Olive trees are sacred in every religion The olive tree has been considered sacred for centuries. It has been protected everywhere as a treasure. Afrin is one of these places. In the city, the olive trees are like “prisoners of war”. In this article series, we try to explain how the olives of Afrin have been exported and sold to other countries under Turkish brands and what the people of Afrin have faced. In the first article, we spoke to Silava Ealo, a biologist at the University of Aleppo, about the characteristics of the olive tree, the benefits of olives, and products made from olives.
The olive tree is always been considered by humanity a sacred plant. The olive branch is a symbol of peace and victory throughout history. The existence of the olive tree dates back to the twelfth millennium BC. According to archaeological research in Syria, the history of olive trees dates back to five-six thousand years in Syria.
Olive has many benefits for human health. We spoke to Silava Ealo, a biologist at the University of Aleppo, about the characteristics of the olive tree, the benefits of olives, and products made from olives.
The importance of the olive tree in religions
Mentioning the importance of the olive tree in religions, Silava Ealo said, “The olive tree is one of the oldest trees on the earth. Therefore, the regions, where olive trees grow are considered wealthy regions. It has been considered sacred in Abrahamic religions. The olive tree is mentioned in the Qur’an seven times and in the Bible 140 times. The olive tree symbolizes enduring life in Judaism.”
Characteristics of the olive tree
Talking about the characteristics of the olive tree, Silava Ealo told us, “As the olives ripen further, their color turns from green to yellow-green and then to reddish-brown color and finally black. Olive trees can live for thousands of years. Olive trees’ sizes can reach a height of three to six meters. They sometimes can reach 12 meters. They have strong branches and leaves. Olive trees bloom in late spring. Olive trees produce two types of flowers, female and male parts. The olive pollen is primarily carried by wind and worms. Hundreds of cultivars of the olive tree are known. An olive cultivar has a significant impact on its color, size, shape, and growth characteristics. Olive trees grow quite slowly.”
Olive is used in many fields
Talking about the benefits of olive trees, Silava Ealo said, “The leaves of this tree and olive oil have many benefits for human health. We crush and grind olives to make olive oil and we call this process “kadim”. And then we crush the olives again, we call this process “Mitraf”. The olive oil produced by the process of Mitraf is used to make soaps. After crushing and grinding olives, we use the remaining parts to keep our house warm in winter.”
Syria ranks sixth
Silava Ealo gave us information about the weather conditions for olive trees:
“Olive trees require a Mediterranean-like climate to survive. They need a long, hot summer and a cool winter. Olive trees can survive in temperatures between 5 to 35 degrees. Olive trees grow mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. They need sunlight.”
Emphasizing that Syria ranks sixth in olive production in the world, “There are 70 types of olive trees in Syria. The city of Aleppo is most famous for its ‘Kurdish’ olives. The types of olive trees are as follows; Sorani olives in Idlib, Shat and Tartus in Damascus, and xideri olives in Lazqiye.”
Benefits of olive oil
Silava Ealo told us the benefits of olive oil, “Olive oil is good for heart diseases. It helps improve blood cholesterol levels. It can also be used in massage therapy because it softens skin and hair. It is also used to treat anemia. The fats in olive oil can help smooth the insides of the bowel.
They dream of returning to Afrin and getting their olive trees back Women, who had been forcibly displaced from Afrin to Aleppo, dream of returning to Afrin and getting their olive trees back one day. ”We had a communal life. We would give olives to the families who didn’t have olive groves.”
The region of Afrin is a very wealthy region with its rivers, springs, trees, forests, vineyards, natural parks, sacred places, factories, and natural resources. The people of Afrin make a living from agriculture. The city of Afrin is well known for its olives and it has millions of olive trees. You can see olives trees everywhere in the city. Kurdish people living in Afrin make a living by selling olives and olive oil. The local people also make olive oil soaps.
Olive oil of Afrin is known all around the world
Afrin olive oil is the most valuable olive oil in the world, according to chemical engineers. But Kurdish people face denial policy in producing olive oil due to war policies. Olives of Afrin are prevented from taking their place in the international market. Despite all obstruction and nationalist actions against olives, the olive oil of Afrin is known as Kurdish olive oil in the Middle East and all around the world.
People cannot harvest their olives
The people of Afrin haven’t harvested their olives for four years after the occupation of Afrin. Before the occupation of the city, the people of Afrin walked among the olive trees and picked olives by hand every year at this time. But now, they miss those days. Displaced women of Afrin spoke to our news agency about those days.
Two tins of olive oil from each sack
The people of Afrin think olive trees are sacred, Orziye Mihemed said, adding;
“We looked after them (olive trees) like our children. There have been olive trees in Syria since ancient times. They were planted by our grandparents and their grandparents. The trees in my olive grove are very old. When their roots got too big, I used to remove the dried roots so that the trees wouldn’t die. I planted 120 olive trees before being forcibly displaced from Afrin.”
