TEL TAMR, Syria — Turkey continues to violate international law through the illegal transfer and trial of Syrian nationals who were captured by its proxy forces during and since the Turkish invasion of North and East Syria in October 2019.
As a result of their continued defense of the Syriac–Assyrian villages and towns of the Khabur River Valley, a number of Syriac Military Council (Mawtbo Fulḥoyo Suryoyo, MFS) members have been killed and wounded. Several members were captured by the occupying forces and taken into Turkish territory to be illegally tried for “undermining the Turkish state” despite never having left Syria while defending their homeland.
Jamil Gerges, Emad Saud, and Muhassan Al Okla, members of the MFS who were taken prisoner while defending North and East Syria from Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring” invasion, were captured by SNA militants and illegally transferred into Turkish custody. They were initially sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in Turkey.
Dr. Amy Austin Holmes, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who has done extensive research on the composition of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has followed the cases of the three MFS members and spoke via phone with their lawyer in Turkey:
[They] told me that the three men were severely beaten/tortured in Syria by the SNA militias who captured them, then suffered mistreatment again in Turkey while in detention. They were reportedly interrogated without a lawyer, and given Turkish documents to sign, without a written Arabic translation, although none of them speak Turkish. “They had no idea what they were signing. They were already torturing them, then forced to sign documents in Turkish which they did not understand,” their lawyer said.
Despite being Syrian nationals defending Syrian land and never having engaged in armed actions inside Turkey, Gerges, Al Okla, and Al Saud were charged with disrupting the unity of the Turkish state. They were also charged with being members of an armed terrorist group despite being members of the MFS, an official partner force of the U.S.-led International Coalition against the Islamic State.
Member of the SyriacPress newsdesk in Tel Tamr Ahmed Samila met with a lawyer specialized in armed conflict highlighting the illegality of the Turkish trials.
“Turkey claims that the conflict is between the Syrian National Army and the Syrian Democratic Forces,” said the lawyer. “If Turkey is not a party to the conflict, it has no legal right to transfer these prisoners to its territory and trying them.”
“[What Turkey] is doing is contrary to the Geneva Conventions.”
“The United Nations and international organizations should intervene to prevent the illegal transfers of Syrians to Turkey for trial,” the lawyer said. “They should also put an end to the violations of the Turkish state against unarmed civilians and all citizens within the territories that Turkey has invaded.”