Assyrians fear forced displacement as clashes drag on in north Syria

The last members of Syria’s ancient Assyrian Christian community fear they may be driven out of the country if Turkish forces advance into their villages, the Times of Israel reported on Tuesday.

Just 1,000 Assyrians are left in the north of Syria out of the 20,000 who lived there before Islamic State conquered their homelands in 2015. Now those remaining find their home villages under threat again, years after the extremist jihadist group was driven out, the newspaper said.

Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring, launched on Oct. 9, came to a halt later that month after Ankara reached agreements with Moscow and Ankara to push its opponents, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), 30 km south of the Turkish-Syrian border.

However, reports from areas on the edge of the 30 km deep “safe zone” say fighting has continued between Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters and the SDF.

One of these areas, the village of Tel Tamr, has been hit by artillery bombardment, while surrounding villages have been targeted by advancing Syrian allies of Turkey, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

“Simon, 56, fled her village of Tal Kefji that is not far from areas still hit by sporadic fighting and sought refuge with a relative in Tal Tamr to the south,” the Times of Israel said.

Many like Simon are now preparing to leave Tel Tamr to travel further south, the newspaper said.

“In 2015, we were attacked by the terrorists of Daesh,” the Times quoted another Assyrian from a nearby village as saying. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State that is commonly used in the region.

“We fear that the last of our Assyrian people will be pushed into exile,” he said.