NORTH AND EAST SYRIA — Co-Chair of the Defense Authority of the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) of North and East Syria Zidan al-Assi Told Hawar News Agency he fully expects a renewed Turkish offensive against the region.
Since the invasion of Cafrin (Afrin), in northwestern Syria, by Turkey and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) in January 2018, the Turkish attacks on North and East Syria have never truly ended, said al-Assi.
The Turkish invasion of Cafrin Region saw the mass displacement of the local population — estimated at anywhere between 150,000 and 300,000 people at the time — and widespread criminality in what used to be the safest region in a country ripped apart by civil war.
Following the occupation of Cafrin, a low-intensity insurgency has been ongoing in the region. In October 2019, nearly two years after the invasion of Cafrin, Turkey and the SNA invaded Tel Abyad and Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ayn) in northern Syria, displacing several hundred thousand more civilians.
Al-Assi believes that the next push by Turkey will be focused on the northeast of the region, between Dayrik (Al- Malikiyah) and Zalin (Qamishli). He called on the U.S.-led International Coalition, Russia, and the Syrian regime to assume their responsibilities to prevent any potential new Turkish aggression.
“The U.S.-led International Coalition and Russia, as well as the regime forces, that claim to be the legitimate security guarantor of this country, need to prevent any Turkish attacks,” Al-Assi declared.
Al-Assi warned that if the Syrian regime agreed with Russia and Turkey to thwart the project of the DAA, this would reflect negatively on Syria in general, and would not serve Syrian unity.
Even if they have to do so alone, At the end of his speech, Al-Assi affirmed the readiness of the military forces of North and East Syria to respond to any potential Turkish attack.
The Turkish invasion of Cafrin Region, launched 20 January 2018, saw the mass displacement of the local population — estimated at anywhere between 150,000 and 300,000 people at the time — and widespread criminality in what used to be the safest region in a country ripped apart by civil war.
Shortly after the occupation took control, and even in the middle of the offense to take the region, looting and extrajudicial killing was endemic. As the occupation dragged on, the crimes became more systematic and better documented. The destruction of Yazidi holy sites, the routine abduction, torture, and extortion of Afrin’s ethnic and religious minorities, mass theft of public and private property – especially of the region’s famous olive harvest. The city’s rich cultural heritage stolen and sold on the black market for profit.
The people of Syria, from all ethnicities, religions, and genders, have suffered during the nine-year-long Syrian war that has seen large parts of the country destroyed and the national economy in ruins. The conflict has resulted in the kidnapping, detention, and disappearance of thousands. In April, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), one of the governing bodies in North and East Syria, announced the formation of a committee to investigate instances of detention and disappearance.
Hardest hit by the Turkish occupation have been the regions women. Once co-equal members of society and government, the women of Afrin have been subjected to the worst violations imaginable. According to local human rights monitors, the SNA have reportedly trafficked women and girls from Afrin to Libya where they are being held in sexual slavery, subjected to mass rape and forced abortion.
In October 2019, Turkey and its proxies in the SNA, a coalition of militias, several of them with extremist ideologies, formed and funded by Turkey, invaded the cities of Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ayn) and Tel Abyad in North and East Syria, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Since the invasion, dozens of Turkish military bases have been established in those areas. The bases are guarded by the SNA who are equipped with armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Additionally, a large number of Turkish commandos are reportedly stationed in the region.
Demographic change and the Turkification of the area continue, with residents being forced to learn the Turkish language, the names of public facilities being replaced with Turkish ones and the hoisting of the Turkish flag over them.
Other human rights abuses continue as well. Turkish-backed factions continue to burn agricultural crops, kidnap civilians for ransom, extort business and families for large sums of money, and engage in torture, murder, and sexual assault.
In September, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a 25-page report calling on Turkey to put an end to wide-spread war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by its proxy forces, the Syrian National Army (SNA), in the areas under its occupation.
According to the report, there is significant evidence that the Turkish-backed SNA has committed, and continue to commit torture, murder, displacement, rape, and the looting of property.
Researcher Amy Austin Holmes, found that Turkey and the Turkish-backed SNA violated the ceasefire agreement signed in late October 2019 over 800 times as of October 2020.