‘Syria doesn’t need more fighting’: Afrin residents on possible Turkish attack

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told supporters at a rally in Ankara earlier this week that a military operation in Afrin against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) “may start at any time,” Turkish media outlets reported on Monday.

Erdogan’s statements come after weeks of intermittent shelling between the YPG and Turkish forces on the outskirts of Afrin, located in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, just north of observation posts established by Turkey as part of a Turkish-, Russian- and Iranian-backed de-escalation deal brokered in May.

Afrin is an isolated canton  governed by the Kurdish Self-Administration and surrounded by anti-Assad rebels. In recent years, displaced Syrians from nearby regions fled violence and now reside in the relatively safe territory of Afrin.

But the presence of the YPG along Turkey’s southern border with Syria unsettles Ankara. For decades, the Turkish government fought a deadly internal conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an internationally designated terrorist organization.

Turkey regards the YPG as the PKK’s Syrian affiliate. Ongoing US military support for Kurdish forces such as the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria is a major strain on US-Turkish relations. The YPG is the main component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-majority fighting force that is battling IS in Syria’s eastern desert.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson from the US-backed coalition against IS told Turkish state news that the Afrin canton was outside of its range of operations, and that it only supports forces active in the fight against IS.

Syria Direct spoke with three Afrin residents: a journalist, a student and a university professor on Wednesday, who all said that they plan to stay in their homes even if direct conflict erupts with Turkey.

Soldiers with Afrin's Self-Defense Forces. Photo courtesy of the Afrin Defense Committee.

Hawzine Hassan, a professor of English literature at Afrin University.

Q: What are your thoughts on Turkey’s recent threats? Is this any different from previous times?

Turkey is always screaming its threats. We’re used to these kinds of empty words from the Turkish media as well as armed skirmishes with the Turkish army and bombings on the ground. I believe that these threats will only come true in Turkey’s dreams.

Q: Do you think the US will take a step away from its YPG allies in Afrin?

The US still got involved in fights in Manbij and Raqqa despite Russian and Turkish pressure, and they still haven’t abandoned the Kurdish fighters that worked with them.

Q: Do you have a message you’d like to send to the US or the international community?

My message to the US or to the West is that I know that they’re always chasing after their own interests. They’re not interested in what’s really happening or in human rights.

But this time I hope that they [respect] the rights of the people.

Q: Do you plan on leaving Afrin if fighting begins?  

I don’t think I’d ever leave Afrin, personally. Even if they opened up safe corridors for us to flee, I don’t think I would. We’ll take our reserve supplies and head down into the bomb shelters. We’ll face them. That’s better than fleeing.

Q: Do you plan on attending the protests Thursday?

Our morale is high these days, and I’m definitely going to the protests.

[Ed.: Major protests are set to take place against Turkish military intervention on Thursday, local Kurdish media outlets report.]

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Amad Afrini, a freelance journalist in Afrin working with several local Kurdish news agencies.

Q: What are your thoughts on Turkey’s recent threats? Is this any different from previous times?

The threats may be stronger this time than they were in the past, but this is nothing new as far as I’m concerned. Afrin has been besieged, bombed and witnessed near-daily attacks from Turkey and its armed factions since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. For this reason, the people of Afrin and their forces are ready for any possible attack.

Q: Do you think you’ll receive any support from the US considering it’s defending other Kurdish areas such as Kobani and Derik as well Arab-majority, SDF-controlled areas such as Raqqa and Manbij?

Nothing is off the table, especially since there is no official American presence in Afrin.

As far as the US, I don’t think that it’s going to leave its SDF allies, which are made up heavily of YPG fighters. The YPG is the backbone of the SDF. It’s going to have to support [the YPG] in one way or another.

The YPG have been planning [to defend Afrin from Turkey] for more than four years, and you can see that from the trenches they’ve built around the frontlines. Don’t forget that the people of the city refuse any Turkish intervention as well.

Q: Do you have a message you’d like to send to the US or the international community?

We hope that international organizations close to the Syrian crisis will interfere and pressure Turkey to not drag this region into a new war—no one knows the potential consequences of that new war.

Syria doesn’t need more fighting, and Afrin was the one safe area in the north for civilians fleeing from battles in Aleppo or elsewhere. Afrin is full of civilians from all parts of Syrian society.

Q: Will you participate in Thursday’s protests?

Of course. That’s not even open to discussion. Even if I didn’t like the Self-Administration I’ll stand in Turkey’s way no matter what.

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Shukri Ibrahim, a student of Kurdish literature at Afrin University.

Q: What are your thoughts on Turkey’s recent threats? Is this any different from previous times?

I think that these Turkish threats are more serious than they’ve ever been before. Of course, the Turks will find a strong resistance from Kurdish fighters.

Q: Do you think you’ll receive any support from the US if Turkey attacked?

We cannot rely on the US for support in Afrin. The US is playing both sides—sometimes it supports the Kurds to put pressure on Turkey, and sometimes it turns a blind eye to Turkish behavior.

However, it is certain that Kurdish fighters will have their say in resisting Turkey, even if the US lets them down.

Q: Do you have a message you’d like to send to the US or to the international community?

My message to the US and to the UN Security Council is for them to stand for once with the will of the people.

Q: Do you plan on going to the protests Thursday?

I will definitely participate in the protests.

Q: Are you making plans to leave Afrin in the event that a conflict erupts?

No matter what happens, I won’t leave Afrin. We’re not afraid. The people of Afrin won’t shy away from anything, and they’ll give everything they can to support the YPG. I’m completely confident in the YPG.

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.