It is just over a year since Turkey’s offensive operations in Northern Syria, mainly in Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî, commenced. These operations were widely criticised by governments worldwide.
Turkey attacked the region after President Donald Trump withdrew United States (US) troops from the Syrian border area. Secret agreements were made between Turkey and the USA during that time. It has since been revealed that the US government approved the occupation of a 10 km region between Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî.
Trump’s decision was criticized both within the US and abroad. When the operations started, several countries and the European Union urged Turkey to end the operation. The United Nations (UN) also stated that it was preparing for the “worst” case scenario in north east Syria. France, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway suspended their arms sales to Turkey.
The UN had reported after a Security Council meeting on 24 October that: “The recent escalation of hostilities in north east Syria – following a Turkish military operation launched on 9 October – has exacerbated the safety and well being of the area’s three million residents, a top UN humanitarian official warned the Security Council, adding that nearly 180,000 people have fled that border region in just two weeks. ‘The latest surge in hostilities in north east Syria compounds an already dire humanitarian situation’, said Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, as she voiced concern about the rapidly unfolding situation on the ground. Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, also voiced his concerns about the humanitarian impacts of Turkey’s ‘Operation Peace Spring’”.
On 10 October, the journalist Linda Bordoni reported Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart’s fears that “a slaughter and many innocent deaths” would take place. Jeanbart, the Greek-Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, referred to the operation as “another source of violence we would rather have done without. It is terrible”. Bordoni reported the Archbishop as stating that the area being attacked “would occupy one of the most resource-rich parts of Syria, with water, oil, gas and fertile land” even as Turkey’s objectives risked causing a “demographic earthquake, displacing Kurds from their homes and lands and creating the conditions for serious internal tensions. It would be inhumane,” he said, criticizing the “military solution” that had been chosen, which evidently lead to “the risk of a real massacre with many innocent deaths”. The only countries that supported Turkey for the operations were Pakistan and Azerbaijan.
It was not the first time that Turkey attacked Serêkaniyê. In 2012, Turkish-backed forces – Al-Nusra Front gangs – attacked the region, and the conflict continued for seven months between the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Al-Nusra Front. During that period, Al-Nusra Front gangs failed to acheive their objectives.
During the operations in 2019 in Serêkaniyê and Gıre Spi, Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) provided stiff resistance for nine days. A five-day cease-fire agreement was reached between the US and Turkey on 17 October. Turkey also reached agreement with Russia and the QSD. The Syrian army has been stationed in the border area since 23 October 2019.
Tens of thousands of people from all over the world protested against Turkey’s incursion into Syria. In Turkey, many people were detained simply for writing ‘No to War’ in their social media accounts. Sharing ideas that included the word ‘war’ had also been banned in Turkey during that period.
UN report confirms atrocities
Turkey also launched operations in Afrin in 2018, and since March 2018, Turkish armed forces and Turkish-backed militias and forces have been present in the region. A recent United Nations Syrian Commission of Inquiry report confirmed that the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) has been committing war crimes in Afrin and Serêkaniyê. These crimes include abductions, disappearances, and gender-based sexual violence. Turkey was also held responsible for such actions.
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UN Inquiry: The SNA commits war crimes in Afrin and Serêkaniyê and Turkey is also responsible