The Turkish Ministry of Defense posted two tweets on their official Twitter account on 14 July 2021. In the first tweet, the ministry claimed that “another war crime came to light”, accusing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of burying people in a “mass grave” in January 2018 before the Turkish army and the Syrian armed opposition factions controlled the Kurdish-majority Afrin region of Syria. In the second tweet, the ministry claimed that “35 bodies were found in sacks following the excavation conducted under the supervision of the prosecutor.”
On the same day, the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) published a news piece alleging that the 35 people recovered from the “mass grave” had been executed. The AA cited the executions, which neither of the ministry’s tweets mentioned, as the findings of “preliminary investigations.” However, the AA did not cite the source of the findings, nor the entities running these investigations.
On 15 July 2021, the governor of the Turkish province of Hatay/Antakya, Rahmi Dogan, told reporters that a “mass grave” had been found, from which 61 bodies were recovered. Dogan said that Turkish authorities believe the dead were civilians executed by the YPG before Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch.
The alleged “mass grave” grabbed the headlines of several regional and international media outlets, initially giving a unilateral account of the news. They adopted the Turkish official narrative without investigating the incident nor consulting with Syrian sources to verify the Turkish claims.
In response, activists and residents from Afrin took to social media providing testimonies and posting dozens of photos that debunked the Turkish allegations about the unearthed “mass grave.”
In this report, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) investigates the “mass grave” recently found in Afrin and provides information on how it was dug and who was buried within it. Our findings are based on evidence which has been verified and cross-checked.