An Invading Army Is the Only Thing Standing Between Some Syrians and Slaughter
AFRIN, Syria – In a tent camp on a hill above the city of Afrin, 300 Syrian families struggle to keep warm in rain and mud. Having been displaced three times, leaving their fields near Damascus seven years ago, they survive thin handouts and send children out for scavenging.
“The situation is very bad, the rain comes to the tent,” said Bushra Suleiman al-Hamdo, lifting the 65-year-old ground sheet to show the sodden earth where her husband was disheveled. “There is not enough food, there is no aid organization, there is no drinking water.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was widely criticized three years ago by the United Nations and Western leaders when he ordered Turkish soldiers across the Syrian border in AfrinWork seen as opportunistic and timely destabilizing. Another intervention in the East in Syria in 2019 met with still more opprobrium amid allegations of human rights violations under Turkey’s watch.
But as the end Syrian civil war lasting a decade Still confusing the world, Turkey has become the only international force on the ground protecting some five million displaced and vulnerable civilians. Today, Turkish soldiers are all those who stand amidst the possible slaughter at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s army and his Russian allies.
Turkish officials recently attended journalists on a rare visit to Afrin, a district in northwestern Syria, where Turkey has secured its own de facto territory along the border. Turks were eager to show their achievements in infrastructure, education and health services.
But they also did not hide the continuing plight of the Syrians under their charges, who, despite their apparent difficulty, made it clear that they were happy that the Turks were there, at least for now.
“Here, at least I can stay alive,” said 35-year-old Amar Muhammad in Afreen’s market. A former Damascus rebel fighter said he risked death or detention by the Syrian government. “I will die there. There, I think all the time, ‘Will they arrest me?’
Turkey’s intervention in Afrin was not selfless. Turkey always had its interests in mind. Its main objective was Keeping Kurdish forces out of root assumes security threat And provide a venue for residual rebel forces fighting against a disgusting rival, Mr. al-Assad.
Thousands of Kurdish families along with Kurdish fighters survived the Turkish invasion, and some were able to return. They were replaced by hundreds of thousands of Syrian people from other regions, who have swallowed the population, occupied homes and encamped on cultivated land.
Mr. Muhammad and his cousin Muhammad Amar were among the rebel fighters evacuated in a convoy of buses from Ghouta to Afreen under a peace agreement between Russia and Turkey three years ago.
“We were forcibly displaced,” Mr. Muhammad said. He was denied the opportunity to join the Turkish-backed security forces and was left to live to see how they could live. “I swear to God some people go to bed hungry. We do not know how we are alive. “
Turkey established its own administration, enlisted trained Syrian militias into a military police force and formed local Syrian councils to run things. The city has been connected to the Turkish electricity grid, ending years of blackouts; Turkey uses cellphones and currency; And has registered 500 Syrian companies for cross-border trade.
“Our main objective is to make their lives more normal,” said Orhan Akturk, deputy governor of the nearby Turkish province of Hatay, who is also responsible for Afrin. “Keep schools open, and hospitals are working so that people can resume their lives.”
But Turkey is also in Syria so that Syria does not end in Turkey. Already host Largest Syrian refugee community in the world – 3.6 million Syrians are registered inside Turkey – Mr. Erdogan has long called for the establishment of a no-fly zone, or internationally protected safe zone, in northern Syria.
As it stands, its forces have carved it out for themselves. While the United Nations provides too much aid to the Syrian people, Turkey has forced many international aid groups to take control of themselves.
Turkey first launched a joint campaign with the United States Army against the Islamic State in Syria in 2016, then in Afrin in 2018, and then President Donald J. in 2019. Trump’s intervention in the area followed the removal of the US Army.
Mr. Erdogan’s agreement with Mr. Trump allowed Russia and the Syrian government to gain a foothold in northeast Syria, which was disastrous for the opposition. But then Ankara took an unexpected stand against one Russian and Syrian government attacked in Idlib province last year, Was not ready to show the Turkish army, but was able to defend the line.
Establishing a red line in Idlib turned Turkey from a bad actor in the region to a good one, or at least one who shares mutual interests with Washington, said Mouz Mustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a The Washington-based organization was involved in Syrian advocacy.
He called on the Biden administration to resume military-to-military communication with Turkey and provide logistical and intelligence support to protect the part of Idlib that is still in rebel hands.
“Northwest Syria and Idlib are important for the whole,” he said. With four million people, one million of them children, collapsed in an ever shrinking space, Idlib represents both a human and strategic necessity, he said. “Idlib alone, if attacked, would double the refugees in Europe.”
However, the Ottoman control of many Syrians who fled Mr. Assad’s government is not uncontested. Turkey’s work in Afrin, in fact, has been plagued by frequent terrorist attacks this month, including four consecutive car bombs – 134 in two and a half years. Mr. Akturk said that security forces have carried out hundreds more attacks.
The Turkish police chief in Afrin said that 99 percent of the attacks were the work of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement, and its ally in Syria, the YPG, which is affiliated with US forces in combating the Islamic State.
According to traders recently the car bombs that had been concealed were brought from the Kurdish-controlled area of Moneybees in an area reluctant to control traders, one of whom lost his own son in an explosion in the industrial area of Afrin.
Defense Minister Hulasi Akar said last week that Turkey would raise the issue of US support for the Kurdish militia as a priority with the Biden administration.
Turks in Afrin have taken over security like any NATO force, building their administration with high concrete blast walls and sealing a “green zone” that covers the main shopping street in the city center .
Syrian shopkeepers complain that trade has declined as a result.
“We are alive, but it is very difficult,” said Ibrahim Haji Khalil, owner of Five Stars Ice Cream Shop. He said customers dropped dramatically after a massive fuel truck bomb hit the market last April. “We used to line people up on the street but now there is none.”
Local council leader Suleiman said that Turkey seeks more help than it can provide. “We need more international support and more non-governmental organizations to help,” he said.
However for millions of people, Turkey offers the only opportunity.
Syrian students are busy learning the Turkish language and Nur Hulk, a Syrian activist living in the Turkish-controlled part of Aleppo province, said that avenues were being explored to study or work in Turkey. “It’s something that makes me laugh and cry at the same time,” he said. “The Turkish language is spreading, it is people’s choice.”
For families in tented camps above the city, seeking protection from Turkey was their only option.
“We are 16 in a tent. Everything is very difficult to find wood and food, ”said Rasamiya Hunan al-Abdullah, holding a child in his hands. She said that her husband is bedridden and blind. “Sometimes children work and collect plastic.”
The families further pressed to help detained relatives in the vast Syrian government prison system. The organizer of the camp said that a family member detained by the government of al-Assad had almost all the people.
“If we were not scared, we would not have come here,” said Zarir Suleman, one of a group of elders leaning on the cane outside their communal camp.
Once a wealthy landowner, he said the Syrian government cut off its olive trees after seizing control of his village, Khiara, south of Damascus. He decided to return home when Mr. al-Assad remained in power.
He said, “We will not go back to our villages until Turkey gives us security.” “We cannot survive without the Turks.”