Turkey on Tuesday strongly condemned an agreement signed between the United Nations and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) terror group in Syria, to end the recruitment of child soldiers.
Virginia Gamba, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative on children in armed conflicts, met with YPG commander Mazloum Abdi — also known as Ferhat Abdi Şahin or Şahin Cilo, who is on Turkey’s most-wanted list — and signed an agreement over the weekend in Geneva.
The so-called agreement aims to end SDF’s use and recruitment of individuals under the age of 18. The group has been long known to recruit and use children between the ages of 11 and 18 in its ranks.
The YPG, which works under the label of the SDF, is the Syrian branch of the PKK that is a designated terrorist organization in Turkey, the EU and the U.S.
Gamba said the agreement was being made to ensure “no child is recruited and used by any entity operating under its umbrella.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded with a statement strongly condemning the U.N.’s meeting with Ferhat Abdi Şahin and the agreement, calling it a “grave development.”
“The signing of an agreement by the U.N., which should be at the forefront in the fight against terror, with a terrorist organization cannot be explained in any way. This is also a clear violation of the UN’s own decisions on terrorism,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The ministry said the nature of the agreement once again attests to the severe violations of human rights and international law committed by the SDF.
“However, it is absolutely unacceptable for the U.N. to negotiate with the bloody terrorist organization to solve this problem,” the ministry underscored.
U.N. spokesman for the Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric said in a press conference Monday that Gamba’s plan with the YPG-led group “does not imply any legitimacy, political legitimacy, for any armed group that she engages in.”
The PKK has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years and been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including women and children.
The activities of the YPG terrorist group have been a major security concern for Ankara, while the U.S. viewed the group as a “reliable partner” in the fight against Daesh. Şahin, a PKK terrorist on Turkey’s most wanted list, has been an integral part of this partnership, leading initial negotiations with the U.S. beginning in August 2014.
Şahin was the leader of the YPG before assuming the role as commander-in-chief of the U.S.-backed SDF last year. He has been a member of the PKK for decades, working in Syria, Iraq and Europe. Şahin is strongly supported by Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK terrorist group.
The YPG’s use of child soldiers in its ranks has repeatedly been documented and criticized by international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The group reportedly tricks families into giving up their children or kidnaps the children, taking them to training camps, where they never see their families again.
According to the U.N., at least 224 children, including 72 girls, were removed from their families and educated in YPG training camps in 2017, and this number grew five-fold in 2018.
In March 2018, a YPG training camp in Afrin that was destroyed by Turkish forces in Operation Olive Branch was screened by Anadolu Agency. Investigations revealed that the camp was a center for training 13-to-17-year-old recruits to the terror group.
On March 22, 2018, a 17-year-old YPG fighter named Yasemin Arif, who was forced into the group at age 14, died in clashes in Deir el-Zour.