Orziye Mihemed told us that they used to place 50 kg of fresh olives in a big sack. “We produced two tins of olive oil from each sack. After picking the olives, we squeezed them to make olive oil.”
“There is difference between old and new technique”
Orziye Mihemed calls the place where olives are processed as “mekbaz”, “The old mekbaz (s) were better than the new ones. More oil was obtained than it is now with the old technique. Olives have had a special place in our lives since ancient times. We used to wash olives before taking them to mekbaz. But now, the olives are washed by machines. My father always told us to wash olives very well. Consuming olive oil is good for the human body in general.”
Orziye had 700 olive trees in Afrin, “I and my husband used to pick four sacks of olives a day. We used to take them home and then wash them. Olive oil lasts for a long time, and it has benefits.”
“We used to collectively pick olives”
Fatma Eli began to speak about the harvest time for olives;
“Olives were like my children. We would wake up early every morning to pick them. We went to the olive groves by donkeys because we didn’t have any vehicles. We would take our meal with us because we spent the whole day there. We would have lunch at 11 am under olive trees. We used to collectively pick olives. We would finish our work at 16.00 and return home. We were all helping each other. People helped those who had many olive trees. People living in Aleppo, Kobanî, and other cities came to help us. We used to give them olives for their efforts instead of money.”
People used to exchange goods
The harvest time for olives begins in October in Afrin. “Sometimes it would snow and we picked olives in snow. We used to give olives to those who did not have olives. Olive trees produce olives once in two years. Even in the year the olive trees did not produce olives, there were olives, but not more. We used to dance and sing songs while picking olives. We used to exchange goods; we gave olives and received other fruits such as grapes, pomegranates, etc.”
Longing for olive trees
Ewaş Qasim told us they had helped poor people in Afrin and given olives and olive oil to them. “We used to make a living by selling olive oil or if someone needed money, we used to give olives to them.” October is the harvest season for olives of Afrin and Ewaş Qasim feels so sad, “Because we used to walk among our olive trees at this time. We had nearly 500 olive trees. I wish what we have faced was a dream. But the invaders forced us to displace from our homeland.”
“We want to return to Afrin”
Ewaş Qasim wants to return to Afrin, “Olives are used in many medicines. We often gave our children olive oil when they had stomachaches. Olives are the cure for every disease. Now the invaders have deprived us of everything. We used to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner under olive trees. We were happy even if we had only bread and onion to eat because we were at home. Whenever I talk about the past, I want to cry. All I want is to return to Afrin. I want to die under olive trees. Our olives are our history. We will protect our history and not allow the enemies to destroy our history.”
Olives are sent to world markets through Turkey Indicating that war crimes have been committed in Afrin, Ruşin Hido, a member of the Afrin Human Rights Association, told us that the olive trees of the people of Afrin have been cut down and stolen. “The people of Afrin are forced to undersell their olive oil. Then, olive oil is taken to Turkey and exported from there with Turkish brands.
On March 18, 2018, Turkey launched a military operation into Afrin. As a result of that operation, Turkey and Turkish-backed factions took the control of Afrin. Despite that, the Kurdish people didn’t leave their houses but they have faced abduction, pillage, theft, and rights violations since then. The nature and olive trees of Afrin have their share of rights violations.
According to the Afrin Human Rights Association, more than 45,000 trees were cut down in Afrin in 2018, 78,800 trees in 2019, 58,600 trees in 2020, and 23,800 trees in 2021. More than 315,200 trees have been cut down in Afrin by the Turkish army and Turkish-backed factions since 2018.
Citizens were threatened
October is the harvest time for olives in Afrin. On October 1, 2021, the Turkish army and Turkish-backed factions demanded the citizens in the city pick olives. The people of Afrin immediately began to harvest olives because they were afraid that their olives would be stolen. Recently, an old man was threatened by an armed group, he was told, “If you don’t leave your olive grove, we will kill you.” Ruşin Hido, a member of the Afrin Human Rights Association, spoke to our news agency about the threats against civilians in Afrin.
“They have been forcibly displaced”
Emphasizing that rights violations against the people of Afrin have been increasing since Turkey and Turkish-backed factions took the control of the city, Ruşin Hido said, “After the occupation of Afrin, the Turkish state and Turkish-backed factions have committed many crimes against people, nature, and all living creatures in Afrin. The people of Afrin, who resist not leaving their houses, have faced abduction, death, and rape. Meanwhile, the attempts to change the demographic structure of the region continue. Thousands of trees have been cut down and the cultivated areas have been burned. The people of Afrin have been forcibly displaced from their homeland. At the same time, the Turkish state has settled the families of armed groups in the region. The language of education in Afrin is now Turkish. We can say that the identity of Afrin has completely changed.”
“Trees are being cut down”
Ruşin Hido reported that many trees have been cut down and burned in Afrin;
“Many olive trees have been cut down or burned. Before the occupation of Afrin, there were 18 million olive trees in the city. Thousand-year-old olive trees planted by our grandparents and their grandparents are being cut down now. Previously, the territories of Afrin were full of olive trees but now there is no tree. The enemy knows that the olive tree is the identity of the people of Afrin so they have uprooted thousands of trees to change Afrin and to rebuild a new Afrin. Unrooted trees have been sold to other occupied areas in Syria or stolen and taken to Turkey. Recently, hundreds of olive trees were unrooted in Kutan village of Bilbile district and their woodblocks were stolen by al-Hamzat (A Turkish-backed faction).”
“They demand money under the name of tax for each tree”
Highlighting that the people of Afrin are forced to pay high taxes, Ruşin Hido said, “Each faction determines its own tax. They demand money from the citizens under the name of tax for each tree. Last year, al-Hamzat received 8,000 Syrian Pounds for each olive tree in the Shiye district of Afrin. They took money from the citizens to prevent them from harvesting their olives. They forcibly take olive oil from the citizens. The olives of the people are forcibly taken from them.”
“Turkey sells the olives of Afrin like its own products”
Ruşin Hido pointed out that olives taken from the region are marketed under the name of Turkish products.
“Olive oil stolen from Afrin is sold under the name of Turkish products. The Turkish-backed factions don’t allow the people of Afrin to sell their olives to other places. The olive oil is taken and sold by these factions. Olive oil is first taken to Turkey and then Turkey sells olive oil in bottles. The people of Afrin are forced to undersell their olive oil but Turkey sells olive oil in the world markets at a very high price.”
Call on the international community
Ruşin Hido called on international organizations and said, “Many international reports reveal that the crimes committed in Afrin have reached the level of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in general. Those who have committed these crimes should be prosecuted by the international courts and the rights of the people of Afrin can be demanded. The information that we have received shows only some rights violations in Afrin. We have received this information from the local people. Our demand is to establish an impartial tribunal in Afrin to prosecute the criminals. We call on the international community to stand against these crimes and to end the occupation in Afrin. The armed groups should be gotten out of Afrin and the displaced people of Afrin should return to their homeland.
“Get the invaders out of the land of olives” Appealing to the countries around the world, Siltan Mihemed said, “Save our lands from the invaders and get them out of the land of olives.”
Olive tree leaves and roots have many benefits for human health. The extract of olive tree leaves, considered sacred by all religions, is used for the treatment of many diseases. Olive tree leaves and olives are used for different purposes, particularly in Aleppo and Afrin. Olive is the means of living for every family living in these cities.
The olives growing around Afrin and Aleppo are called “xelo” by local people and these olives are very large. 15% and 20% of these olives are used to make olive oil. These olives are consumed with green pepper, carrot, or lemon. People in the region began to harvest the olives in October. Siltan Mihemed is one of them, who have already begun the preparation for winter.
She told us about her old days
Siltan Mihemed told us about her olds days when she walked among olive trees;
“Now is the time for harvesting olive trees. I miss olive groves very much. We used to be very happy when it was time for harvesting olive trees. But the invaders took our olive groves from us. They easily steal and cut down them. What they are doing is a crime. No one can accept this. We cannot live without the olive trees and olives of Afrin because olive trees are like our children. We worked hard to plant and grow them. We cannot leave our olive trees to the enemy. Every year in this season, I remember old days when we walked among olive trees, had lunch and dinner under the trees, and picked olives collectively. One day, we will return.”
Preparation for winter
Siltan Mihemed feels bad when she doesn’t make preparation for winter;
“Every year we prepare olives for the winter. We used to eat olives at every meal. Now we buy olives to make preparation for the winter. We prepare xelo and mikeles olives for the winter. But you should be an expert in preparing them. There is another variety of olives; we add walnut, pepper syrup, mint, cumin, lemon, and thyme on them. First, we washed the olives and then we remove their pits. Finally, we mix them.”
Siltan Mihemed sometimes adds lemon and carrot to olives. “Each recipe has a different taste. For instance, there is a variety of olives called “Beledi”. Their taste is like the taste of olives of Afrin. You just need water, salt, and lemon to pickle them. We do this to prevent them from spoiling. There is another variety and you should often change their water. Then we add lemon, cumin, and pepper syrup. We eat them in winter.
“Get the invaders out of the land of olives”
Siltan Mihemed wants Afrin to be liberated soon in order to return to her home and olive grove. “The people of Afrin did not commit any crime, but their lands, houses, and olive groves were taken from them. We have never violated anyone’s rights; Afrin is the homeland of our grandparents and their grandparents. We worked hard for our lands. I am appealing to all states; save our lands from the invaders and get them out of the land of olives.”
The following video sadly does not contain English subtitles.