C’è anche una attivista per i diritti delle donne tra i 9 civili trucidati ieri a sangue freddo dai miliziani filo-turchi nel nord-est della Siria. Secondo quanto riferisce il Guardian, Hevrin Khalaf, 35 anni, segretaria generale del Partito Futuro siriano, e il suo autista, sono stati assassinati a colpi di arma da fuoco su un’autostrada dopo essere stati prelevati dalle loro auto da milizie sostenute dalla Turchia, riferiscono le forze curde. Le uccisioni di tutti e 9 i civili sono state filmate e il video diffuso in rete.
Türkiye’nin Suriye’nin kuzeyine yönelik askerî harekâtının beşinci gününde Suriye ordusunun ana omurgasını YPG’nin oluşturduğu Suriye Demokratik Güçleri (SDG) ile anlaştığı öğrenildi. Bu anlaşma kapsamında Suriye ordusunun Menbiç’e girdiği duyuruldu. Suriye ordusunun bu gece de Kobani’ye gireceği belirtiliyor.
Menbiç yerel kaynakları Suriye ordusunun çeşitli bölgelerden kente doğru ilerlemeye başladığını aktarıyor.
Menbiç’e giren Suriye ordusundan ilk görüntüler geldi.
Ve Suriye Ordusu Menbiç’e girer
— Hayrizng (@hayrizng) October 13, 2019
Fırat Bölgesi Savunma Komitesi Eşbaşkanı İsmet Şêx Hesen de Kuzey ve Doğu Suriye Özerk Yönetimi’nin Suriye rejimi ile anlaştığını açıkladı. Hesen “Rusya ve Suriye rejimiyle anlaştık. Bugün akşama kadar gelmeleri gerekiyor” dedi.
Mezopotamya Ajansı‘nın haberine göre Hesen “Elimizden geleni yapıyoruz. Bütün devletlere çağrıda bulunduk; ancak bir şey yapmadılar. Kendi derdimize derman olacağız. Yaralarımızı kendimiz saracağız” diye konuştu.
Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu da Kuzey ve Doğu Suriye Özerk Yönetimi’nin Şam yönetimi ile SDG’nin Suriye sınırını birlikte koruması konusunda anlaşmaya vardığını yazdı. Çiviroğlu, anlaşmanın Afrin de dahil tüm bölgelerin özgürlüğüne kavuşturulmasını da içerdiğini belirtti.
North Press Agency’nin haberine göre Suriye rejiminin Fırat Bölgesi Başkan Yardımcısı Mohammed Shaheen, SDG ile anlaşan Suriye ordusunun bugün Kobani bölgesine girmeye hazırlandığını duyurdu.
Kobani’deki SDG yetkilisi, Suriye hükümetiyle birkaç saat içinde Kobani’ye girmek için bir anlaşma yaptıklarını söyledi.
Gazeteci Aylina Kılıç da bölgedeki bazı yerel kaynakların SDG ile anlaştığını ve Suriye ordusunun Kobani’ye gireceğini bildirdiğini yazdı. Kılıç, “Aynı zamanda Minbiç için de bu yönde bir anlaşma olduğu belirtiliyor. Dün akşam ABD ile Rusya’nın Minbiç’te görüştüğü iddia edilmişti” dedi.
Kılıç anlaşamaya Rusya’nın dahil olduğuna dair haberlerin bulunduğunu belirtti.
Tactic is to advance into Arab-majority areas and drive a wedge between YPG-controlled territory, observers say.
Arab and Kurdish civilians flee following Turkish bombardment in Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain [Delil Souleiman/AFP]
In the first hours of Operation Peace Spring, Turkish air raids across the border reached as far as Qamishli in the east and further west of Kobane.
Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, told Al Jazeera the scale of the attack surprised many analysts.
“They’ve already hit 300km length and 50km depth, almost all major cities are hit,” Civiroglu said.
Soner Cagaptay, Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s research programme director, told Al Jazeera Turkey’s assault at this point was focused on Arab-majority towns.
