TEL TAMR, Syria — Against the background of the ongoing offensive attacks and infringements on the territory of the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) of North and East Syria by Turkey and its proxy Syrian National Army (SNA), U.S. researcher Amy Austin Holmes visited Tel Tamr, the main population center in the Khabur River Valley, and the surrounding Syriac–Assyrian villages. Holmes, Public Fellow at the Wilson Center and a specialist in U.S.–Middle East security relations, also toured other areas of North and East Syria, meeting with members of the economic, health, and internal security committees.
On her visit to Khabur, Holmes was accompanied at the Khabur by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Aram Hanna, who commented on the meeting on his official Facebook page. Hanna stressed the need to realign the world’s perception of Syria with a more realistic picture of the situation on the ground, especially in terms of water insecurity and the increased activity of terrorist cells because of the regional instability created by the Turkish occupation. He also expressed residents’ fears about the continuation of the violations, which target educational facilities and infrastructure serving the people in the areas located on the lines of contact.
This church in Tel Nasri was one of the largest churches near Tel Tamer. I visited it with Matay Hanna, the spox of the @SyriacMFS, a unit of #SDF, which guards the area. He explains how #ISIS had to use particularly powerful explosives to destroy a church of this size. pic.twitter.com/bF381Tto6s
— Doktora Amy Austin Holmes (@AmyAustinHolmes) October 7, 2021
In statements to SuroyoTV, Holmes spoke about a wide range of issues facing the region and explained the reason for her current visit and interest in the progressing democratic model of minority, ethnic, and religious components coexisting in North and East Syria. She expressed her joy at again meeting members of the Syriac Military Council (Mawthbo Folhoyo Suryoyo, MFS) and members of the Beth Nahrin Women’s Protection Forces (Ḥaylawotho d’Sutoro d’Neshe d’Beth Nahrin; HSNB) who she had met on previous visits.
During her visit to Raqqa, Holmes met with displaced people from Edleb (Idlib) now residing in the provincial capital. She indicated that while she was in Raqqa, she only saw one Russian patrol, which refutes the popular belief outside Syria that Russia now controls the entire region. Instead, Holmes said, SDF is the one who organizes the movements and patrols of the Russians and the Syrian regime. Furthermore, she notes that the SDF does not allow the patrols to talk to citizens when they are operating in the area.
As for the situation in Mabbug (Manbij), Holmes proclaimed that she visited the base of the Manbij Military Council (MMC) and met with U.S. soldiers who previously worked at that base. She added that the Russian forces had enquired about taking over the base, but the MMC had refused the request and currently uses the base itself.
Regarding Tel Tamr and wider Khabur area, Holmes stated that last year she witnessed how Turkey and its proxies in the Syrian National Army (SNA) bombed and occupied the inhabited Syriac–Assyrian villages and towns, with Tal Tawil, Tel Juma’a, and Tel Kefji being severely impacted. During the Turkish offensive campaign from October 2019, the churches in those villages were vandalized by members of the SNA. “This is similar to what happened in Afrin, where Turkey claimed to target only the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [Partiya karkerên Kurdistan, PKK], but actually destroyed more than half of the Yezidi properties in the region,” she said.
She noted that Tel Tamr is originally an Syriac–Assyrian inhibited area whose residents were displaced and their churches destroyed after the attacks of Turkey and the SNA.
The offensive is part of a greater stratagem to alter the demographics of the region according to Holmes, expressing her concern about Turkey’s failure to abide by its obligations to protect religious and ethnic minorities in accordance with the ceasefire agreement it signed with the U.S. She also spoke about the water insecurity of the region caused by the seizure of the Alouk water station by Turkey and its restricting of the flow of the Euphrates. The Turkish control of the station has led to them cutting off the supply of water to about 1 million people in Hasakah and Tel Tamr.
With relation to the developments throughout the region, Holmes also mentioned that schools have been continuously bombarded by Turkey for years now, noting that these violations pose a threat to the continuation of the educational process in the region.
She emphasized the role of the international community in overcoming these challenges. “It requires international pressure to prevent Turkey from continuing its crimes,” she proclaimed.
— SyriacMilitaryMFS (@SyriacMFS) October 7, 2021