Ethnic cleansing already taking place in Turkey’s Syrian safe zone - Independent

Displaced Kurds from northern Syria have spoken of a dramatic demographic change in their hometowns since Turkey took control of them in a military operation last month that amounts to ethnic cleansing, the Independent reported on Saturday.

Ankara said its main priority in Operation Peace Spring was to clear Kurdish-led groups that it considers terrorist organisations from its border. But it has also vowed to resettle a large portion of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it is hosting in what it calls a safe zone in the 32-km deep area between the border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn that it now controls.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and its affiliates played a key role in the international fight against Islamic State, but Turkey says these groups pose a security threat since they have links to insurgents within Turkey.

However, footage shot by Turkey’s Syrian rebel auxiliaries has shown that it is not only these groups, but Kurds more broadly who have been targeted.

This became apparent to many Kurdish locals soon after the launch of the operation on Oct. 9 when Hevrin Khalaf, the leader of the Future Syria Party, was waylaid by Turkish-backed Syrian fighters and killed. Her killers uploaded a video of the moments her car was attacked.

Other videos have shown similar displays of brutality directed against Kurds and other minorities, the Independent said, leading thousands to flee their homes. Many of these now live in refugee camps across northeast Syria and fear they may never be able to return to their homes, the newspaper said.

“No one can go back there now, it’s impossible,” Muhammad Amin, 37, a Kurdish man who fled with his family from the city of Ras al-Ayn in the first days of the Turkish-led operation told the Independent.

“We’ve seen the videos,” he said at a camp near the Syrian town of Tel Tamr. “They are shooting Kurdish people where they find them.”

The United Nations has reported that the same Syrian rebel groups imposed what it called a reign of terror over Afrin, an area in northwest Syria that Turkey captured in its last offensive in 2018, and signs point to the same being true in the newly captured areas, according to the Independent.

There have already been widespread reports of looting by members of the Syrian National Army, the umbrella organisation of Turkish-backed rebel groups once known as the Free Syrian Army.

A report released by Human Rights Watch included documented evidence of looting and interviews with locals who said the groups had blocked relatives from returning to their homes, killing three men who had attempted to go back.

“We had a house and a shop. They stole everything. Some family members were able to go back briefly to check and it was all empty,” said Fasel Amin, one of the Syrians the rights group interviewed. 

“Turkey wants to control the whole area. It wants to change the whole demography of the area – take the Kurds out and bring the Arabs in.”