Thomas Schmidinger's Blog

Turkish attacks 2019

By Thomas Schmidinger

Only two days after US-president Trump betrayed the former American allies in the region and left the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to the mercy of the Turkish Army and its jihadist allies, the Turkish regime attacked the self-administrated region of Northern- and Eastern Syria. Turkey uses information and weapons of its NATO-allies to attack not only the armed fighters of the SDF, but also civilians in the cities on the Turkish border in northern Syria. 

Within the first days of the Turkish invasion about 200,000 civilians, mainly from the Kurdish city of Kobane, the Arab city of Tal Abyad and the mixed Kurdish-Christian city of Sere Kaniye (Arab.: Ras al-Ain) flee to the south away from the Turkish border. Several thousand civilians also tried to cross to Iraq. 

The SDF fiercely defend the cities of Tal Abyad and Sere Kaniye. Although the Turkish Forces already claimed that they control Sere Kaniye in the morning of October 12, the city centre was still controlled by the SDF and the attacks from the Turkish army and its Islamist Syrian militias could be fought back. However, there is a lot of destruction in these cities and a high number of both military and civilian casualties. 

Pro-Turkish militias also killed a high ranking Kurdish female politician on Saturday, who was not even a member of the pro-PKK Democratic Union Party (PYD), but of the small Syrian Future Party. Hevrin Khalaf was not only a politician, but a famous feminist intellectual who also met several times with American delegations. Her gruesome execution caused an outcry in the region and in the international solidarity movement.

Not only Kurds, but also Aramaic speaking Christians and Armenians flee the border regions. For many of the Christians the Turkish attacks are considered a continuation of the Genocide committed by the Ottomans in 1915. The Armenian communities in the region were built by the survivors of this Genocide. Today I called Armenian friends in Qamishli and they asked me, why Europe and the US once more are watching a genocide against them, like they did 104 years ago: “Why do the Christians over there let Turkey slaughter one of the last Christian populations in the Middle East? The Kurds did protect us from ISIS, now these jihadists come back with the Turkish army.”

These Armenians are right, that not only Turkey and Syrian-islamist militias like Ahrar al-Sharqiya, Faylaq al-Sham or Jabhat Shamiyah attack the SDF and the civilians, but also ISIS. Right away with the first Turkish attacks also ISIS attacked several SDF checkpoints around Raqqa and prisoned ISIS-women in al-Hol camp started to uprize. Several other attacks followed the next days, including a suicide attack in Qamishli that killed several civilians who visited a restaurant. When I visited al-Hol and two other Camps of ISIS-women in spring 2019, some of them told me already that they hope to get liberated by Turkey. We don´t know yet if the attacks of ISIS and Turkey are directly coordinated and if the Turkish deep state directly works with ISIS, but what we can definitely say is, that ISIS waited for Turkey to take its chance for a comeback and at the moment this strategy seems to work.

Several extremely dangerous male fighters already could escape after Turkey attacked prisons in Qamishli on Saturday, including a person who had an important role in the attacks in Paris. Sunday morning, Turkey attacked Ain Issa Camp south of Kobane. Ain Issa was the second largest camp of ISIS prisoners, but also a camp of civilian refugees from Raqqa close by the prisoners. According to the local camp administration about 800 ISIS-members managed to escape thanks to the Turkish attacks. The whole inmates of the closed part of the Camp escaped. They will now be a security threat for the region and maybe for Europe as well.  

The resurrection of ISIS will affect both, the region and the West, including the US as all talk about a “war on terror” will now be considered hypocritical in the region. Nobody will trust the US anymore and the Kurds will very much likely forced to ally themselves with the Syrian regime and Russia. Such a move would probably also lead to an end of the self-administration, but could at least prevent a systematic ethnic cleansing, like it happened in Afrin after the Turkish invasion in 2018. 

IDPs who fled Afrin were never allowed to return. Turkey brought Arab refugees to the Kurdish region instead. The pro-Turkish militias systematically destroyed buildings and sights of religious minorities. All churches in Afrin were closed. 17 Yazidi temples were destroyed and several Alevi and Yazidi cemeteries were desecrated and destroyed. 

Most of the Yazidi villages in the remaining Kurdish region of North- and East-Syria are situated around Sere Kaniye, one of the hotspots of the Turkish attacks. The 45 remaining inhabitants of the Yazidi village of Tel Khatun fled already on Thursday after Turkish mortar attacks on the village and pro-turkish jihadis attacked surrounding villages. After the End of the large Yazidi enclave in Afrin, the displacement of the last Yazidi villages in the northeast of Syria could lead to a complete annihilation of the Yazidi minority in Syria. 

Ain Issa Camp, May 2019. (before the Turkish attacks)