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Microcosm: The Newroz Killings and the Politics of Northwest Syria

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

A mass murder in Jinderes on March 20, 2023 during celebrations of a Kurdish holiday spiralled into a chaotic power game where opportunists took advantage of the momentum.

It all started when three militants from Jaysh al-Shariqya, a militia affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, harassed the Othman family over a small, controlled fire they lit for Newroz, a celebration of spring overcoming winter. Lighting a fire of any size is as essential a tradition for Newroz as decorating an evergreen tree for Christmas. But Kurds who so much as held a torch or built a bonfire on March 20 have historically risked legal consequences and violence by state or non-state actors in Syria and neighboring countries. Their long history as an oppressed minority exacerbated the eruption of public anger that followed news of the murders circulating online.

Eighteen-year-old Muhammad Farhan al-Din Othman was reportedly the one who lit the fire—a burning rag in a milk can, according to some reports—and placed it on a windowsill. This should not have been cause for incident, especially given the SNA’s public pronouncements of allowing Newroz celebrations. Some of its affiliated militias, such as the Suleiman Shah Division, even posted videos on social media of their fighters participating in the holiday, undoubtedly a public relations ploy. But a small subgroup acted of their own accord trying to stop people from celebrating Newroz in neighborhoods under Jaysh al-Sharqiya’s control.

Different versions of the following story were summarized in contradictory ways by multiple media outlets—this is an attempt to synthesize conflicting accounts of the incident.

Three men from the militia approached the Othman residence around 7:05 PM local time and confronted either the teenage Muhammad or an older relative alternatively described by differing sources as either the teenager’s father or uncle. Two of the visitors wore masks while their leader, known locally as Habib, displayed his face for everyone to see. The visitors asked one of the Othmans to put out their Newroz fire, which may have escalated to them shouting at or even beating Muhammad until his father or uncle intervened.

Thirty-eight-year-old Nazmi, also referred to as Ismail, was seen arguing with the militants until they pelted him with rocks and called him a “fire worshiper.” This is potentially a clue as to what motivated the three men from Jaysh al-Sharqiya to engage in harassment, assault, battery, and later homicide—religious intolerance. Some conservative Muslims, including fundamentalist Kurds, strongly discourage the celebration of Newroz and other holidays that predate the spread of Islam.

But Nazmi or Ismail stood his ground and refused to extinguish the fire, even while bruised and bloodied. The altercation had attracted multiple witnesses by now, including the rest of the Othman family and their neighbors. One of them attempted to intervene, hoping to deescalate the situation, only to be shouted down by the militants.

“This is none of your business! Go away!”

There were also at least five members of Jaysh al-Sharqiya watching the incident unfold at a public square just across the street from the Othman residence. Witnesses described to Syrians for Truth and Justice how the fighters laughed during the altercation and that one of them made a cellphone call when Habib and his two accomplices were finally turned away by Nazmi or Ismail’s defiance. This was followed shortly by the arrival of Habib’s father, a security officer in the militia who happened to live close by, just a few blocks away on the same street.

Abu Habib, as the older man is known locally, was seen handing loaded firearms to his son and the other two militants before they walked back to the Othman house. One neighbor told Syrians for Truth and Justice, “Abu Habib is… the primary perpetrator,” of the crime about to take place.

The three gunmen first confronted Nazmi or Ismail upon their return. It is unclear if any words were exchanged before they opened fire on him, dropping him immediately.

Shooting prompted the younger Muhammad Farhan al-Din Othman to run out of the house to his uncle (or father, depending on which source you read), where he was hit by multiple bullets and fell to the ground. A forty-two-year-old relative of theirs, also named Muhammad Othman, then walked out the same door and attempted to “calm the situation down,” according to another witness quoted in the Syrians for Truth and Justice report on the matter. No matter his intentions, even if his empty hands were held up in the air while he begged the gunmen to stop, they also shot him.

That was when the forty-three-year-old Farhan al-Din Othman “emerged from the house,” probably in response to seeing his son or nephew and brothers bleeding out on the ground, where he too was gunned down.

The crime took place in less than a minute. Habib and the other two assailants then approached Abu Habib, who had been watching the crime unfold from “twenty-five to fifty meters away.” They handed him their weapons and departed on a motorcycle after he ordered them to flee the crime scene—it is unclear who owned the vehicle, though it was most likely one of the perpetrators.

