NORTH AND EAST SYRIA: Minorities of Rish Ayno continue to be robbed and displaced

RISH AYNO (RAS AL-AYN), Syria – Turkish efforts to displace the inhabitants of Tel Abyad and Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ayn) to resettle Syrian refugees in Turkey into their homes continue. The Syriac, Kurd, and Yazidi populations in the occupied areas are especially singled out for harassment and expulsion.

The Syrian National Army (SNA) – a collection of militias, including several espousing Islamist ideologies, formed and funded by Turkey – whose factions invaded the region in coordination with the Turkish military in October 2019, have undertaken a program of systemic criminality to exert control over the people of the region in an apparent attempt to force those who stayed in their homes during the invasion to leave, clearing the way for the settlement of civilians more to the groups’ liking.

Businesses and homes belonging to displaced Syriac-Assyrians and Kurds continue to be looted and Yazidi villages and cultural sites destroyed.

Already, hundreds of civilians, mostly families of the occupying factions, have settled in the abandoned homes of Tel Abyad and Rish Ayno.

In the past few days, elements of the Sultan Murad Division have looted agricultural equipment belonging to Syriac-Assyrians and Kurds in villages east of Rish Ayno. According to a source in the occupied territories, two days ago, members of the Sultan Murad Division transported agricultural equipment, including water pumps and pipes, as well as modern irrigation network managing devices from the Abah area towards the city of Rish Ayno using two trucks accompanied with four military cars.

According to the same source, members of Sultan Murad also seized houses and agricultural equipment from Nadas village.

It has also been reported that a leader of Sultan Murad forced civilians to work in the harvesting of cotton crops seized from Yazidi, Syriac, and Kurdish families.

Addressing world leaders at the United Nations in September 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held up a now infamous map of the “safe zone” he would establish across the border in North Syria. Turkey could resettle one million Syrian refugees in the region, he said. Then it was revised to two million. Then three.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Turkey, however, are Sunni Muslim Arabs from western Syria. The “safe zone” in North Syria – at least before the Turkish invasion – is home to a multi-ethnic, multi-religious population of Syriac-Assyrians, Yazidis, Kurds, Arabs, and several micro-minorities.

According to a Reuters article published in October, before the Turkish invasion, an unnamed senior U.S. State Department official called the plan “probably the craziest idea I’ve ever heard”.

The same article cited a European diplomatic source as calling the plan “not realistic” and “pure fantasy”. A fantasy the European Union will not support, said another E.U. diplomat.

Nor, it seems, does the plan have the full support of some now former members of the Sultan Murad Division.

Citing Turkish pressure to fight in Libya, as well as the practices of the Sultan Murad Division in Syria, 700 of the group’s fighters defected and withdrew from their positions along the Rish Ayno frontline.