“I think that’s quite a smart choice for Ankara because of the fact that Turkish troops will be more welcome in Arab-majority areas, given how friendly Turkey has been towards the Arab population,” Cagaptay said.
He said Turkey will continue to drive a wedge between Kurdish-controlled territory as a strategy to undermine the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and weaken the political authority that controls the border region with Turkey.
The SDF is spearheaded by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has operated inside Turkey for decades. The PKK has been branded a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey and several other countries.
Wednesday’s cross-border operation was not the first. Last year, Turkey launched a similar offensive dubbed Operation Olive Branch into Syria’s Afrin town to “clear the area of terrorists”.
The SDF, while not wanting to comment on specifics, told Al Jazeera it was reviewing Turkish military strategy during Olive Branch to map out a response to the current operation.
According to local activists on the ground, the number one target for Turkey is the Arab-majority town of Tal Abyad, where Ankara hopes to quickly establish a ground presence.
Turkish security analyst and former special forces soldier Necdet Ozcelik told Al Jazeera he expects the first phase of Turkey’s operation will only last about 10 days, or a couple of weeks maximum, with the goal to take control of the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.
The offensive will also involve thousands of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels providing ground support for Turkish commandos and its regular soldiers.
Civiroglu said two scenarios were likely to unfold: Turkey intensifying ground operations, or the operation being halted because of condemnation from the international community.
“Trump is under pressure, the Turkish government is under pressure, the UN Security Council will meet today … The world is not buying arguments of the Turkish government,” he said.
“The SDF always wanted good relations [with Turkey] … Kurdish sympathy is very strong, that’s why there’s strong diplomatic efforts to put an end to this.”
The possibility remains that Syrian government forces of President Bashar al-Assad may try to capture the main city of Manbij, if the United States decides to withdraw its troops from there without giving early warning to the Turks.
“In this case, the Syrian army may try to capture Manbij before the Turkish forces or the FSA,” Ozcelik said.
“We might be seeing some sort of tension, or maybe limited confrontation, between the FSA elements and the Assad regime forces in Manbij area, but not in the eastern part.”
The SDF responded to Turkey’s military action with artillery attacks and rockets fired into Turkish territory.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter the Kurdish fighters would not allow Turkish troops to advance further. “We will use all our possibilities against Turkish aggression,” he said.
Heavy fighting was taking place in Syrian border villages between advancing Turkish forces and SDF soldiers on Thursday.
Ozcelik said the Kurds were no match for the advancing Turkish-led forces.
“The YPG elements are composed of a lot of PKK ideology people, and they forcibly recruited many people who did not have serious military experience,” he said. “I’m expecting a lot of defections from the YPG side, so the Turkish military is going to take advantage of that.”
Robert Wesley of the Terrorism Research Initiative told Al Jazeera that Turkey will also suffer setbacks considering how vast the area is that it wants to control.
“It will require huge amounts of direct military engagement from the Turkish side,” Wesley said.
“The use of the FSA, that will also be limited [because] these groups are not really well-trained. They don’t have a strong track record with more sophisticated defences.”
Turkey may not have the appetite for sustaining significant casualties, Wesley said, which a serious military encounter with the SDF would necessitate.
“I don’t think either side is particularly well prepared for the engagement,” he said.
The biggest challenge for the SDF is not having a weapon system that can counter Turkish air attacks, Civiroglu said.
“[Even so] they have said they will defend themselves until the end,” he noted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Ankara after the Turkish operation began to stress that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity be respected.
The Kremlin said it would not interfere further in Syria after years of supporting Assad’s forces against rebel groups, but cautioned Turkey not to take any steps that would destabilise the region.
Cagaptay said Moscow has no choice but to back Turkey’s move. “The most Russia will do is to voice support behind closed doors, even though they may publicly criticise the operation,” he said.
He said the Kremlin may even be welcoming Ankara’s military action.
