On the evening of 20 March 2023, three members of the Eastern Army/Jaysh al-Sharqiya—affiliated with the “Liberation and Building Movement” (LBM) of the opposition’s Syrian National Army (SNA), shot at a Kurdish family for lighting a small fire in Salah al-Din neighborhood in Jindires town, rural Afrin, in celebration of the Kurdish New Year, Nowruz. The Turkish-backed armed group’s bullets killed four of the family’s members and seriously wounded a fifth.
The four victims are Farah al-Din Othman, his two brothers Nazmi Othman and Muhammad Othman, and his son Muhammad Othman. The brother Muhammad died later that night, while the remaining three died immediately in front of their house, affected by the bullets resting in their bodies’ upper parts.
The next day, 21 March, the Military Police, also operating under the SNA, announced it had arrested the three involved army members. The police announcement was followed by many official statements from several SNA-connected entities, including the LBM, denying ties between the captured attackers and the Eastern Army/Jaysh al-Sharqiya while promoting the assault as a “fight between the victims and armed individuals.”
Anger gripped locals across the Afrin region, to which Jindires town is administratively affiliated. The Kurdish community rose against attempts at evading responsibility for the killings that dominated the statements of the de facto authorities in the region. The locals organized large-scale protests, several of which accompanied the burial procession. The protestors demanded that the SNA factions leave the region and authorities hold the perpetrators of the killings accountable, holding placards that read: “No to killing Kurds,” “Five years of injustice are enough,” “Five years of injustice, oppression, and demographic change,” and “Afrin is Kurdish.”
Additionally, 155 Syrian civil society organizations signed a joint statement condemning the killings, especially since the perpetrators did not hesitate to kill unarmed civilians while Jindires town and other areas north of Syria are still grappling with the devastating impact of the February 2023 quakes. In the town alone, the tremors killed nearly 1,100 persons and inflicted destruction of varying degrees on thousands of buildings, leaving approximately 2,000 families without a shelter in the face of an acute shortage of life-saving resources because several armed opposition groups politicized and diverted aid.
However, the killings elicited little reaction on the international level, which manifested in brief Twitter statements. On 3 April 2023, the U.S. Embassy in Syria tweeted: “Violence like that witnessed in Jinderes on 20 March threatens Syria’s stability. We urge all parties to halt civilian attacks and call for accountability.”
For his part, Germany’s Special Envoy for Syria, Stefan Schneck, tweeted: “Germany condemns the tragic loss of lives during the lighting up of the Nowruz fire in Jindires. We extend our deepest condolences to the victims’ families and call for an immediate investigation of the practices of the [Eastern Army/Jaysh al-Sharqiya]. There is no room for violence during celebrations of hope and renewal.”
Moreover, in a report published on 22 March 2023, Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes that these killings fall under a “litany of human rights abuses” the SNA factions have continued to commit since they took over the region. HRW added: “As an occupying power and as a backer of the local factions operating in areas under its control in northern Syria, Turkey is obliged to investigate these killings and ensure that those responsible are held accountable. Turkey should also cut all support to SNA factions implicated in recurrent or systemic human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations.”
Notably, several Jindires neighborhoods, including the one that witnessed the killings, are controlled by the Eastern Army/Jaysh al-Sharqiya. The army was one of the opposition’s SNA factions that invaded and occupied the Afrin region along the Turkish military through Operation Olive Branch in March 2018. According to UN estimates, the hostilities at the time forced at least 137,000 persons to flee the former Kurdish-majority region.
Under the Turkish occupation, the Afrin region, including Jindires town, became a stage for rampant human rights violations. The SNA factions perpetrate repeated and systemic patterns of violations with impunity and uncensored by the Turkish military—which backs them and practices effective control in the region. Since 2018, several independent local and international organizations, as well as concerned UN bodies, have documented large-scale violations, including killings, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, abuse, torture, pillage, and property seizures, as well as coercion of Kurdish residents to abandon their homes, hampering the return of locals to their original places of residence following hostilities, demographic change and practices of Turkification.
In this special report, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) unveils the intricacies of the Jindires murder, shedding light on the details of the attack and the response from the de facto authorities in the region. The authorities used the tragedy of the Kurdish family as a tool for political competition, enticing polarization and further establishing their dominance.
In terms of methodology, the report builds from six extensive interviews. The field researchers with STJ talked to witnesses and sources close to the victims’ family. Three interviewees were on site when the assault took place and are informed of the proceedings of the investigation with the surviving relatives. Additionally, the researchers interviewed three military sources from the SNA, among them a Sharia official with the Ahrar al-Sharqiya/Free Men of the East faction, who revealed the “Da’esh mindset” underlying the practices of the Eastern Army/Jaysh al-Sharqiya, and its treatment of the Kurdish community in the area and the Kurds’ embrace of their ethnic identity and celebrations, including Nowruz. Moreover, STJ reviewed various open-source materials, written and visual, published on the Jindires murder, verified the information they present, and cited several.
 The tweet is translated from Arabic, which mistakenly cites the armed group associated with the reported killings as Ahrar al-Sharqiya/Free Men of the East.