By Sinam Sherkany Mohamad

Sinam Sherkany Mohamad is the Co-Chief of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council

Hundreds of families fleeing the renewed violence in Idlib have crossed into territory controlled by our Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This follows an announcement by SDF Commander General Mazlum Kobane that SDF territory is open to people seeking safety. Mazlum had invited civilians to coordinate with the SDF to seek safe passage out of the war zone. With thousands of Syrians fleeing their homes every day, and regional powers refusing to seek solutions, we knew we had to take action.

This is not our first humanitarian mission. In 2014, when the Yezidi community in Iraq faced genocide at the hands of ISIS, we came to their aid. We welcomed the Yezidis when they came to our region and opened camps and facilities for them. Prior to the Turkish invasion and occupation of Afrin, our region had also opened its doors to thousands of displaced people from the war zone in Aleppo.

With little international aid, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has taken responsibility for all of the people who came to us in need, in addition to all of our own people who have suffered from war and terrorism.

Unlike the extremists and authoritarians who govern so much of the Middle East, our administration feels a special responsibility towards the displaced and dispossessed. Many Armenian and Assyrian Christians here are the descendants of genocide survivors who fled the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Many Kurds are legally stateless, their citizenship revoked decades ago by government decree. We understand the consequences of war, nationalism and bigotry because our communities have survived them against all odds.

That is why we are fighting for a different system in Syria — and that is why the Turkish state threatens us.

Turkey, on the other hand, has proven again and again that they are unable or unwilling to guarantee the safety of all Syrians. By supporting the militias that target our diverse society, sending desperate refugees back to war zones against their will, and illegally occupying our territory, Erdogan has done nothing but prolong our collective suffering to achieve his own political goals.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the so-called “safe zone” that Turkish forces and their proxies have established in Ras al-Ayn (Sere Kaniye) and Tel Abyad (Gire Spi). Before the invasion, these cities were examples of the new, free society we fought so hard to build. People there were free to practice their religion and speak their own language, and women were equal to men. A traveler entering Sere Kaniye from the main road would pass under a gate that read “the fellowship of peoples is the basis of founding a country.”

Turkey claims to have occupied those two cities in order to create a safe region to resettle Syrian refugees. Instead, militiamen assault women, steal land, homes, and property, and kill civilians in cold blood. Armed groups reportedly determined which displaced people to allow back to their homes and which to kill or imprison based on ethnicity. Within the first week of the invasion, members of Ahrar al-Sharqiya murdered Hevrin Khalaf, a Kurdish woman who had dedicated her life to bringing Syrians of all backgrounds together in a democratic political system. Turkish media commended the murder as a “successful operation.”

Who is this so-called “safe zone” for? Even the people this so-called “safe zone” was supposed to save have found themselves as pawns in a wider geopolitical game. Amnesty International has reported that some of the refugees “returning” to occupied areas from Turkey are in fact being sent there by force. Protests against militia rule have broken out in some towns, with locals unhappy with the level of corruption, violence, and crime. Some Turkish-backed Syrian militiamen have even abandoned their posts for a more generous paycheck in Libya — an indicator of their complete lack of commitment to any kind of sustainable future in Syria at all.

For us, Syria and its people are not disposable. We are not a campaign promise. We are not a field for great power competition. We are not a proxy to be bought or sold or divided up into zones of influence.

We — Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, and Turkmen; Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, and Alevis; men, women, commanders on the front line, and workers in the cooperatives — are fighting for democracy and justice against the greatest evils of our time. We will protect and defend our people, and build a future where they can live together in freedom. That is the only safety and security possible for our region and Syria as a whole.