“The [Syrian] regime and Russia consider Turkey a threat, so by provoking Turkey to attack Kurds really Russia is hitting two birds with one,” Cagaptay said. “Hitting Kurds, trying to make Kurds dependent on Russia, at the same time allow Turkey to suppress the Kurds, not allow them to make gains.”
Even if Turkey is successful in securing its so-called “safe-zone” to return about two million Syrian refugees, there will be major challenges ahead, observers said.
The complex issue of containing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters who are still active in the region must be addressed by Turkey.
As seen by the suicide attack claimed by the armed group in Raqqa on an SDF intelligence base, killing 13 people, ISIL may be defeated militarily but sleeper cells are still prevalent.
“It’s unfamiliar territory for Turkey,” Civiroglu said. “It’s Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, and Yazidis of the region [who] fought these people.”
Kurds call it a stab in the back: chaos to come will have many participants
ABD’de yaşayan gazeteci Mutlu Civiroğlu, Türkiye’nin Suriye’ye yönelik olası operasyonuna ilişkin bianet’e konuştu. Civiroğlu, “Amerikan kamuoyu tepkili ve öfkeli, Trump’ın bu kararından vazgeçmesini istiyor” dedi.
Manşet fotoğrafı: Anadolu Ajansı
ABD Başkanı Donald Trump ile Cumhurbaşkanı Tayyip Erdoğan arasında Türkiye saati ile pazar akşamı gerçekleşen telefon konuşmasının ardından Beyaz Saray’dan “Türkiye kısa bir süre içinde Suriye’nin kuzeyine uzun zamandır planladığı operasyonu başlatacak. ABD Silahlı Kuvvetleri bu operasyonu desteklemeyecek ya da bir parçası olmayacak. ‘Halifeliği’ yenen ABD güçleri artık bölgede bulunmayacak” açıklaması yapıldı.
Beyaz Saray açıklamasının ardından bu kez Erdoğan kuzey Suriye’ye operasyonun her an başlayabileceğini duyurdu.
Türkiye ve dünya kamuoyunun iki gündür tartıştığı Suriye operasyonu açıklamalarının ABD’de kamuoyunda nasıl karşılık bulduğu ve Trump’ın açıklamalarının arka planını Amerika’da yaşayan gazeteci Mutlu Civiroğlu bianet’e değerlendirdi.
Civiroğlu, Beyaz Saray’dan yapılan açıklamanın sadece Trump’ın kararı olduğunu ve Amerikan siyasetinin bütününün bir kararı olarak okunamayacağını söyledi.
“Amerikan Başkanı Trump ile Türkiye Başkanı Erdoğan’ın anlaştığı görülüyor” diyen Civiroğlu’nun değerlendirmeleri şöyle:
“Washington’ın Pentagon’un, Dışişleri Bakanlığı’nın ve Amerikan kamuoyunun anlamaya çalıştığı bir durum söz konusu. Ortada bir mutabakat olduğu konusunda kesin bir bilgi yok, çünkü bir karmaşıklık söz konusu. Erdoğan ile Trump arasındaki telefon görüşmesinin ardından bir açıklama yapılıyor.
“Kararı Amerikan yönetiminin üzerine çalışılmış ve anlaşarak aldığı bir karar olarak düşünmek yanıltıcı olur. Şunun altını çizmek gerekiyor: Bu karar, Trump’ın kararıdır. Amerikan hükümetinin kararı değildir. Daha önce Ağustos ayında yapılan güvenli bölge mutabakatı, Amerikan Hükümetinin uyguladığı bir siyasetti.
