After a decade of conflict in Syria, EU parliament calls on Turkey to withdraw
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In a resolution marking the ten-year anniversary of the beginning of the ongoing catastrophic Syrian conflict, the European Parliament on Thursday called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from northern Syria and expressed worries that its operations could amount to ethnic cleansing against Syrian Kurds.
The resolution charged that, since 2016, such operations have been carried out “with a view to occupying the northern parts of the country, predominantly consisting of Syrian Kurdish enclaves, in violation of international law, including by invading in October 2019 territories controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).”
In response, a number of EU countries suspended arms sales to Turkey.
Ankara has earlier claimed that its three military cross-border operations in Syria—Euphrates Shield (August 2016 - March 2017), Operation Olive Branch (January 2018 - March 2018), and Operation Peace Spring (October 2019)—were in line its the right of self-defense, as outlined in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, “to combat international terrorism.”
The EU parliament, however, called on Turkey to “withdraw its troops from Northern Syria which it is illegally occupying outside of any UN mandate.”
It also condemned “Turkey’s illegal transfers of Kurdish Syrians from occupied Northern Syria to Turkey for detention and prosecution in violation of Turkey’s international obligations under the Geneva Conventions.”
A report released last year by two Syrian human rights organizations documented how Ankara continues to illegally transfer dozens of Syrians arrested in areas occupied during its so-called Peace Spring operation in October 2019 to trails in Turkey which it described as “arbitrary.”
The resolution urged that all Syrian “detainees who have been transferred to Turkey be immediately repatriated to the occupied territories in Syria.”
It also expressed worries “that Turkey’s ongoing displacements could amount to ethnic cleansing against the Syrian Kurdish population” and stressed, “that Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation has jeopardised peace in Syria, the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.”
In 2018, a UN report also expressed concerns that the settling of ethnic Arabs in Kurdish-owned houses in Afrin may “be an attempt to change the ethnic composition of the area permanently.”
Nevertheless, the EU also commended on the role played by neighboring states including Turkey for offering solidarity and assistance to large numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey and urged EU member states “to continue to fund humanitarian assistance programmes in refugee host countries and also for displaced Syrians in Syria.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a Friday statement that it categorically rejected the “unfounded allegations” by the European parliament against its government, “which has embraced millions of Syrians and shouldered heavy responsibilities due to the conflict.”
“This resolution also reveals [a] biased and dishonest approach of the European Parliament against Turkey,” claiming that it conducted its operations “on the basis of self-defense” and that all measures were taken to “prevent any harm to the civilians during and after the operations.”
Several UN reports and human rights organizations have documented hundreds of significant abuses against civilians in areas under the control of Turkey or militias it supports.
Turkey also claimed that “more than 420 thousand Syrians returned to these areas in a safe and voluntary manner,” instead accusing the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which operate in northeast Syria, of “terrorist attacks” claiming the YPG had made efforts “to change the demography of the region and release of DAESH [Islamic State] members.”
“We call upon the European Parliament to recognize the importance of the contributions in Syria by Turkey, which protects the borders of NATO and Europe and to constructively contribute to the political settlement of the conflict instead of making statements that are irrelevant and far from reality,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry concluded.
Editing by John J. Catherine