Tell Tamer, a district in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and an area of historical importance for the Christian Syriac community, has recently become the target of escalating Turkish attacks. The shelling of the town of Tell Tamer and surrounding villages has reportedly caused both substantial damage and a wide-scale civilian displacement.
A spokesman for the Syriac Military Council, Matai Hanna, said that Turkish shelling recently destroyed two schools, a municipal building, a bakery and a power line. “This is against international law, which prohibits the targeting of civilian infrastructure,” he told Voice of America (VOA).
The Syriac Military Council is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that has spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State and defeated it with the logistics and close air support of the International Coalition led by the United States.
As Turkey views the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a major political and military organisation struggling for the right of self-determination of the Kurdish people in Turkey and designated as “terrorist” by Ankara, the Turkish forces and affiliated armed groups have been constantly targeting SDF. The Turkish military has been in control of parts of northeast Syria since October 2019, following a major military campaign against SDF.
The president of the Syriac National Council, Bassam Ishak, said the Turkish bombing of areas on the Syria-Turkey border has led to the displacement of a large number of residents, including many Assyrian Christians.
“The recent Turkish bombardment of the town of Tell Tamer has caused a sense of instability and anxiety among the residents of the town, prompting many Assyrian Christian residents to flee,” he said.
The town of Tell Tamer was originally built and inhabited by Assyrians in the late 1930s, now predominantly populated by Kurds and Arabs, with Assyrians a substantial minority of about 20%. Located on the Khabur River at an intersection between the M4 Highway and the major road between al-Hasakah and Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır (Amed), the city is also a transport hub of major importance.
Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament for the People’s Republican Party (CHP), said the Turkish government attempts to justify its attacks targeting predominantly Christian settlements in northeast Syria as a ‘counterterrorism measure’ against alleged affiliates of the PKK.
“Ongoing attacks by Turkish troops and Ankara’s Islamist proxies have not only led to civilian casualties in Tell Tamer and beyond but also displaced the region’s vulnerable minorities,” he said, adding that “the lack of a vocal opposition within Turkey, besides the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, to the Turkish government’s role and complicity in human rights abuses in northern Syria also exacerbates the problem.”
Nadine Maenza, the chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told Voice of America (VOA), “It is stunning that Turkey continues to attack civilians in northeast Syria, even targeting Syriac-Assyrian villages in the Khabur River Valley, forcing some of the last remaining residents who survived genocide from ISIS to flee. USCIRF continues to recommend that the U.S. government pressure Turkey to provide a timeline for withdrawal from northeast Syria and to cease all activities negatively impacting religious and ethnic minorities in the area.”
While Turkey and affiliated armed groups intensify raids on Tell Tamer, indications on the possibility of a new Turkish-backed military operation against the SDF in the region are reported. Khaled al-Khateb from Al Monitor quoted on 14 September an official of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a militia affiliated with Turkish forces, saying, “Turkish military reinforcements arrived at most of the demarcation lines with the SDF, including armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and missiles.”
The FSA official reportedly indicated that they have also recently increased their military readiness on the battlefronts with the SDF in Ras al-Ain, a city 40km northwest of Tell Tamer.
“The military alert was not limited to the FSA-held areas east of the Euphrates, but also involved the Aleppo countryside west of the Euphrates in the Jarablus countryside and al-Bab city,” he said.
The al-Hasakah Governorate, where Tell Tamer is situated, is one of the fourteen provinces of Syria, located in the far north-east corner of the country and distinguished by its fertile lands, plentiful water, natural environment, and more than one hundred archaeological sites. It was formerly known as Al-Jazira Province. Prior to the Syrian Civil War nearly half of Syria’s oil was extracted from the region.