Five years of aggression against North and East Syria
This is the second article of our three-part series of articles. Read our first article here.
Erdoğan’s push for ethnic cleansing
In 2018, while our forces where still engaged in fighting ISIS, Turkey and its allied Islamist mercenaries violently invaded Afrin. In the heroic resistance against the Turkish invasion 820 SDF fighters fell as martyrs. The brutality of Turkish expansionism caused 500 civilians including children, women and elderly to be killed and more than 1,030 wounded. The invasion led to the occupation of Afrin and caused the displacement of 300,000 indigenous Kurdish people from their land. In 2019, Turkey continued its illegal invasion and occupied the cities of Gire Spi and Serekaniye. In the resistance against the Turkish invasion, 508 of our comrades within the SDF were martyred. The attacks killed 522 civilians and injured 2,757, including a larger number of children. The occupation of both regions caused another displacement of 400,000 people.
Erdoğan’s publicly stated pretext for the occupation of our lands is the resettlement of the large amount of Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey. In September 2019, Erdoğan presented a plan to the United Nations General Assembly of a 30-kilometer deep so-called “security corridor” in Northern Syria where he wanted to settle Syrian refugees. Subsequently, Erdoğan settled not only Syrian refugees but families belonging to the Islamist mercenaries loyal to the Turkish government. By doing this he is exchanging the former indigenous Kurdish population with Arab settlers. While the Kurdish population in Afrin counted 90% before the occupation in Afrin, it had shrunk to 30% within five years of occupation. Minorities like Yazidi, Alevi and Christians have disappeared almost completely. Turkey enjoys international support for its occupation politics. The illegal settlements that Turkey is establishing in occupied Afrin, are supported by organizations from Kuweit, Qatar and Palestine.
The people living under Turkish occupation are facing systematic extortion, looting, torture, and extrajudicial killings. The system established in the occupied territories is led by armed Islamist factions that subscribe to an extreme Islamist ideology, and are organized within the so-called Syrian National army (SNA). The SNA was established 2017 at the initiative of Turkey and is founded and run by the Turkish government. The SNA is known for their extreme, misogynist attacks. On October 12, 2019, SNA faction Ahrar al-Sharqiya executed Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalef as she was traveling on the M4 highway. The Islamists mutilated her body and published a video showing the scene. Just a few days later, on October 21, 2022, SNA faction Faylaq al-Majd battalion published a video in which they are desecrating the body of our fallen YPJ fighter Amara Renas. The kidnapping and disappearance of women, sexual harassment and rape are severe human rights violations that undoes the achievement of the women’s revolution that were fought for in these areas.
Links between the Turkish state and ISIS
There is clear coordination between the Turkish state and ISIS activity in the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The constant Turkish attacks against our regions aim to drag away our forces from the fight against ISIS. While we are involved in defending our borders from Turkish attacks, ISIS gains time and possibilities to reorganize. The Turkish occupied areas in Northern Syria have also become safe havens for ISIS where they can train, organize and operate freely. The International Coalition against ISIS conducted many special operations targeting senior ISIS leaders in the Turkish occupied regions.
In January 2022, we saw the largest coordinated ISIS attack since the military defeat in Baghouz in March 2019. ISIS cells attacked the al-Sina’a prison in Heseke, trying to liberate detained ISIS members, while at the same time a coordinated riot started inside the prison. The coordination between ISIS and Turkey became clear once more when a vehicle from the SDF’s Til Temir Military Council was attacked by a Turkish drone while on their way to Heseke to support the fight against ISIS. While our forces were engaged in controlling the break-out attempt, the Turkish state attacked the areas of the AANES. After the successful intervention of our forces, who were able to control the situation, it became clear that some of the ISIS members involved in the attack used Turkish occupied territories to cross into the territories of the AANES.