“Türkiye’nin tek taraflı adımlarını engellemek içindi”
“Güvenli bölge mutabakatı Amerikan Devletinin, Türkiye’nin tek taraflı adımını engellemek, Suriye’de istikrarsızlığı sebep olabilecek durumların önüne geçmek için bir çabasıydı. Ama Trump’ın yaptığı bu açıklama o çabaları boşa düşürdü. Çünkü Amerikan Hükümeti hem Pentagon hem Amerika’nın başını çektiği koalisyon, Suriye’de bir güvenlik mekanizması oluşturmak, Türkiye’nin tek taraflı adımlarının önüne geçmek ve ortak hareket etmek için uğraşıyordu. Ama dün (6 Ekim) geceki açıklama Amerikan Devleti’nin bu siyasetini bir nevi sonlandırmak anlamına geliyor.
“Amerika’nın yeşil ışık yaktığı yorumu yanıltıcı”
“Öte yandan Pentagon’un açıklamasında tek taraflı adımlardan kaçınılması gerektiği ifade ediliyor. Yani Amerikan yönetimi içinde bir bütünlük yok. Amerikan yönetiminin oluşturan kurumların hemfikir olmadığı çok rahatlıkla görülüyor. Bu nedenle kararı, Amerikan’ın yeşil ışık yakması olarak yorumlamak yanıltıcı olabilir. Zaten Amerikan medyası da ‘Trump’ın yeşil ışığı’, ‘Trump’ın Erdoğan ile anlaşması’ olarak yorumluyor. Yani hep Trump’ı ön plana çıkaran manşetler atılıyor.
“Çünkü Amerikan kamuoyunun büyük çoğunluğu; ABD Kongresi, Pentagon, Dışişleri Bakanlığı, Düşünce Kuruluşları bu kararın yanlış olduğunu ve Kürtlerin müttefikleri olduğu, büyük bedeller ödediği ve bölgesel güçlerin insafına bırakılmaması gerektiği konusunda hemfikirler. Ayrıca bu kararın sadece Türkiye’ye değil, İran ve Rusya’ya aynı zamanda IŞİD’e yaradığı hem Cumhuriyetçi Parti içerisinde, hem demokratlar tarafından dillendiriliyor.
“Kamuoyu Trump’ın kararından vazgeçmesini istiyor”
“Amerikan kamuoyu tepkili ve öfkeli, Trump’ın bu kararından vazgeçmesini istiyor. Hem Trump’a yakın kişiler hem de muhalefet hem Suriye ve Kürt konusu uzmanları, aynı zamanda ana akım medya, bu karardan vazgeçilmesi gerektiğini dile getiriyor. Amerikan Hükümeti, kamuoyu ve medyası bu karara karşı ve bunu değiştirmeye çalışıyor.
“Zaten Trump’ın ‘Türkiye sınırı aşarsa bunu kabul etmem’ yönündeki açıklaması da gelen tepkileri dindirmek için yaptığı açıklama olarak görülebilir. Kamuoyunda, kararın Amerikan diplomasisine, bürokrasisine, Pentagon’a danışılmadan alındığı ve Amerikan çıkarlarına hizmet etmediği, IŞİD’in geri dönüşüne zemin hazırlayabileceği için Trump’a kararına çok büyük bir tepki var.
“Trump müttefiklerine kızgın”
“Beyaz Saray açıklamasının ikinci bölümünde IŞİD’li tutuklulara vurgu yapılıyor. Trump, o açıklamasında müttefiklerine olan kızgınlığını ifade ediyor. Trump’ı iyi okuyanlar bu kararın biraz da müttefiklerini cezalandırmak, “Ne haliniz varsa görün” olarak okuyabiliyorlar. Fransa, Almanya ve diğer batılı müttefiklere bir kızgınlık var. “Siz sorumluğu almadınız, yük hep Amerika’nın üzerindeydi, alın bundan sonra yük sizin üzerinizde kalsın.” Burada Trump’ı bu şekilde Amerika’yı bir külfetten kurtardığını düşünüyor.
