Syrian Kurds fear Turkish attacks after ‘Trump betrayal’

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday that Turkey would not leave Syrian Kurds in the hands of the People’s Protection Units (YPJ), a Kurdish militia that has partnered with U.S. forces to fight ISIS, but which Ankara views as part of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Yet even the Kurdish National Council (KNC), the Kurdish bloc that is part of the Turkey-based Syrian opposition, opposes a Turkish attack east of the River Euphrates.

After Turkey occupied Afrin in March, even critics of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is part of the YPJ, saw how the city was looted by Turkey-backed rebels. Kurds from all backgrounds were harassed, kidnapped, and forced to pay ransom in order to be released, as documented by human rights groups like Amnesty International.

Some KNC supporters who had returned to Afrin to continue their lives were arrested, and some remain in prison today. Many initially thought Turkey was only against the PYD. But reality proved different.

Although the KNC is opposed to “PYD rule,” it fears that other Kurdish towns east of the Euphrates could end up like Afrin. I talked to more than ten civilians who fled Afrin, they believed the only goal of Turkey-backed groups is to empty the city of Kurds.

40-year-old Azad, a civilian who went back to Afrin after fleeing the battle between the YPG and Turkey-backed rebels between January and March, said once they returned the situation was not as they expected. “It’s my city and people, a lot of people thought to return, since it was their land. But when I came back, it was not like I expected,” said Azad, which is not his real name.

He said civilians faced constant arrests for money and had to face different rebel groups. Once he returned, most of his properties were looted.

Turkish soldiers ignored locals’ complaints, or reported the civilians to the groups they complained about. “When they went to the Turkish army to complain about the looting, they report you to the groups and then the situation becomes worse,” he said.

Ultimately, Azad decided to flee to Kobani. In November, Fuad Aliko, a senior member of the KNC told Kurdistan 24 in an interview that the Arab factions that entered Afrin only came to loot it.

“They have looted a lot of civilian properties, machines, cars, and they provoke people, asking for ransom money. At the same time, local municipal bodies were not able to do anything to put a stop to it,” he explained.

However, the Turkish army told him they could not do anything since the area was too big.

Now Kurds east of the Euphrates fear they will face the same fate after the U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that Turkey will eliminate the rest of the Islamic State militants in Syria after the US military withdraws its forces.

“President @RT_Erdogan (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “He is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right ‘next door.’ Our troops are coming home!”

Turkey-backed groups are more than 200 kilometers away from the last pocket of Islamic State (ISIS) terrority, around Hajin. To reach there they would first have to take sizable chunks of territory from the YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This would most likely lead to a bloodbath and chaos, unless the Syrian Kurds reach a deal with Moscow and Damascus, or if European countries such as France do something to replace U.S. ground forces.

Many Kurdish civilians were shocked by the fact that Trump is now ready to work with Turkey. It was Trump after all who in September praised the Kurds as great fighters. “I like them a lot,” he said. Many Kurds hoped Trump could do something for the Kurds. In the Kurdish town of Kobani there was even a falafel restaurant named after Trump.

But now it seems Trump wants to work with Turkey, who may soon eliminate those Kurdish fighters.

One of the main Turkey-backed groups expected to participate in the battle east of the Euphrates is Ahrar al-Sharqiya, an outfit notorious for forcing U.S. troops out of al-Rai in September 2016, and calling them “pigs”, “infidels” and “dogs” during Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation.

On Sunday, social media accounts showed a convoy of Sharqiya fighters getting ready to attack Tal Abyad and Manbij, while listening to an ISIS song called “We have been determined, determined, towards excellence, and we have proceeded.”

Riyad, who works as a driver in Kobani, now fears his family will face the same fate as Afrin. “The situation is the Netherlands is good [where I am now for Christmas], but our situation is not good,” he told me. “Go to Trump and ask him why he sold us to Turkey.”

“We will all die in humiliation, just like in Afrin. You will not be able to visit us anymore,” he said. “Our kids will be in a dire situation, our families will suffer, everything will become bad.”

30-year-old Mahsun,, a hairdresser in Kobani, told me there would be a disaster if Turkey attacks and the area falls into Arab hands. “They will kill us like in the past, and behead us,” he said.

Abdulselam, a teacher from Qamishli, was deeply disappointed with the United States. “The world will be silent when Erdoğan comes,” he said. “This is after the Kurds fought Daesh [ISIS] and put an end to those that carried out terrorist attacks in Europe.”

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