Over a year ago, Turkey promised not to bomb my homeland, North and East Syria, signing ceasefire agreements with the United States and Russia. But Turkey and Turkish-backed militias still occupy our land — Serêkaniyê, Girê Spî, and Afrin.
Turkey committed over 800 violations of their ceasefire agreements in the first year after the agreement took effect, according to data by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). Human rights violations are committed each day. Our people live in fear. The bombs and the violence never stopped. “Ceasefire” seems like nothing more than an empty word, a word that means nothing to Turkey.
President Erdogan of Turkey met with US Vice President Mike Pence and Vladamir Putin of Russia on October 17 and 21, 2019, negotiating ceasefire agreements with both countries. Turkey agreed to stop its aggression against our people if our forces — the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Syrian fighters on Syrian land — pulled back from their border positions.
This pullback was agreed to by our regional government, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), as it seemed the only way to save lives and stop the atrocities being committed against our people. In good faith, our forces stopped fighting, pulled away from the border, and fulfilled our end of the agreements.
Turkey has not fulfilled its end of the deal. The Turkish aggression has never stopped. An analysis of the ACLED data by Dr. Amy Austin Holmes, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, has shown the over 800 violations include violations committed by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed militias. This amounts to an average of 2.3 ceasefire violations per day in the first year of the ceasefire agreements. Over 85 percent of the violations could be categorized as armed conflict events, to include battles, armed clashes, shelling or artillery fire, drone strikes, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. The remaining violation events included property destruction, theft, and displacement of civilians.
Three women were killed by Turkish drone strikes in Helincê, near Kobani, Syria, on June 23, 2020, in one of the well-documented cases of Turkey’s ceasefire violations. The women included Zehra Berkel, a well-known women’s rights activist and coordinating member of Kongra Star women’s movement. This horrific act was conducted by Turkey for its symbolism. Not only are women’s rights organizers a challenge to Turkey’s worsening patriarchy, but Kobani is a symbol of freedom and resistance against oppression known throughout Syria.
An eight-year-old child riding his pet donkey was recently killed near Ain Essa when his family was fired upon by the Turkish military on October 16, 2020. The child, named Hatam Zedan Alkhel, was herding sheep with his brothers near a Turkish military post when they were targeted with heavy artillery. Turkey and Turkish-backed militias bombed parts of the Ain Essa town and camp as well as the M4 highway with heavy artillery. The US State Department condemned the attacks, with now-retired Special Representative James Jeffrey calling the attack a “tragic incident” that “demonstrates the continuing threat to civilians.”
The people of North and East Syria demand to live in peace. The displaced must be able to return to their homes and their communities. These atrocities must stop.
We call upon the international community to insist that Turkey uphold its agreements to a ceasefire. Otherwise, the word “ceasefire” has lost all meaning.