In 2018, the area of Afrin and its surroundings were taken over by the Turkish-supported Syrian National Army (SNA) during a military operation called Operation Olive Branch. This operation was initiated by Turkey with the aim of pushing back the influence of the PYD (Democratic Union Party) along the Turkish-Syrian border .
A video and photos have surfaced the social media showing large-scale logging of trees (mainly pine trees, Pinus brutia) around Maydanki Lake in the Afrin region of Northern Syria on 31st of August 2022.
The deforestation took place in a protected natural area that was frequently visited by residents for recreation. The extent and duration of the deforestation is not known. According to some reports, the armed groups cleared roughly 70% of the Maydanki forest, which spans an area of 74 hectares. Additionally, it is claimed that the trees on the island in the lake and on the mountain were burned .
Local inhabitants and activists in Afrin blamed the Syrian opposition factions backed by Turkey, who have control over the region, of the deforestation being carried out by the "Sultan Murad Division." The reason behind the cutting of the trees is said to be for the purpose of selling them to firewood dealers in anticipation of winter .
Maydanki Lake was created by the Syrian government in the early 2000s and the objective was to store drinking and irrigation water and generate electricity through the Afrin hydroelectric dam. In 2004, the lake and its surroundings were declared a protected area and quickly became a popular recreation spot for locals. Many residents have fond memories of the area, with one local environmental activist, Ahmad Musto al-Kurdi, describing it as "a place for leisure, known across the region". However, in 2018, thousands of displaced people arrived in Afrin because of the ongoing Syrian war and Turkish military operations. Many of these individuals had nowhere else to go and cleared the forests in order to settle there.
In light of this, many activists blame Turkey and its proxies for the environmental destruction in Afrin and it was accused in the past of allowing, directly or indirectly, mass tree clearing to take place in Kurdish regions under its influence in Syria. Kurdish journalist, Nurhat Hesen, who was displaced from Afrin in 2018 said, "The shores of the lake were radiant with greenery before Turkey occupied the area. The same thing happened in Afrin city: there were hundreds of trees above the Mahmudiya neighborhood. Now they no longer exist, they have all been cut down .
The incident at Maydanki Lake has reactivated the anger of local communities and activists in Afrin and has caused widespread grief and concern among Syrians on social media. The destruction of this protected area, which was once a beloved recreational spot for locals, highlights the devastating impact of the ongoing conflict and military operations on the environment and local communities in Syria . There have been reports of military groups engaging in large-scale deforestation in the town of Sharan near Maydanki Lake. This has led to concern among local residents and activists, who have shared pictures and videos of the destruction. Activists have also shared old photographs of the Afrin region, showcasing the drastic changes in the area's landscape due to the extensive cutting of trees and olive groves .
In response, residents and activists (The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, Human rights organization in Afrin, Rojava information center) called for accountability for those responsible for deforestation, and for increased awareness and support for organizations that work to combat logging and deforestation. They also urged for laws to be implemented that criminalize logging and protect the environment, as well as for afforestation campaigns to be launched throughout Northern Syria as a means to combat deforestation .