Turkey accused of demographic engineering in N. Syria – Foreign Policy

Turkey promised to return Syrian asylum seekers to their homes after carving out what it calls a safe zone in a military operation in northern Syria in October, but the resettlement process is highly politicised and Kurds say they are being erased from their home region, Foreign Policy reported.

Ankara launched its operation on Oct. 9 against Kurdish militias it views as terrorists for their links to insurgent groups within Turkey. The operation swept the Kurdish fighters away from the border with Turkey, but over 100,000 locals also fled, and 75,000 remain displaced, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Turkey boasts that the operation has allowed people displaced in the eight-year Syrian conflict to return to their homes, and plans to build settlements in the area between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn that it captured in October’s offensive to house a large number of the 3.7 million Syrians in Turkey.

But Foreign Policy quoted Kurdish groups as saying the majority coming to the area are Arabs, and many of them are not natives.

“Nearly no one from Ras al-Ain fled to Jarabulus or Turkey [during the most recent operation], so the people going there now come from completely different regions of Syria,” Austrian Association for Kurdish Studies secretary-general Thomas Schmidinger told Foreign Policy.

The scholar said the area’s demographics have been in a state of flux throughout years of conflict in which the Islamic State (ISIS) captured large parts of northern Syria from 2014 and was beaten back by Kurdish-led forces in the following years.

Thousands of Arabs were then displaced as Kurdish forces recaptured areas from ISIS, leading Amnesty International to accuse the Kurdish administration of forced displacement.

But Schidinger said many who were forced to leave were ISIS loyalists. “There was at least one village called al-Ballou where the Kurds kicked out the Arabs because the village was known for being very pro-ISIS,” Schmidinger said.

There were already some 750,000 people displaced from the region when Turkey launched its military operation on Oct. 9. Those making their way to the safe zone now appear to be Arabs who fled Tel Abyad in 2015 and people who fled other parts of Syria and sheltered in Turkey for years, Foreign Policy said.

The magazine quoted a Kurdish community leader from Tel Abyad as saying the new arrivals in the city were from Ghouta, Idlib, and Aleppo, and not natives of the area.

Meanwhile, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels that now control areas captured in the operation have been accused of human rights abuses and looting.

“The factions ruling over the area are heavily abusive, and in addition to this there are car bombs exploding also on a daily basis in the newly captured areas,” Elizabeth Tsurkov of the Foreign Policy Research Institute told Foreign Policy.

In another article published this month, Foreign Policy said many of the people coming into those areas were families of the Turkish-backed rebels.