Another year has come and gone, making it three years since the beginning of Turkey’s military operation ‘Peace Spring’ on 9 October 2019 and its occupation of the northern Syrian cities of Ras al-Ayn (Serê Kaniyê) and Tell Abyad (Girê Spî).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to threaten the remaining areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) with invasion, and regularly to remind the population that his threats are serious, with intense shelling, drone strikes and other aerial attacks.
As the world waits for Turkey’s sporadic attacks to become a full-blown invasion, let’s step back and see what the threatened Turkish occupation would actually mean, using Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad as examples.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) released a new report on 4 January detailing hundreds of rights violations in the ‘Peace Spring’ areas throughout 2022. Tragically, there are too many instances to repeat one by one, so let me just show you the general picture SOHR paints of the occupied regions.
In summary, the report can be quoted as follows: “The so-called ‘Peace Spring’ area has witnessed a dreadful humanitarian situation, deteriorating services and dire living conditions, which triggered public anger… Overall, this bleak picture remains in place, with the widespread corruption and tyranny of the Turkish-backed factions without any deterrent preventing them from committing further humanitarian crimes against Syrian civilians in the ‘Peace Spring’ areas.”
The report documents hundreds of rights violations in Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad in 2022, including a graphic sharing the most important statistics.
The observatory reports that 83 people, including 28 civilians, four women and seven children, were killed in the ‘Peace Spring’ areas in 2022. In addition, over 68 civilians and combatants were reported as being injured. Violence in the form of infighting between factions, tribes and families also runs rampant in the occupied territories, with 37 instances of infighting reported resulting in 39 fatalities and ten or more injuries.
The report also documents detonations of landmines, IEDs and booby-trapped vehicles, showing that eight explosions took place last year, killing 14 people including two children. But perhaps the most astounding and concerning data shown by the report relates to the number of arbitrary arrests and kidnappings in the area. The observatory reports as many as 226 people including three women were arrested without valid cause and 31 people were kidnapped, one of whom was a child.
I could continue relaying more detailed horror stories, such as the infamous story of a young Iraqi boy named ‘Yassin Al-Mahmoud’ who was sexually assaulted and killed by members of a Turkish-backed faction in Ras al-Ayn on 15 September 2022. But we already know this, we have watched for years as the situation in Turkey’s occupied regions deteriorates. We’ve seen the tragic photos of displaced people fleeing, of homes destroyed by Turkish bombs, and we have heard the threats being repeated over and over. Are we going to continue to watch like we watch repeat episodes of our favourite TV show? Apathetically devouring the tragedies and travesties we see before us? Or will the world finally recognise that we already know what Turkish invasion means to the population of Syria, and that Afrin, Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad have shown us clearly what occupation looks like.
So, I will reiterate the concluding statement of the SOHR’s report and join in their appeal to bring an end to the violations within the occupied regions – “The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, therefore, renews its appeal to the international community not to abandon its responsibility and obligations and find a lasting solution to the tragedy of the region’s civilians that are plagued with systematic abuse and violations committed by lawless factions, including thefts, murders, looting, arrests and kidnappings.” The full report can be found here.
I will also add my own call, to prevent operations like ‘Peace Spring’ and ‘Olive Branch’ being repeated.
Robin Fleming is an American Researcher who worked with the Rojava Information Centre and specialises in North and East Syria.