UN must speak up on Erdoğan’s plans for demographic change in Syria - Kurdish leader

QAMISHLI - Shahoz Hasan, the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) maintains that the UN will be complicit in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans for demographic change in northeastern Syria if it does not speak out against Ankara’s plans.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) hosted president Erdoğan on Monday and Tuesday as the co-chair of the Global Refugee Forum in Switzerland. During this forum Erdoğan suggested that Syrian oil reserves, many of which are under Kurdish and U.S. control, could be used to fund projects for the return of Syrian refugees.

Ankara took control of an area between two border towns of Ras al Ayn and Tal Abyad during the so-called Operation Peace Spring in October. Erdoğan aims to settle 1 out of 3.6 million Syrians in this so-called safe-zone.

Hasan spoke to Ahval in an interview on Tuesday, addressing Ankara’s ambitions and developments in the region.

The Turkish president is constantly talking about Syrian refugees; his recent comments are that he wants Syrian oil to support to return Syrian refugees from Turkey. This is happening at a time when Erdoğan himself is causing their displacement both in northeast Syria, and Afrin as well – what are your thoughts on this?

Erdoğan is waging a psychological war against the states involved in the situation in Syria. He is using the refugees as a threat against Europe. Turkey has given Turkish identification to many of the refugees so that Erdoğan can use their votes in the elections. And now he is exploiting the case of refugees to implement a demographic change in Gire Spi [Tal Abyad] and Serekaniye [Ras al-Ain], similar to what Turkish state has already done in Afrin.

When you look at the situation, you will understand that the crisis in Syria cannot be solved piece by piece. For instance, it is not practical to say that I will separately solve the issue of prisoners, then the constitution, and the refugees – in that way, there will not be a sustaining solution. If you intend to solve the issue – and I say this especially to the UN – by considering the situation in Syria, appropriate approaches can be made, and there will be principal steps to be taken in practice.

Of those steps, it is essential to recognise that Turkey’s policies of occupation and demographic change, as well as sponsoring militants for self-interest, are not contributing to a solution, they are rather causing new problems. Therefore, Turkey must not be allowed or given to resources to carry out these policies [in Syria].

Let us do a calculation. Erdoğan attacked Afrin, more than 300,000 people were displaced from there, and now residing near Aleppo’s Shahba and elsewhere in northeast Syria. Turkey also attacked Gire Spi and Serekaniye – that also led to displacement of over 300,000 people. More than half a million, 600,000 people have been displaced in Northeast and Northwest Syria. At the same time, Erdogan is now saying that he has plans to resettle 1 million Syrian refugees in these areas – if this is not demographic change, then what is it? 

Of the 1 million refugees, not even 20 percent of them are from this region [northern Syria]. The local people of this region, from Afrin, Kobani, Gire Spi are welcome to return if they will. Within the agreement for a safe zone, which [Ambassador] Jeffrey himself was supervising, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was a party to – the issue of refugees was an article, emphasizing that voluntary return of [local] refugees, not militants, must be guaranteed. But what Turkey wants is that militants occupy those territories, displace the local populations, and replace them with non-locals.

That is a big problem, and the United Nations, through its silence and support to Erdoğan’s plans, will be complicit in Erdogan’s acts of demographic change, which is a crime according to international law. The UN must hold the perpetrators accountable, not be a party to it. 

Turkey has made numerous claims about Syrian Kurds who are in Turkey, telling the world that these Kurds sough refuge in Turkey after they ‘fled the PYD’ – what do you think?

A part of the Syrian Kurdish refugees in Bakur [the Kurdish term for southeast Turkey], Turkey and even Kurdistan Region fled the war during the first fight in Serekaniye [2013], at the time when Turkey was crossing militants into Northern Syria via its trains – then the borders [Syria/Turkey] were open, some refugees returned to their homes and some decided to stay. But the majority of the Syrian Kurds left to Turkey and neighbouring countries during the intensified fight between the PYPG [People’s Protection Units] and Jabhat Al-Nusra in Jazira region, from Serekaniye to Til Koçer [Iraqi border]. As a result, as you can remember, homes of the Kurdish people were destroyed by Al-Nusra. 

The refugees headed to Turkey, and some of them to Kobani. During the fight in Kobani [2014], as well as Aleppo, there were new Kurdish refugees – some are in Kurdistan Region, some in Europe, and some in Turkey. The Kurds in Rojava and Bakur have relatives and tribal connection, the refugees from Rojava have been hosted by their relatives in Bakur – and they are working to support their lives. They have not left Rojava because of the PYD – there is no such a thing. In fact, these people have fled due to the terrorist groups that Erdoğan sent to fight our region – as a result, Erdoğan himself is responsible for the Syrian Kurdish refugees.

If there is no war in Rojava, northeast Syria, and Turkey does not fuel the conflict in our region, we are confident that the refugees from our areas, even some of those in Europe, will return to their homeland. Our society has made progress in the area politics, social, economic and agriculture. But now, who is calling for war in the region? It is Erdoğan and the Turkish state!

It is natural that people escape from war and unstable situations, but that does not mean that the refugees cannot return. The autonomous Kurdish administration will do anything it can to facilitate a voluntary return of the refugees in our region. 

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.