“IŞİD’lilerin tekrar eylemlere başlama riski var”
“Ulusal kamuoyu için büyük bir risk var. IŞİD’lilerin kaçması firar etmesi tekrar eylemlere başlaması gibi bir risk var. Bu operasyon çok ciddi sorunlar doğurabilir. Hava sahasının şu an için kapalı olduğu belirtiliyor. Fakat bunu varsayım üzerine söylüyoruz. Çünkü bu, hükümetin aldığı bir karar olmadığı için ortada net bir durum yok. Örneğin Pentagon, ‘Türkiye tek taraflı adım atmamalı, bunun sonuçları kötü olur’ diye uyarıda bulunuyor. Türkiye’yi bilgi paylaşımdan çıkarıyor.
“Afrin operasyonunda görüldüğü gibi hava saldırısı ve drone teknolojisi olmadan ilerlemek kolay olmayacak. Afrin gibi bir bölgede bile yaklaşık iki ay sürdü. Şu anda Demokratik Suriye Güçleri’nin kontrol ettiği bölge çok daha geniş, yani hava desteği olmadan Türkiye açısından çok zor olacaktır.” (RT)
ODAK programında bugün Suriye’ye olası askeri harekat ele alındı. Gazeteci Mutlu Çiviroğlu ABD Başkanı Donald Trump’un Suriye kararının ABD’de rahatsızlık yarattığını söyledi.
Citing an escalation of violence by Islamic State-affiliated women, supervisors at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria are calling on the international community to find a solution for thousands of such women and children who are being held at the overcrowded refugee camp. VOA’s Mutlu Civiroglu reports from the al-Hol camp.
FILE – Women who recently returned from the Al-Hol camp, which holds families of Islamic State members, gather in the courtyard of their home in Raqqa, Syria, during an interview, Sept. 7, 2019.
WASHINGTON – A group of intruders who disguised themselves as security forces protecting al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria have helped smuggle out several women affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) fighters, local authorities told VOA.
“Some smugglers put on SDF uniforms or security police outfits, and they helped some IS women escape the camp for money,” said Judy Serbilind, who monitors IS female affiliates detained at the overcrowded camp.
Serbilind refused to disclose the number of the escaped women but said there were dozens. She said most of them came from outside of Syria, particularly from Europe.
“We believe that they fled to Idlib then to Turkey. We think some of them might reach out to the embassies of their countries and some (will) stay in Turkey.”
Al-Hol is a makeshift encampment set up for those who were displaced during the war against IS in eastern Syrian province of Dir el-Zour. The camp’s population skyrocketed from about 10,000 refugees in December 2018 to over 70,000 by April 2019 following a U.S.-led operation that defeated IS from its last stronghold of Baghouz.
After several escape incidents, fearing a larger attempt by IS to infiltrate the camp, Kurdish-led security forces who guard the camp promptly increased their numbers around the area, Serbilind told VOA. To ease burden on the overloaded camp, management also released dozens of Syrian women with IS affiliation to their families and tribes provided that their families guarantee they will not go back to the militant group.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 11,000 of people in the camp are foreign women and children related to IS.
Syrian Kurdish officials in the past have said they were holding hundreds of foreign fighters in their prisons, along with thousands of their wives and children from 44 countries. The officials said they were overwhelmed by the burden and asked the countries to retake their nationals.
At al-Hol camp, officials say they are struggling to control order as reports of arguments, fights, stabbing and even murders are on the rise. Many of these issues go unresolved due to the lack of professional personnel and as camp officials prioritize more urgent needs such as food and water.
Last July, a pregnant Indonesian woman believed to be affiliated with IS was found dead in the camp. Local security forces said an autopsy showed the woman was murdered and her body showed signs of torture.
Serbilind said that the supervisors and security forces report the IS women as saying they want to re-establish an Islamic State inside the camp. She said large blades and knives were banned from entering the site. Nevertheless, two security officers were recently stabbed by IS affiliated women using kitchen knives.
“They are also threatening to revolt once Turkey carries out its threats of crossing the borders to Eastern Euphrates,” Serbilindadded, referring to Turkey’s announced intention to enter northeastern Syria to go after the Kurdish fighters if a “safe-zone” agreement with the U.S. is not implemented.
