pictures and distribute them to everyone. He forced me to watch the cruel torture of women. The women were tortured with electric shocks and blows with water hoses. The torture was so bad that I became ill because of the sight.” 

In another video provided by the Human Rights Organization – Afrin, a woman kidnapped by Ahrar al-Sharqiya described how militants accused her of witchcraft, threatened to sexually assault her, and demanded large sums of money. 

A video showing several women being led out of an illegal prison reportedly operated by the Hamza Division surfaced in late May after clashes between armed groups in Afrin city center. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that they were naked when they were originally found, and that they had suffered other cruel and degrading treatment in custody. Most of the women in the video have been identified by human rights monitors and news outlets, but only one has been reported released. 

The map and database will be updated with new cases as they occur and as information about earlier incidents is published. Please click here to view the data.