Afrin is a city in northwestern Syria that is predominantly inhabited by Kurds. Afrin District is one of eleven districts in Syria’s Aleppo Governorate and it consists of seven municipalities with a total of 366 villages. The region lies directly on the Turkish border.
Afrin is one of Syria's traditional olive growing areas, containing an estimated 13 million olive trees. The region is therefore well known for its extra virgin olive oil and Aleppo soap. Many families cultivate their own olive groves, so there are plenty of olive oil presses in the area. Wheat, pomegranates, grapes, melons, figs and vegetables are planted as well. The Afrin River is the lifeline of the region for its people and nature. The dam on the Afrin forms an artificial lake which is of great economic importance for agriculture, fishing and regional tourism.
The oldest archaeological discoveries and historical buildings in the area of the present-day Afrin district date back around 3,000 years. The most important historical monuments of the region include the Roman theatre, the cemetery of the ancient city of Nabi Huri in the northeast and the early Byzantine monastery. The latter, located south of Afrin, is now a pilgrimage site also known as the Saint Simeon Citadel, where the first Christian saint Simeon lived until he died in 459.
Before the Turkish military offensive at the beginning of 2018, almost 350,000-500,000 people are thought to have lived in the Afrin region, including 125,000 refugees from other areas of Syria, mainly from Aleppo. According to statistics from the end of the 1990s, Arabs accounted for one percent of Arin’s population. After the civil war broke out in Syria in early 2011, so many refugees came from neighbouring towns and villages that the Arab population grew to 15 percent.
In 2012, Syrian government troops initially withdrew from Afrin. Not long afterwards, the Kurdish militia “People's Protection Units” (YPG) took control of the city and in 2014 it established three cantons under the name Rojava (“West Kurdistan”) in Afrin, Kobani and Jazira.
On 20 January 2018, the Turkish army launched “Operation Olive Branch” against YPG in region. Afrin was captured by Turkish troops on March 18th 2018. Since then, the entire area has been under the control of the Turkish army and their allies.
The people of Afrin pay a high price for the conflicts of the powerful players in the Middle East. For one thing, the political and military conflict between the PKK and its offshoots and Turkey has continued to grow since 1984. The combat between the Turkish army and the militant PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) has clearly left its mark: around 40,000 people dead, 3,500 villages destroyed, over 2.5 million people forced to flee and migrate. The conflict has strengthened ethnic polarization and nationalism on both sides. For another, the armed conflict in Syria has been raging since 2011. The Syrian armed forces, under the command of President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, are up against armed groups supported by Turkey, such as the Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham.