Civilians describe the misery of being forced from their homes by Turkey’s brutal invasion of northern Syria

Boris Johnson and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Ed Sykes

Last month, NATO member Turkey invaded the largely-Kurdish areas of northern Syria (aka Rojava). The Turkish-led invaders have faced accusations of ethnic cleansing and war crimes. And they have so far displaced at least 300,000 civilians while killing at least 250, according to the Rojava Information Center (RIC). The RIC also says the Kurdish Red Crescent has seen over 2,400 injured civilians.

Turkey’s allies in the UK government, meanwhile, have been noticeably quiet. Prime minister Boris Johnson, for example, seems to have avoided tweeting about Turkey entirely since the invasion began. This is in spite of the fact that Rojava’s defence forces – the people Turkey has been attacking – were key in defeating Daesh (Isis/Isil) in Syria. Indeed, over 11,000 Rojavan fighters died in that war. The Turkish-led invasion, meanwhile, has allowed hundreds of Daesh supporters to escape detention, and seriously hindered the fight against Daesh. According to a recent RIC report, the invasion has provoked a 48% increase in Daesh sleeper cell attacks and a fall in local anti-Daesh raids of 75%.

To amplify the voices of civilians in Rojava, the RIC recently conducted a number of interviews and passed them to The Canary. These shine an important light on the highly destructive impact of Turkey’s invasion.

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“All our people have had their homes destroyed”

The Newroz refugee camp – which Rojavan authorities opened for Yazidi refugees following the Daesh genocide in Sinjar, Iraq – is now housing internally displaced persons (IDPs) whom the Turkish invasion has forced out of their homes. Dicle Hassan Mohammed is part of the administration of the Newroz camp, and she said:

Given that many people were sleeping in streets and schools, we saw the need to open the Newroz camp again to gather these people here. So far, we have received 35 families, comprising of 164 people. We are now waiting to receive people from Derik to Qamishlo [cities in Rojava]…

The main difficulty of this camp is that the non-governmental organisations [NGOs] are not aiding the people… There is a huge shortcoming of tents, clothes, shoes… Despite this, the people do get the support that they need. But no one is taking responsibility for these people. As the Autonomous Administration, we are the only ones to support these people and supply their needs…

All our people have had their homes destroyed. Also, for some of our families, three of their children got killed. One died fighting against Daesh and two were burned [in bombings]. This process is very difficult for some of our people…

We had everything at home. Here we don’t have any clothes…

[The Turkish-led invaders] want to expel us from our homeland but we won’t run away… They attack us like rabid dogs. They also took Afrin [a Rojavan region that Turkish-led forces occupied in 2018] from us – not one of our relatives is still there.

Turkey using extremists to do its dirty work

Ramziye Khalil, who had to flee from her home in the Rojavan city of Serê Kaniyê, spoke about the moment Turkey launched its invasion, saying:

Everything started while we were together at home. We cooked and ate. [Turkish leader Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan had said so many times that he would attack us but we didn’t believe him. After we ate, my daughter went outside and said that there were warplanes. We went outside… We saw tanks, rockets and warplanes operating. They struck several places. We all left. We were 7 people. There was only a motorcycle, so we had to walk.

After that, air strikes, and also chemicals were spread. The warplanes struck us, and [Turkey] put its proxies [non-state groups operating on its behalf] inside the city… [Erdoğan] said that he wanted to secure the border, but instead of this he brought only murder and pillage. The border is not safe now… A lot of our families are living in the street…

In 2018, the Turkish-led forces that invaded and occupied Afrin allegedly committed “widespread human rights violations”, “ethnic cleansing” and war crimes; and they included fascists and extremist groups similar to al-Qaeda in their ranks. There is also longstanding evidence of Turkish collaboration with Daesh.

Khalil continued, speaking more about the Turkish-backed invaders currently occupying Rojava:

This is our land. According to [the invading forces], the Kurds don’t deserve a land of their own – this land, Serê Kaniyê, is for the Turkish-backed jihadis…

No one is supporting us. We just have the support of our people, our forces – the YPG, YPJ and SDF – and our young people. Even we, the grandparents, won’t abandon our land to Erdoğan. We say that Erdoğan has no honour – he is even worse than [Donald] Trump. He has no love and no soul. He stated that he didn’t strike civilians, that he didn’t bring jihadists inside Syria. So have these jihadists just sprung up from the earth?

The invasion “struck civilians the most”

Many people blame Donald Trump for giving Turkey the green light for its invasion, abandoning the local people in Rojava who led the fight against Daesh. Speaking about US activities in Syria, Khalil asked:

What is going to make Trump back us? He is taking measures for ‘his’ oil but didn’t do anything for us. He didn’t support us at all… We have been killed and looted. A lot of civilians got killed. Because of Erdoğan, we couldn’t bury our dead. Maybe there are more killed people on the ground that we still don’t know about. [In one house], all the children got burned.

She continued by stressing that:

Erdoğan said he didn’t strike civilians, but in truth he struck civilians the most… He said that they didn’t loot. Now we see that our home is in the hands of the proxies… We want the international community to support us to bring an end to this fighting…

And she added:

Trump is like Erdoğan and Erdoğan like Trump. Saddam [Hussein], Erdoğan, they are all the same…

Turkish-backed extremists “are destroying everything”

A displaced person in the Christian village of Til Fedat in Rojava said:

We are from Umal Keif but here there are displaced people from everywhere. The Assyrian people welcomed us: I wish them the best, these people who received us. We are almost 5 households, but we really don’t understand what’s happening. We just arrived. The Turkish proxies are destroying everything. Elderly people and children were driven from their homes.

We’ve called on the international states, but no one is answering. They’re allowing the children to be immiserated. This crisis is shameful for them. If it was summer, we could sleep on the ground. Now, we are staying in a house without doors. We are incredibly thirsty and hungry, and our home is destroyed…

We could leave OK, but returning is more difficult. Some of our houses have been looted and destroyed. I hope that our house is good. We would just like to return to our place.

“When someone cannot be at home, they become miserable”

Finally, Hamid Silo from Serê Kaniyê explained:

We left the last day when the warplanes struck the city. They struck everywhere. It didn’t matter whether it was against water [infrastructure], hospitals or electricity. We walked through the wasted ground and came to [the Rojavan city of] Hasakah. We went to the school where we are now.

The other states and the organisations for human rights should come and see our situation. Where are our rights? Our homes were looted and destroyed – and some also burned. Western states talk about human rights. We don’t see them… Even the NGOs don’t aid us. We feel like the world is plotting against us. Our situation is really bad. When someone cannot be at home, they become miserable…

There is a shortage of sleeping stuff, like blankets. Also, we have little food. We call on the NGOs and the international community – if they defend human rights, they should come and see the situation, and help us to find a solution and return to our city. If we go home, we can survive with water and bread. [Turkish proxy forces] have looted one home of ours and have burnt the other. If there is no security, we cannot return. We want international protection to return. If we returned now, we would get detained for a ransom.

Remember these voices

It’s easy to feel detachment from wars taking place thousands of miles away. But when we hear the voices of the people whose lives these wars destroy, it becomes a lot harder to turn a blind eye – especially when the country waging that war is a close ally of our government.

If our government keeps looking the other way, Turkey’s brutal regime will have a green light to continue its crimes in Rojava. That’s why our support and pressure is so vital. Because it could help to undo some of the destruction that Turkey and its extremist allies have caused in recent weeks. And we owe it to the Rojavan people – who sacrificed so much in the fight against Daesh – to at least try.

Featured image via Türkiye Gazetesi

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