Part of Abu Habib’s job as a security officer was to prevent incidents like this from occurring in the Salah al-Din neighborhood. He instead used his position to oversee and even orchestrate crimes against the local populace, as well as provide impunity for his personal gang.

Neighbours gathered around the four victims as soon as the gunmen had departed. Nazmi or Ismail, Farhan al-Din, and Muhammad Farhan al-Din Othman all died of their wounds, “immediately,” before they could be moved. The older Muhammad Othman was critically injured and clung to life long enough to reach the Afrin city hospital, where he received emergency treatment but still “died later that night.”

Two questions need to be asked: why did this senseless crime take place? And why did it happen in Jinderes of all places?

The town is located between Afrin and Atme on the borders between Syria and Turkey as well as the Aleppo and Idlib Governorates, a contested area that has changed hands multiple times since the fighting began. It came under the control of the PYD-affiliated YPG in 2012 until they were driven out in early 2018 by an operation conducted by the Turkish military and allied Syrian militias. That is how Jinderes ended up split between Jaysh al-Sharqiya and other armed groups affiliated with the Syrian National Army or SNA.

This was also one of the worst-hit locations by the February earthquakes, making international headlines for widespread structural damage and extensive loss of life. The bodies of 1,200 men, women, and children have been recovered from hills of rubble that used to be apartments and houses. Destroyed buildings still lay in ruins a month and a half later—the “rocks” or “stones” thrown at Nazmi or Ismail Othman by Habib and the two other gunmen were quite likely pieces of debris left over from the earthquakes.

Syrian Kurds in Jinderes and elsewhere saw this Newroz as a time to mourn their dead while also encouraging those who survived and continued to endure. The last thing they expected, let alone deserved, was another painful horror compounding on many others in the recent and distant past.

This was not the first time that Syrians were murdered just for celebrating the holiday. A Google Search for “Syria Newroz murders,” will likely pull up reports of similar incidents in 2008 and 2010 before newer articles summarizing this year’s bloodshed. The same government that stripped 120,000 Kurds of Syrian citizenship in 1962 and later denied it to their descendants viewed Newroz gatherings as a potential vector for political organizing and separatism. Reasons for prohibiting the holiday can range from a supposedly secular government’s entrenched Arab nationalist ideology to religious fundamentalism—even some conservative Kurds view Newroz as a sacrilegious practice.

The next point requires some context about the Syrian National Army and affiliated subgroups such as Jaysh al-Sharqiya. They are related to but not quite the same as the Free Syrian Army or FSA, the original armed opposition against the Assad regime. The SNA is a collective of militias that include former FSA brigades and units from more Islamist-leaning organizations such as the Sham Legion, Jaysh al-Islam, and Ahrar al-Sham, among others. Ideological and ethnic diversity within the SNA is widely overlooked, even by analysts and other researchers—however, the presence of majority-Kurdish units such as the Azadi Battalion, the Martyr Mashaal Tammo Brigade, and the Saladin Brigade does not disprove accusations of anti-Kurdish animus leveled at other elements of the SNA.

The presence of moderate Syrian militias similarly does not disprove the documented instances of individuals linked to ISIS joining the SNA-affiliated militias and acts of persecution against the Kurdish-speaking Yezidi community in Afrin. It is a chaotic, contradictory mixture of nationalists, fundamentalists, revolutionaries, and bandits with frequent instances of infighting over their irreconcilable internal squabbles. They are not as a whole an explicitly Islamist or extremist organization, as their enemies often label them, but some of its militias are willing to enlist extremists who have a family connection or useful skills.

The vast majority of ISIS-linked individuals accepted into their ranks are Syrian nationals who escaped the fall of the false caliphate in 2017—Iraqi and other non-Syrian ISIS members typically fled south to the desert or west to Idlib instead of SNA-held territory.

Among the few unifying factors among the disparate militias is that the Turkish government views them as a useful tool for securing their interests in Syria—when they are united against one of Turkey’s enemies, that is. Infighting between different militias frequently breaks out whenever a campaign against the Assad regime or the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) comes to an end. They have more recently been tasked with rooting out ISIS cells operating covertly in territory under their control.

