Turkey has been occupying the Syrian cities of Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî for one year now. It has also been occupying the region of Afrin, Syria, since early 2018 — my hometown. Turkish soldiers and Turkish-backed militia members are occupying my house in Afrin to this day.
One year ago, on October 6, 2019, US troops began their withdrawal from positions in North and East Syria. This was the first act in a series of events that led to Turkey conducting aerial bombings on our people, the first bombs falling on Syrian soil on October 9, 2019. Turkey marched their militaries into our towns and villages, violating the territorial sovereignty of Syria and beginning a campaign of human rights atrocities — murders, sexual violence, kidnappings, theft, illegal deportation, desecration of religious and cultural artifacts, and other horrors. Turkish military and government officials and the Turkish-backed militias calling themselves the “Syrian National Army” (SNA) committed these atrocities with shocking disregard for human life. There were over 300,000 people displaced, and they remain displaced. There is nowhere in North and East Syria where the pain was not felt.
The tears of the people of North and East Syria fell like rain over the world. The news media carried story after story of the ongoing aggression, with photos of Turkish tanks rolling into Syrian cities, clouds of dust from Turkish aerial bombings and shellings, and other images of tragedy. They also carried hopeful images of the Syrian Democratic Forces — US allies who fought to defend our land. Ultimately, these brave men and women were overpowered by the Turkish military, one of the most advanced militaries in the world.
Global leaders condemned Turkey’s act of aggression. The United States and European countries issued economic sanctions to pressure Turkey to stop. President Donald Trump sent a rare personal letter to President Erdogan, and the US Secretary of Defense resigned over the US handling of their withdrawal. “Stand With the Kurds,” which meant “Stand With North and East Syria,” became a rallying cry of protests and demonstrations throughout the world.
None of the global outcry stopped Turkey from a violent onslaught. The censure of the global community was commendable, but ultimately it did not save North and East Syria from suffering at the hands of Turkey and Turkish-backed militias or forcing Turkey to withdraw. Their brutal march through our land was only finally stopped by pressure from the US and Russia.
The outcry did not save Hevrin Khalaf, the Kurdish leader of the Future Syria Party. After Khalaf’s car was stopped on the highway by members of a Turkish-backed militia, she was badly beaten and summarily executed. Horrifying videos of the slaying and desecration of her body were posted to social media by the militia members. This occurred on October 13, 2019, as Turkey swept into North and East Syria. Scores of people were killed in the initial offensive.
The outcry did not save the eight Kurdish children of Tel Rifaat, who were playing in a school courtyard on December 2, 2019, when Turkish bombs fell upon them. All eight children were children under 15 whose families had fled the Turkish occupation of Afrin. All people living under Turkish occupation are living in fear of Turkish violence.
The outcry did not save the women of Afrin, who are afraid to leave their homes, in fear that Turkish soldiers or a Turkish-backed militia will violate them. Most of the Kurds of Afrin have fled, as have the Yezidi, the Christians, and other minority groups. Any Kurds or other minorities who have remained in Turkish-occupied territories are being regularly harassed and maligned. The Turkish flag flies over the pcity now, and the Turkish government has usurped governance of the region. In Afrin, they are pursuing Turkification and forcing demographic change. They are teaching our schoolchildren in the Turkish language.
We fear that our culture may be lost. I miss my home that we built. I miss my garden that I tended by my hand, our olive trees and fruit trees. I miss my living room where the family would gather to talk, laugh, and share the big and small moments of everyday life. But most of all, I miss the people of the city, the laughter and color — a place where democratic ideals, women’s rights, and community empowerment were gaining ground.
Before Turkey and Turkish-backed militias commit even more war crimes and human rights atrocities, uproot our communities, and cause our culture to go extinct, we must have meaningful action from the global community.
The words of the global community in condemning Turkey for its invasion were admirable. Now I ask for you to go the rest of the distance in pushing Turkey out of Syrian lands.
International bodies and powerful countries should exert pressure on Turkey to force them to withdraw from Serêkaniyê, Girê Spî, and Afrin, and respect pre-Syrian-conflict borders. They should implement economic sanctions to pressure Turkey to act. They should use every form of diplomatic pressure on Turkey to withdraw. They should insist upon the inclusion of representatives from North and East Syria in the UN peace talks to determine the future of Syria, the UNSCR 2254 talks. They should insist that representatives from North and East Syria are included in the Syrian constitutional committee to draft a new social contract for Syria. They should demand that Turkey stop propping up the brutal militias it supports now. They should demand Turkey respect the territorial sovereignty of Syria. They should demand a timeline for Turkey’s withdrawal from Syria. And once the Turkish military is heading back over the border to Turkey, the United Nations or another independent body should open up a serious and well-resourced inquiry into the human rights violations, and hold Turkey and Turkish-backed mercenaries (the “Syrian National Army”) accountable for their atrocities.
The people of North and East Syria must be free to return to their homes, live their lives, and pursue happiness without fear or occupation. If I am ever to return to my home in Afrin, your words are needed, and so are your actions.