Ankara considers Kurdish YPG group a terrorist organization and an extension of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers Party. But Washington considers the YPG a key ally in the fight against IS and disagrees with Ankara on the linkage.
A Time Bomb
The desperate situation of al-Hol camp has long triggered international attention, with many aid organizations warning the site could be the birthplace of IS’s revenge generation.
UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Syria earlier this month reported that the situation in the camp was “appalling,” urging international community to take action. The investigators said most of the 3,500 children held there lacked birth registration and risked statelessness as their countries of origin were unwilling to repatriate them, fearing extremist links.
An IS propaganda video that circulated among the group’s social media users recently showed a group of women allegedly sending a message from the camp. The black-veiled women vowed to revive the so-called caliphate which was announced defeated in March after losing its final stronghold of Baghouz.
“We ask that were you able to contain the Mujahideen’s women that you are keeping in your rot camp? We tell you no, they are now a ticking bomb,” one of the IS women is shown as saying in the video.
Some researchers believe that women themselves may not be able to actively participate in a possible resurgence of IS, but their extreme viewpoints could encourage sympathizers around the world and affect the future of their children.
“I think that the danger lies in their ability to ensure that the next generation are raised with really radical viewpoints,” said Mia Bloom, a professor of communications and Middle Eastern studies at Georgia State University.
“The danger is less from the women themselves than the women are able to perpetuate the conflict moving to the next new phase,” Bloom told VOA.
UN’s Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee in a report earlier this year warned that IS could morph from a territorial entity into a covert network. The report added that the terror group is “in a phase of transition, adaptation and consolidation, seeking to create the conditions for a resurgence.”
According to Bloom of Georgia State University, the threat of IS re-emergence will remain until the international community shows enough political will to deal with the root causes of extremism that originally led to the rise of the group.
“Until we address these underlying issues, there will always be recruitment opportunities for Jihadists and extremists who exploit that fact that the international community won’t do anything to halt the violence by corrupt regimes and restore justice for civilians,” Bloom concluded.
Nisan Ahmado, Mutlu Civiroglu
Turkey’s track record in Syria suggests it might use a U.S.-backed safe zone planned for Kurdish-majority northeastern Syria to fundamentally reshape the region’s demographic makeup, though Washington would likely stand in its way.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has for months threatened to launch a cross-border military operation to drive out the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the area, saying the Syrian Kurdish force is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast for more than three decades.
Turkey’s offensive into northeast Syria has so far been blocked by the United States, which armed, trained and backed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely made up of YPG fighters, to help it defeat Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. But Turkey and the United States last week agreed to establish a joint operations centre to oversee a safe zone in Syria. Details of the deal have not been revealed, but most observers believe differences remain over safe zone size and which troops would patrol it.
Turkey’s previous cross-border offensives suggest the zone would be less than safe for many of its present, mainly Kurdish, inhabitants. After Turkey seized the northwestern Syrian Kurdish district of Afrin in early 2018, its Syrian militia proxies, the Free Syrian Army, looted houses in broad daylight.
Throughout the ongoing occupation, Turkey has done nothing to prevent documented human rights violations, including the displacement of more than 100,000 native Afrin Kurds.
Turkey also oversaw the resettlement of displaced Arabs from elsewhere in Syria in vacated Kurdish homes. It has even given them residence permits to stay in the region. By doing so, it is creating new demographic facts on the ground in a region that has historically been overwhelmingly Kurdish.
The main regions of Syrian Kurdistan are situated east of the River Euphrates. After the Aug. 7 preliminary agreement between Turkey and the United States to create a safe zone in that area, the U.S. embassy in Ankara said, “that the safe zone shall become a peace corridor, and every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country.”
“The term peace corridor refers to two different animals: for Turkey, it’s the total elimination of PKK cadres in northern Syria; for the U.S., it is a workable solution to make both Turkey and the YPG/PKK avoid clashing,” Mustafa Gürbüz, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington. “Unless a paradigm shift occurs on either side, it is impossible to have a long-term safe-zone agreement.”