Jaysh al-Sharqiya was originally a unit within the Ahrar al-Sharqiya group, which started as a Deir ez-Zor branch of Ahrar al-Sham—an Islamist group with roots in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood who have at various times allied with and fought against FSA rebels, Jabhat al-Nusra, and later Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The eastern subgroup became an independent entity after severe losses in battle against the Assad regime, the YPG, and ISIS resulted in their expulsion from Deir ez-Zor.

Ahrar al-Shariqya’s establishment was announced, curiously, in 2016 by an HTS commander named Abu Maria al-Qahtani. He is an Iraqi citizen, a Sharia judge, and a former Jabhat al-Nusra commander associated with both Abu Mohammed al-Jolani and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi until he sided with the former during their 2014 schism—this was when al-Qaeda and ISIS became separate entities at war with one another. Al-Qahtani’s relationship with Ahrar al-Shariya has been subject to debate and doubt among analysts, although one former commander confirmed it and even described him as a “hero.” This same man bizarrely went on to defect from Ahrar al-Sharqiya to the SDF and was killed in 2019 by a mysterious roadside bombing officially attributed to ISIS.

What is known for certain about the militia is that it is comprised largely of individuals from Deir ez-Zor, including many from the al-Shaitaat tribe—Sunni Arabs who incurred ISIS’s wrath by refusing to pledge their allegiance and suffered a massacre of somewhere between 700 to 1,500 people in August 2014, many of whom were beheaded.

Ahrar al-Shariqya, while mortal enemies with ISIS due to their ongoing blood feud, also have a less extreme but still overbearing Islamist political outlook. This was seen throughout 2018 in Afrin neighborhoods under their control, from demolishing liquor stores to posting signs encouraging women to wear a headscarf or even a black niqab in public. The latter sparked outrage among the city’s predominately liberal population—even conservatives criticized the campaign as an unnecessary waste of resources and in some cases even insulting to Kurds, because “the non-wearing of [the hijab] by women in Afrin is not due to lack of religion,” but simply differences in regional culture. Anger from the locals, the vast majority of whom were Muslim, led to the signs being removed.

The militia became even more well-known and associated with anti-Kurdish animus during the October 2019 Turkish offensive, codenamed Operation Peace Spring, when Ahrar al-Sharqiya fighters filmed themselves murdering a politician named Hevrin Khalaf—she was dragged by her hair and suffered multiple broken bones from a prolonged beating with blunt, heavy objects before the militants finally shot her dead. This incident and other allegations of kidnapping for ransom, torture, extortion, looting, and extrajudicial executions led the US Treasury Department to impose sanctions on the group in 2021, cutting them off from international banking.

Jaysh al-Sharqiya announced their formation in September 2017, identifying themselves as fighters from Deir ez-Zor, Hasakeh, and Raqqa under the command of Major Hussein Hamadi. They soon played a central role in the 2018 seizure of Jinderes, where their headquarters would be located for the following five years. Researcher Alexander McKeever notes that while the group is smaller than Ahrar al-Sharqiya, videos filmed during Operation Olive Branch show them operating alongside armored personnel carriers with Turkish 2nd Army license plates. It is unclear whether the APCs were driven by Turkish soldiers or Syrian militiamen, but he points to this as evidence of Jaysh al-Sharqiya’s particularly close relationship with Turkey. They are, from Ankara’s point of view, among the more reliable militias working under the Syrian National Army umbrella.

2018 was also the same year Jaysh al-Sharqiya abducted and tortured Farhan al-Din Othman, one of the four men later murdered during the 2023 Newroz killings. Activists, Syrian news channels, and local social media users from a variety of political outlooks all circulated reports of his arrest with a photograph of Farhan showing torture marks all over his back. The family either fled or were forced out of their house during the battle, part of a well-documented trend among SNA militias to expropriate homes either for their own use or selling them to refugees deported from Turkey. Farhan al-Din Othman found militants from Jaysh al-Sharqiya occupying his home once it was safe for civilians to return and insisted on his family being allowed to return.

They instead took him captive and brutalized him within an inch of his life to send a message—this was their house, now. The Othmans eventually moved to a home in the Salah al-Din neighborhood, where the murders later took place. This incident was not an isolated example in territory held by the SNA, but what stands out about it was the family’s willingness to go on the record and publicize Farhan’s ordeal. They did everything in their power to resist Jaysh al-Shariqya’s petty tyranny despite the grave risk of retaliation, which may have prompted security officers such as Abu Habib to keep a close eye on the family.

