Syria: Turkish-backed factions continue in-fighting, target Yazidi villages outside Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ayn)

AFRIN and RISH AYNO (RAS AL-AYN), Syria – On Tuesday, clashes erupted in Afrin city between members of Firqat al-Hamza, a militia of the Syrian National Army (SNA), a collection of militias, including several espousing Islamist ideologies, formed and funded by Turkey. Disputes over the distribution of hundreds of stolen sheep led to an exchange of small arms fire. It is unclear if the incident caused any casualties among the militiamen or nearby civilians.

In-fighting amongst the groups of the SNA is a common occurrence in the areas under their control.

Once considered the safest areas in a country devastated by years of civil war, Afrin, in Syria’s northwest, has become a region typified by lawlessness since it was invaded and occupied by Turkey and the SNA in January 2018. Looting, forced displacement, abduction, extortion, and the disappearance of women from public life have become the norm.

On Saturday, militiamen from Firqat al-Hamza exchanged fire with shepherds who had settled in village of Faqira from other parts of Syria after the militiamen attempted to steal yet more sheep. Several days earlier, the men had stolen at least a dozen sheep from a shepherd in the village.

Similarly, factions of the SNA occupying Tel Abyad, Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ayn), and the surrounding area continue to loot the property of civilians they accuse of having dealt with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) of North and East Syria.

In-fighting occurred in Rish Ayno as well, with upwards of five separate SNA factions exchanging small arms fire over the possession of stolen civilian houses, according to local sources.

Turkey and the SNA invaded the Tel Abyad / Rish Ayno area in October 2019 amidst the announcement of a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. An estimate 300,000 civilians were displaced during the fighting. Many of those displaced have not returned to their homes. Those who have returned have been subjected to harassment, abduction, and worse.

Earlier this week, the SNA also burned down homes in a number of Yazidi villages, stating they had done so because Yazidis are “infidels”. The vast majority of the Yazidi community of Rish Ayno, some 1,000 people, fled the area during the Turkish-SNA invasion, leaving behind their homes and belongings.

Given the Islamist ideology of several of the Turkish-backed factions involved in the SNA, it is unlikely the Yazidi’s of the area will be able to return to their homes anytime soon. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Tuesday that the SNA’s Sultan Murad Brigade desecrated a Yazidi cemetery in the village of Jan Tamer, east of Rish Ayno.

Displacement, however, seems to be the point. “Turkish-backed factions, supported and facilitated by the Turkish government, are resettling families of fighters loyal to them in these villages, as they do in other areas under their control,” reported SOHR. “Dozens of families were relocated this spring to the village of Merikesh.”