By Naveed Malekafzali (Twitter)
Afrin - The streets of Afrin City were filled to the brim on the morning of July 5, in one of the larger protests seen in recent years following the civil uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War. Estimates on the number of protesters in Afrin range from thousands, to 100,000 to possibly even more. For reference, the pre-war population of Afrin was around 172,000, The latter larger estimates of the protest's size are being reported by Hawar News Agency, a news outlet with links to the SDF and rumored to be officially linked to the ruling party in Afrin Canton, the PYD.
As thousands of citizens marched down one of Afrin's main streets, banners and music filled the morning air. Protesters were seen flying the flag of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, or Rojava, alongside flags of the YPG, YPJ, and the ruling party of the autonomous region, the PYD. Those who weren't waving flags raised photographs of fallen YPG/YPJ fighters who had died in recent fighting. Though the YPG and the SDF at large have sought to distance themselves from any alleged PKK links, portraits of the PKK's leader, 'Abdullah Öcalan, as well as the PKK's flag were numerous within the protest march itself.
The protests in Afrin were sprung up in response to a recent uptick in the ongoing Euphrates Shield-SDF conflict in Syria's north. Turkey, the Euphrates Shield's main military force, has a vested interest in clearing the Turkish border of the SDF, as it accuses the SDF's central group, the YPG, of being the PKK's Syrian affiliate, and by extension a terrorist organization; Turkey has designated the PKK as a terror group. Turkey has expressed in past months its desire to initiate a new operation to take back, among other areas, primarily the village of Tal Rif'at and Minnigh Military Airbase from the SDF. However, in recent days, there have been concerns that the Afrin Canton at large could be at risk, not just the western half of Shahba Region, which was territory originally taken by the YPG from the rebels in early 2016.
There were reports that the PYD forced inhabitants of the region to close their shops and attend the demonstrations, but this could not be confirmed.