Aside from the ISIS prisoners, there are tens of thousands of ISIS families in detention camps in our regions, with the majority of them being detained in al-Hol camp. Due to increased sleeper cell activities, there was the need for a security operation within the camp. At the end of March 2021, our forces joined the 1st phase of the “Humanity and Security” operation. The 2nd phase of the operation needed to be postponed because Turkey was continuously attacking our regions. During the operation, starting on the 25th of August and lasting until the 17th of September 2022, our YPJ forces were able to liberate two Yazidi women who were held captive by ISIS members in the camp, and four other women who were tortured and chained-up by ISIS women. The delayed start to the operation prolonged the time of their enslavement.
There is various proof that Turkey organizes the escape of ISIS families from the al-Hol camp. Many foreign nationals within the camp openly say that they want to reach Turkey. During the last aerial war against AANES in November 2022, Turkey targeted the Security Forces who are responsible for the secure detention of thousands of ISIS families within the camp. Eight members of the Internal Security Forces were martyred in this attack and ISIS cells used the cover of the attacks for an attempted break-out. Just some days before the election, Turkey again targeted those in charge of the safe detention of ISIS families in al-Hol camp. On May 5, 2023 Turkish aircraft killed two SDF fighters in Til Hemis who were responsible in guarding the camp. Those attacks can be understood as direct air support for the ISIS members detained in the camp.
Turkish secret service activities in North and East Syria
Additionally to the large scale military invasions in 2018 and 2019, Turkey constantly attacks the regions of the AANES. Drone strikes, artillery shelling and infiltration attempts by Turkish backed Islamist groups are a constant threat for our people. The Turkish state is targeting densely populated areas and destroyed vital infrastructure, especially in the last aerial war in November 2022. Due to the attacks our people are suffering from significant power cuts and fuel shortages, school and work disruptions. The constant attacks aim to make people leave the territories, which then makes it easier for Turkey to occupy those regions.
Besides this, the Turkish state has established a strong network of agents and spies with the aim of disconnecting the people from the Autonomous Administration, as well as delivering intelligence to the Turkish secret service MIT who then uses this information to carry out targeted assassinations. Since the invasion of Gire Spi and Serekaniye in 2019, MIT activity has increased immensely. It is remarkable that a large number of targeted assassinations killed persons who played a crucial role in fighting ISIS, such as Jiyan Tolhildan, the commander of the Anti-Terror Units (YAT), who was martyred together with two of her comrades in a drone strike that targeted her car on 22.7.2022. In 2022 alone, eight of our YPJ fighters were martyred in targeted assassinations by the Turkish state They were killed in non-combative situations, hit by drones while traveling in their vehicles. These drone strikes, however, do not just target military personnel but also people who organize within the Autonomous Administration, and who have leading roles within society, such as Zeyneb Saroxan and Yelmaz Şero, co-chairs of the Justice and Rehabilitation Office. In the last year alone, 263 civilians were injured due to Turkish attacks, including 59 children and 44 women. 59 civilians were killed, of whom 12 were children and 5 women.
If the elections in Turkey result in a victory for Erdogan,
the policy of war and occupation will continue
The AKP-MHP’s politics led to war, expulsion, illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing within the region. The constant attacks terrorize our people and aim to destroy the system of direct democracy established by the revolution in North and East Syria. Moreover, the Turkish state is specifically targeting the hard-fought achievements of the women’s revolution. The political feminicides carried out by the Turkish secret service attempt to deprive the women’s revolution of their vanguards. By supporting extremist jihadist groups, Turkey is actively giving agency to one of the most violent forms of misogyny. Additionally, Turkey is using water as a weapon, arbitrarily restricting and outright cutting the water supply. Over a million people in AANES are affected by the deprivation of potable drinking water, resulting in many humanitarian, health, and economic repercussions. If the elections in Turkey result in a victory for Erdogan, the policy of war and occupation will continue; threatening the lives of millions of our people, deepen the crisis in Syria, and endanger a democratic development within the Middle East.
Read about Turkish pre-election attacks on North and East Syria in the third part of our series of articles.