It is unclear whether the middle-aged man from Deir ez-Zor was involved in Farhan’s abduction and torture, although a militia with only a thousand members can only have a limited number of security officers. But he was known to be “quarreling with many,” and “extremely arrogant,” according to a witness interviewed by Syrians for Truth and Justice, a temperament that must have struck fear into those who lived in neighborhoods under his watch. He was the type of violent, domineering thug who would pull his own son into a life of crime, including murder.

Habib Ali Khalaf was eighteen years old at the time of the Newroz killings while his masked accomplices, later identified as Bilal Ahmad al-Aboud and Omar Saleh al-Asmar, were both twenty-two. They would have been between the ages of seven and eleven in 2011, when nationwide protests calling for reform were met by gunfire, which escalated into calls for the regime’s overthrow and eventually armed resistance. Their childhoods were cut short when Syria was shattered by war, the rest of their lives shaped by hardship and horror until they were old enough to actively participate in the violence.

One of the two older gunmen was also reportedly engaged to marry Habib’s sister, another indicator that the three were part of a gang that operated at Abu Habib’s direction and answered solely to him. This fits a broader trend within the Syrian National Army, where crimes are committed individually by different militias or gangs operating within militias instead of being ordered from the top-down and carried out on a systematic basis. The SNA’s lack of command and control over its affiliated militias may explain why a public pronouncement approving the celebration of Newroz in their territory was disregarded by violent extremists.

A Sharia official from Ahrar al-Sharqiya—who likely have an axe to grind against their breakaway subgroup—accused Jaysh al-Sharqiya of recruiting a large number of fighters with an “[ISIS] mindset,” during an interview with Syrians for Truth and Justice. These hardliners allegedly voiced disapproval of Newroz celebrations in an online chat room, describing the holiday as a “practice belonging to infidels and Satanists.” Others in the chat described Kurds who practice the holiday as, contradictorily, atheists and fire worshipers. This means that the murders might not have been a spur-of-the-moment occurrence, but a premeditated act intended to frighten people in Jinderes out of celebrating Newroz.

The Othman family remained at the mercy of regional politics even after the triple and eventually quadruple homicide of their loved ones. They brought the bodies of Farhan al-Din, Nazmi or Ismail, and the younger Muhammad to a nearby Turkish military hospital, but the night shift workers refused to accept the remains into their morgue. Photographs of three body bags lying on a sidewalk adjacent to the hospital would later circulate on social media. The family accused hospital staff of trying to pressure them into immediately burying the victims, a nighttime funeral with few mourners present. They refused to accept such an unreasonable demand and took the bodies—now joined by the older Muhammad Othman—to Atme, a city held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, where they finally found a hospital willing to hold them in their morgue for the night.

A Turkish military hospital demanding the victims be buried in the middle of the night might seem incomprehensible until one considers the Turkish military’s close working relationship with the Syrian National Army, particularly Jaysh al-Shariqya. There has been a top-down effort to rehabilitate the SNA’s public image after it was tarnished by the murder of Hevrin Khalaf and other widely publicized atrocities in 2019. Some commanders who embarrassed the SNA when their criminality made headlines were arrested and replaced, but factional infighting and human rights abuses continue to this day. Covering up a hate crime against Syrian Kurds would be consistent with the lessons they learned and new policies implemented after their reputational damage during Operation Peace Spring.

But the Othman family’s refusal to back down resulted in an unprecedented wave of public anger throughout SNA-held territory. Pictures of the four victims lying in the Atme morgue—it is unclear if they were photographed by their surviving relatives or if someone else did so without their permission—were shared online by the same activists who posted the earliest reports of their murders. They were soon followed by videos of protestors taking to the streets that night to denounce the SNA for their corruption and abuse, some of whom voiced support for the idea of rule by HTS and their leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani instead. Journalists and researchers monitoring the protests via social media were then shocked when a video of al-Jolani personally meeting with the Othman family in Atme joined the flurry of real-time Internet updates.

