Kurdish and international journalists have assessed the humanitarian impact and strategic implications of Turkey’s recent wave of airstrikes targeting crucial energy infrastructure throughout Kurdish-led North and East Syria (NES), during an online panel hosted by Kurdish Center for Studies, a Germany-based think tank.
The panel first heard from Lucas Chapman, a freelance US journalist with many years of experience in NES, including as head of the English desk for Syrian news agency North Press. He summarised the wave of one hundred-or-more airstrikes:
“This wasn’t just a mild bombardment, but it extensively destroyed multiple facets of civilian infrastructure. Anyone who understands international laws and conventions knows this is a war crime. Pharmacies, water stations, hospitals and critical infrastructure were put offline.
“The entire region was left without cooking gas, while for a minimum of ten days there no gas, water or electricity, forcing people to rely on personal generators, making the situation very difficult. We’ve heard stories of really intense mental trauma and anguish, women and children going mute, being left unable to speak. Turkish double-tap strikes have become common, meaning that in a society which is very based on helping others, people are too scared to go out and help others.”
Next to speak, direct from the region’s de facto Kurdish capital Qamishli (Qamishlo), was Khabat Abbas, an independent journalist, researcher and NES consultant. “The population living in Rojava are victims of agreements made behind closed doors. As Lucas highlighted, the damage from these attacks is not only the direct physical result: it’s terror. People cannot live normal lives and access services. We now see kilometres-long queues of cars waiting for diesel, waiting from 5 am until midday just to get a few litres.”
Abbas went on to share first-hand experience of the bombardments, saying she was forced to shelter in a darkened room with her five year old niece: “In these kind of attacks, you’re just waiting to be killed or not. You can’t protect yourself.”
Turkey’s attacks have had a detrimental impact on Kurdish-led efforts to contain an anti-ISIS insurgency, Abbas said. “Simultaneously with the October attacks, there were 17 ISIS attacks, including 12 in Deir ez-Zor (Dêrezor),” she said, furtherly describing scenes of jubilation in camps holding ISIS-linked detainees.
“We saw a shift as fighters struggled from one frontline to another. We lost Ferhad Shibli, one of the commanders of the YPG [US-backed element of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the Global Coalition Against ISIS]. That’s a huge loss, not for Kurds, but for the region, experienced people who fought ISIS. It’s a loss for all the humanity,” Abbas said.
Freelance journalist and Medya News contributor Matt Broomfield then addressed the panel, assessing Turkey’s strategy in launching the wave of strikes. He said: “Turkey is aiming to sow division, particularly between the people in NES and their political leadership, between the Kurds and Arabs living in NES, and also between the US and [US-backed] Syrian Democratic Forces, as well as between different wings of the Kurdish political movement.”
Turkey’s attacks also occurred in tandem with efforts by Iran and the Syrian government to profit from violence and instability in NES’ southernmost region of Deir ez-Zor, Broomfield added. Nonetheless, he argued that the majority of people in Deir ez-Zor and throughout NES continued to be aligned behind the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), providing a continued constituency for the Kurdish-led political project and enabling it to continue in the face of Turkey’s ongoing efforts at destabilisation.