Turkey frequently talks of its intention to send the majority of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees back to their homeland. This could mean resettling Syrian Arabs in Kurdish-majority areas, as it has done in Afrin, so as to destroy any contiguous Kurdish-majority region on Turkey’s border.
Turkey plans to resettle some 700,000 Syrian refugees in Kurdish-majority northeast Syria following the safe zone’s establishment. This is possibly part of a project to lessen the unpopular presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey and fundamentally change the demographics of northeast Syria in a similar fashion to the Syrian Baathist Arabisation drive of the 1960s and 1970s. That plan sought to repopulate Kurdish-majority areas on the Syrian border with Arabs to separate Syria’s Kurds from the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq, where Kurdish nationalism was on the rise.
The Syrian government planned to remove Kurds from a zone along the Syrian border with Turkey nine miles deep and 174 miles wide. It never fully materialised, though many Kurds were forcibly uprooted and their land resettled by some 4,000 Arab families.
Turkey may well see the safe zone as the first step to building a similar “Arab belt” along the border. The exact size and location of the safe zone is not yet clear. Turkey wants a 20-mile deep zone spanning the entire border while the United States has suggested a much smaller nine-mile deep zone. Turkey remains adamant that the zone should be no less than 20-miles deep and says it will launch a unilateral military operation if it does not get what it wants.
A zone that size would include all of Syrian Kurdistan’s major cities, many of which are close to the Turkish border, and would be unacceptable to the YPG and the multi-ethnic SDF umbrella force.
The United States may convince Turkey to instead settle for establishing the safe zone around the Arab-majority border town of Tel Abyad, where resettled Syrian Arab refugees may prove less contentious in Kurdish-majority areas.
“Kurds see Tel Abyad as a part of Syrian Kurdistan because it is one of the regions where the Arab belt project was implemented and the demographics there were changed decades ago,” said Mutlu Çiviroğlu, a Kurdish affairs analyst.
It is unclear whether the United State will be able to persuade Turkey to make significant concessions.
“The American team was convinced that Erdoğan was going to invade northern and eastern Syria,” said Nicholas Heras, Middle East security fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “There was an air of desperation from the American side during these talks that has not existed before.”
His party’s defeat in mayoral elections in Turkey’s biggest city and financial capital Istanbul shook the president, Heras said. Consequently, Erdoğan views the Syria issue “as a cornucopia that he can use to satisfy the Turkish body politic that he senses is turning against him”.
“The American team believed that Erdoğan was going to invade, push out the SDF from a large swathe of the border, and nearly simultaneously move refugees into the void,” Heras said. “What is really bothering the American side is a belief that there could still be a moment when U.S. and other coalition forces will need to fire on Turkish troops in order to protect the SDF.”
Heras said there had been a quiet war between the U.S. State Department that wanted to give the Turks more room to operate in SDF areas, and the U.S. military that was pushing back hard.
“Neither the Turks nor the Americans have agreed to much, except to keep talking,” he said. “But that is a win for both the U.S. military and the SDF, because the longer the Turks are kept at bay, the less likely Turkey can pull off an invasion.”
Heras doubted the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army would be able to operate in any safe zone, noting that they had “no protection whatsoever from coalition forces”.
“U.S.-led coalition forces in northern and eastern Syria have almost no trust for Turkey’s Syrian rebel proxies,” he said. “If they try to operate in SDF areas, they will be shot.”
Syrian Kurds believe Turkey uses its Syrian proxies in order to shield itself from charges of abuse, Çiviroğlu said. He said he doubted the United States would permit Turkey to alter the demographics of northeast Syria.
“I don’t think the U.S. will accept this because this is against international law and it doesn’t solve any problems,” he said. “Also ethically, the U.S. will not accept such a thing in my view because these are the people that have been fighting side-by-side with the U.S. against ISIS.”