JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Turkey is reportedly preparing for a ground invasion into northeast Syria, and it has prompted concerns among some Middle East experts that Ankara could threaten the lives of millions of Syrians, along with the emergence of a new democracy in the region.
For weeks, Turkey’s military has been shelling towns and villages near the Turkish border.
Zany and Chinar Bakr live on the border in the strategic Syrian town of Kobane. “Exactly on 19 November, the bombing began,” they said. “The bombing was very strong. We were very scared, brother.”
Nadine Maenza is President of the International Religious Roundtable Secretariat, which advocates for religious freedom around the globe. She’s concerned about Turkey’s action.
“It’s really devastated Northeast Syria with over 28 people killed, 14 of those civilians. They’ve hit schools. They’ve hit hospitals. They’ve hit grain silos and IDP camps, water facilities, oil facilities. So really all the important infrastructure for civilians has been destroyed. It’s been unbelievable it’s been so terrible.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames US-backed Syrian Defense Forces, a military group in northeast Syria, along with a Kurdish group, the PKK, for a recent bombing in Istanbul and is using it to justify the military campaign.
"We have been on top of the terrorists for the past few days with our planes, artillery, and drones,” Erdogan said, and cautioned, “Know that as soon as possible, we will root out all of them together with our tanks, soldiers and our friends who walk and will walk this road with us."
Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers is among those on the front line and he’s wary of Erdogan’s warning.
“It sounds like that was a pretext for this new onslaught into northeast Syria. So, we saw all this happening and then, behind that came the threat of a land invasion to – as they said – 'clean out the enemy,' clean out the Kurds.”
Maenza said that given this geopolitical crisis, the U.S. could play a key role.
“Of course, Turkey is important because it’s in (the) NATO alliance and what’s going on in the Ukraine. So, this is really a delicate situation for the US government, but nevertheless they have the tools to push back on an invasion and they should.”
The possible invasion puts a growing, vibrant new democracy at risk. It’s known as the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria.
Maenza calls it remarkable. “They’ve created this society that respects one another even with deep ideological differences, and I think that’s super important to understand.”
She added, “This isn’t a secular society, they’re very religious but they respect one another. They really live amongst one another with this remarkable religious freedom and culture.”
The Syrian Defense Forces are backed by the U.S., and they serve as the young democracy’s military arm.
Eubank has been helping the people of the region for years and recalled, “Northeast Syria was a place that defeated ISIS. And when the US was looking for partners to defeat ISIS, they found a very good one in the Kurds in Northeast Syria, and they helped develop something called the SDF -- Syrian Democratic Forces. This is a Kurdish led organization that includes Kurds, Arabs, which are crucial to all of this, and Christians, who are a minority but have an important role,” he explained.
Nine hundred U.S. soldiers work alongside the SDF. According to Eubank, “Our presence keeps Turks from completely invading, Iranians from attacking, it holds Assad back a little bit, and helps keep ISIS tamped down. So, the US has a very important role diplomatically with the surrounding countries, especially Turkey, to find compromises between the SDF and the Turks, which I think is possible.”
Maenza sees devastating consequences coming from any Turkish invasion.
“We know if Turkey invades Kobane, they’re going to decimate the people, torture, kill, rape and commit atrocities, especially targeting the vibrant group of religious converts there,” she said. We know that’s going to happen, so, let’s not pretend that we don’t and let’s do something to actually stop it rather than the normal reports and alerts after the fact before it’s too late.”
*** If you want to contact your lawmakers in Washington on behalf of the people of Kobane, Syria:
U.S. Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121
Meanwhile, as Christmas approaches, Zany and Chinar Bakr in Kobane are holding onto hope and their faith.
“We just have ourselves in God’s Hand,” Zany said “But we, like me, hug our children in our chest and cry and pray and God. We just need the peace here. Our faith got very strong at this time because we trust in Him.”