ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The United Nations has to act to end an ongoing Turkish invasion of the Afrin region in Syrian Kurdistan before a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) warned on Wednesday.
“We believe the UN must take a stance before great human tragedies, like those in Srebrenica in the past, occur,” HDP’s Spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen told a press conference in Ankara.
Turkish military and Islamist-dominated Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions have laid a siege on the center of the self-declared Kurdish canton defended by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the US-led International Coalition’s main ally in the war on the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Airstrikes on the residential quarters of Afrin, now filled with hundreds of thousands and mostly those who escaped the Turkish and FSA advance, continued as Bilgen spoke.
Turkish officials accuse the YPG of blocking civilians from leaving Afrin; a concern also voiced by the UN this month.
The UN imposed a 30-day truce across Syria last month. Ankara, however, has refused to observe it in Afrin, while harshly protesting Syrian government forces’ continued attacks on rebel-held Damascus’ suburb of eastern Ghouta.
HDP fears the Turkish state may engage in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish population that also harbors the religious Yezidi (Ezidi) minority by driving them out of Afrin and resettling Sunni Arabs, Turkmen, and foreign fighters brought as far away as China’s Xinjiang region.
In a letter last week to UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, HDP lawmaker Faysal Sariyildiz said the Turkish assault on Afrin could take a dangerous path.
“The worrying statement by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, ‘We will place 350,000 Syrians into Afrin,’ is absolutely an indication of [a] planned ethnic cleansing,” Sariyildiz, now dismissed from the Turkish Parliament, said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has numerous times claimed that Afrin of northwestern Syria belonged to Arabs and his army’s operation was aimed at “giving it back to its rightful owners.”
After sending troops into the al-Qaeda and FSA-held province of Idlib south of Afrin last year, Erdogan said his country had to disrupt Kurdish proximity to the Mediterranean Sea.
“The Turkish state’s previous assaults in Jarablus, Azzaz, and Mara [and al-Bab] resulted in the Interior Ministry appointing governors and heads of security for these towns, effectively turning these areas into Turkish run territories,” Sariyildiz stated.
Ankara captured those towns north of the Syrian province of Aleppo in a 2016 incursion against IS with the main objective of denying US-backed Kurdish forces territorial gains that could end Afrin’s isolation.
“The Turkish state, which has been encouraged by the fact that international institutions such as the UN have largely remained silent, continues its aggressive and invading stance now in Afrin. The Turkish state is denying [it is] killing civilians in Afrin,” the MP wrote.
Kurdish medical sources put the number of civilians Turkish airstrikes have killed over 250, with hundreds of others wounded and tens of thousands displaced from rural areas, mostly villages surrounding Afrin.
A top Syrian Kurdish Politician, Ilham Ehmed, on Monday urged the people who have fled the Turkish advance “to be ready” to return to their villages, despite risks such a move would entail.
“The Turkish state is resettling families of gangs [in Afrin villages]. The policy of changing demographics has begun,” she tweeted.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany