Syrian Kurdish leader calls on US, Russia to prevent ethnic cleansing by Turkey

SDF Commander-in-Chief General Mazloum Abdi on Tuesday called on Russia and the US to prevent a demographic change in Syria in response to a recent statement by Erdogan.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Commander-in-Chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), General Mazloum Abdi, on Tuesday called on the United States and Russia to prevent Ankara’s program of forced demographic change in northern Syria.

During an interview on the previous day with the government-affiliated TRT news outlet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey aims to resettle up to one million Syrian refugees in the so-called “safe zone” now under its control, many of them from other parts of the country. 

General Abdi said that the remarks by the Turkish president were alarming and proof of an attempt by Turkey to ethnically cleanse the area, located along the Turkish-Syrian border between the cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye), of much of its Kurdish population.

“We call on the US and Russia, who bear the responsibility of preventing this, to work on a mechanism to facilitate [the] return of the true owners of the land.”

Although Turkish officials deny such plans, many international observers are convinced Turkey has plans to forcibly change the area’s demography, including US government officials.

Amb. William V. Roebuck, in an official State Department memo from Oct. 31 leaked to the New York Times, wrote that “Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria, spearheaded by armed Islamist groups on its payroll, represents an intention-laced effort at ethnic cleansing. 

Read More: US Diplomat: Turkish-backed militias committed ‘war crimes and ethnic cleansing’ 

Amb. James Jeffrey, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, also stated in November that he had warned Turkey against such plans. 

Read More: US affirms opposition to demographic change in northeast Syria 

Jeffrey added that the issue had been addressed in the joint communique of the ministerial conference of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which said, “We urge all actors operating in northeast Syria to refrain from any action that could lead to change in the demographic structures in northeast Syria.”

Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), said in a Dec. 7 meeting with Jeffrey in Erbil that “in any case, demographic change in the region [in Syria] should be prevented, and Kurds must not face displacement and tragedies again.”

Luqman Ahmi, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led self-administration for northeast Syria, told Kurdistan 24 previously that Turkey’s plan for its “safe zone” between Tal Abyad and Serekaniye is similar to the demographic change that Turkish and Turkish-backed forces have already caused in the northwestern city of Afrin. 

“We have seen Turkey do the same in the Afrin region where over 250,000 people were displaced, and have been forced to leave their homes and properties,” Ahmi said.

According to a June report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), there have been strong indications of an intentional campaign of forced demographic change since Turkey took over Afrin from Kurdish forces in March 2018. 

Read More: UN report details large-scale human rights abuses in Afrin 

“Many civilians seeking to return to their homes have found them occupied by these fighters and their families, who have refused to vacate them and return them to their rightful owners,” the report said.

“OHCHR is concerned that permitting ethnic Arabs to occupy houses of Kurds who have fled effectively prevents the Kurds from returning to their homes and may be an attempt to change the ethnic composition of the area permanently.”

Editing by John J. Catherine