This week in Northern Syria (IX, part one)
A rundown of key events from Turkish/SNA & SDF-controlled territories
Beginning on August 30th a slew of images and video were published to social media showing extensive deforestation on the shores of Afrin’s Lake Meydankey. This is far from the first time that the issue of uncontrolled logging in Turkish-occupied Afrin has come up, however, given Lake Meydankey’s role as a popular tourist destination the visual evidence that has come forward is largely unprecedented (only coverage of al-Mahmoudiyah forest in Afrin city is comparable).
The imagery published primarily shows a peninsula located in the southeastern corner of the manmade lake. While the area’s forest has shrunk over the last several years, recent satellite imagery shows that much of the logging now visible occurred in the last month alone. Earth imaging company Planet Labs captured the area on July 29th of this year which when compared to imagery from 2019 shows reduced but still visible tree cover. Drone footage captured by local photographers on August 31st shows that in just over a month the remnants of the peninsula’s forest have disappeared.
One video that appears to have been first published on August 31st likely taken just days before shows several man on the same peninsula (bushes in foreground visible in first drone image above) cutting down the last few remaining trees with chain saws. The video has been shared with captions alleging that the men are affiliated with SNA faction Furqat al-Sultan Murad, the main faction in the area, though it is impossible to verify their identities from the video alone.
Just to the north the rest of Lake Meydankey’s eastern shore has also been almost completely deforested.
Prior to the war, Afrin was one of the most forested parts of (non-coastal) northern Syria, due in part to extensive reforestation efforts over the twentieth century. Since the Turkish invasion of 2018, much of these forests have disappeared. This logging is primarily carried out to in order to procure firewood in the face of fuel shortages and as well as to produce charcoal. While this is partially conducted by local civilians (particularly recently arrived IDPs often residing in tents), there have been numerous reports of SNA factions engaging in such activities as profit seeking ventures. Documentation of this behavior and the effects of such is somewhat scarce compared to what is visible via satellite, and often times videos of deforested areas are of low quality and filmed at a distance due to fear of persecution by the perpetrators.
In response to this latest social media uproar local activists have launched a reforestation campaign, while SNA bodies and factions have made announcements decrying logging. However, the damage done is already extensive and it remains to be seen whether such statements will have an effect.
More work on this issue coming out soon, from STJ and others
Part two of this week’s newsletter can be read here.
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