The aftermath of the Newroz murders took a dramatic turn when the most powerful warlord in Northwest Syria got involved in the matter. His public promise to protect the victims’ relatives gave more people the confidence necessary to openly voice their grievances against the SNA, causing protests to expand throughout the night. An uprising was taking on a life of its own and al-Jolani knew an opportunity when he saw one.

The SNA-affiliated military police in Jinderes were unaware of the murders and the public anger they generated until they saw it on social media or watched it on the news the following morning. They were similarly surprised when convoys of trucks carrying fighters from HTS poured into the town, set up checkpoints, and stormed the military police station. They likely learned their way around Jinderes the previous October when they intervened during a particularly nasty round of infighting between SNA militias. Researchers have also speculated that HTS maintained a small, undercover presence there after the October incursion, enabling them to cultivate and maintain contact with sympathetic locals.

The military police were forcibly disarmed and kicked out of their station while HTS security units investigated the Newroz murders, with the sole exception of three local officers who provided advice and assistance to the investigators. A crowd of protestors outside the military police station cheered while HTS took over the facility. This happened while Abu Muhammad al-Jolani arrived in Jinderes for a meeting with the leadership of Ahrar al-Sharqiya, Jaysh al-Shariqya, and other militias with bases in the town. He was reportedly joined by Abu Maria al-Qahtani, the Iraqi HTS commander alleged to have connections with Ahrar al-Sharqiya.

Al-Jolani first “requested,” authority to investigate the Newroz murders, then shocked his hosts by revealing the military police station had been seized and that his forces were encircling the Jaysh al-Sharqiya headquarters as they spoke. Their commanders promised to cooperate with the investigation and hand over the perpetrators to avoid being annihilated by HTS.

The Othman family picked up the bodies of Farhan al-Din, Muhammad, Nazmi or Ismail, and Muhammad Farhan al-Din from the Atme morgue that morning and transported them back to Jinderes for a proper funeral. A picture taken around this time shows women weeping after taking one last look at a deceased loved one in a partially unzipped body bag. A funeral procession of outraged locals followed the family from Atme to Jinderes, yet another example of memorial services sparking protests in Syria. Towns and villages across the Afrin District saw anti-SNA demonstrations start and swell quickly, with more than a thousand people taking to the streets in Jinderes alone.

Outrage over the murders soon converged with longstanding anger at SNA militias who spent the last five years committing crimes with absolute impunity, including acts of discrimination and other injustices meted out against Syrian Kurds in their territory. The emerging general strike saw pictures of the four victims held up alongside the Kurdish flag. Other Syrians participated in or otherwise voiced support for the protests, which led to revolution flags being held up alongside Kurdish flags and portraits of the murdered Othmans.

Habib, Bilal, and Omar were handed over by Jaysh al-Sharqiya on the evening of March 21st, with Abu Habib joining them in custody the next day.

This was followed shortly by a “high-ranking Turkish intelligence officer” meeting with al-Jolani and HTS commanders, according to Syrians for Truth and Justice. Many factions in Syria and governments around the world were alarmed to see HTS appearing to annex yet another city out of nowhere. The official asked al-Jolani to evacuate his security units from the police station and withdraw his forces from Jinderes, promising that Turkish intelligence would continue the investigation and see it through to the end. The warlord complied and the local military police were allowed back into their workplace with the four accused murderers locked up in their jail while al-Jolani and his men drove back home to Idlib.

Why did HTS take such a bold, public stand against Jaysh al-Sharqiya and champion themselves as protectors of Syrian Kurds, only to immediately turn around at the behest of the Turkish government? Most likely al-Jolani was trying to balance his local interests with those of an outside regional power whom HTS relies upon for survival, perfectly in character for a man who has made deals with and then double-crossed almost every faction in Syria’s long, complicated war.

Abu Muhammad al-Jolani began his career in 2003 when he traveled to Iraq and joined the insurgency waging a guerilla war against the US-led coalition that invaded and occupied the country, eventually joining al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He and other first-rank fighters got promoted quickly over the years as the organization’s leadership were killed or captured multiple times over by Delta Force and other special operations units. The supposed end of the Iraq War and the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011 led Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then-leader of the Islamic State of Iraq—successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq—or one of his deputies to task al-Jolani with establishing an ISI branch in Syria that would assist the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and eventually conquer territory on al-Baghdadi’s behalf.

That was how ISI became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS, alternatively translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL. But al-Jolani and his group Jabhat al-Nusra, portraying themselves as al-Qaeda loyalists, refused to bend the knee when al-Baghdadi announced their planned merger with ISIS in 2013, leading to months of fruitless negotiating that devolved into a war between the two terrorist groups—sparking intra-Sunni extremist conflict from North Africa to Afghanistan. Al-Jolani took another radical turn in 2017 when he announced the creation of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham through a merger with the surviving remnants of smaller, Muslim Brotherhood-aligned armed groups and officially cut ties with al-Qaeda’s transnational jihad—a development that Abu Maria al-Qahtani championed for years before it finally happened. One can see a clear pattern of al-Jolani switching sides to protect his political and military interests.

The Islamist governance of HTS evolved over time from an exclusionary theocracy that tolerated no dissent to a more laissez-faire authoritarianism that gives a limited degree of freedom to more moderate city-dwellers and emphasizes the rights of Syrian minority groups—at least, some of them. The more tolerant turn since 2020, which coincided with a guerilla war against al-Qaeda loyalists, is a far cry from the al-Jolani of 2011 to 2016, when “the Conqueror Sheik” was calling for indiscriminate attacks against civilians in majority-Alawi towns and villages. HTS now tries to whitewash their extremist past with the heavily publicized re-opening of churches in Idlib and allowing local Christians to openly practice their faith, once again. Al-Jolani went a step further in 2022 and started reaching out to the Druze community, portraying himself as a moderate and a protector despite his history of massacring Druze villages. Taking a populist turn and trying to win over Syrian Kurds protesting SNA abuses is a logical step for one of the wiliest warlords in Syria.

But al-Jolani’s opportunism has not translated into justice for the Othman family. The arrests of Habib, Bilal, Omar, and Abu Habib placated the community enough for the uprising to dissipate. The cessation of protests was followed by the investigation of the Newroz killings and prosecution of the alleged perpetrators slowing to a halt, which the family complained about to Syria TV. The defendants and the victims’ family have hired attorneys but a trial has still yet to begin, with no word yet on when this may take place while the case goes neglected by the same compromised authority figures who tried to cover up the murders.

Abu Habib has since been released and had his charges dropped, with the SNA-affiliated military police insisting that his son and the other two gunmen acted on their own initiative. The alleged killers are now waiting in jail for either trial, being formally released, or broken out by their comrades. The latter scenarios become more and more likely as more time passes without an arraignment or hearing.

The popular demand that Jaysh al-Sharqiya be expelled from Jinderes also went unfulfilled, seemingly forgotten as soon as al-Jolani got whatever it was he wanted during the negotiations with the militia’s commanders and their Turkish backers. This enabled them to recently retaliate against the Othman family, kidnapping nineteen-year-old Nazmi Ashraf Othman on July 23, 2023 while he was walking home from work at a barber shop. The militants reportedly beat him with a brick or cinderblock as well as sticks and the butts of their rifles before fracturing his arms by running them over with either a car or a heavier military vehicle.

“This is the price!” they shouted while beating him almost to death, until he was either rescued or the militia decided to spare his life and released him. Nazmi was taken to the Atme hospital and photographs soon circulated across social media showing him with a swollen face and both of his arms in casts.

This fits the broader trend of SNA criminality continuing unabated in Jinderes, a recent example being the rape of a fourteen-year-old girl by a member of the Turkish-backed “local council” and his son. The crime was allegedly committed “under the supervision of the [public] relations officer of the… Sultan Suleiman Shah Division,” another SNA militia notorious for stealing houses, kidnaping women, and other crimes. The Sultan Suleiman Shah Division was also the faction backed by HTS against other SNA militias during the October 2022 infighting.

The long-term impact of the Newroz killings appears to be the crime fading into memory and the perpetrators shielded from accountability. Abu Muhammad al-Jolani used the Newroz killings to increase his local influence and gain more clout with Turkey, then looked the other way while Jinderes backslid into the status quo that protestors raged about in late March. The murders quickly spiraled into a microcosm of Northwest Syria’s political intrigue, while those who were impacted first and foremost are left with nothing but grief for their loved ones and fear for the future.

Update: The Sultan Suleiman Shah Division was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for “serious human rights abuses against [the residents] in the Afrin region of northern Syria” on August 17, 2023.


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