A prominent Syrian Kurdish leader has called on the international community to assemble an observer force to protect Kurds from what she claimed was a threat from Turkey.
Ilham Ahmed’s pleas follow President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the US will withdraw its forces from Syria.
“We would like to see an international power on the border as observers to ensure that Turkey does not attack,” Ahmed told The Guardian.
“We saw this in Afrin last year as they tried to erase our culture and remove people from their homes,” she claimed, pointing to Turkey’s “Olive Branch” offensive in 2018.
Human rights groups accused Turkey of failing to protect civilians during the operation, and for allowing allied rebel groups to commit human rights violations. Turkey denies the accusations and says it has intervened in Syria to protect itself from jihadis and Kurdish factions it designates as terror groups.
“Huge massacres have been committed by the Turks. A further attack will only bring more war, displacement, occupation and an attempt to destroy our culture.”
The Western-backed, Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which Ahmed is the leader of the political wing, fear a full-scale Turkish assault in the wake of a US withdrawal.
Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which command the bulk of the SDF, as one and the same as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist militia which has been engaged in an on and off insurgency in Turkey for more than 30 years. Turkey, the US and other states consider the PKK a terrorist organisation.
On Monday, the YPG’s leader urged US troops to stay in Syria.
Ahmed, who is currently touring Washington, Paris and London to convince Western powers not to leave Kurdish forces and civilians exposed to a Turkish attack, asked for the UN and states involved in the war against the Islamic State group to assemble an international observer force on the Turkish border.
She also requested these states provide aerial defences for Kurdish forces.
“If there is an attack, we will regard those that remain silent in the face of those threats as guilty of crimes against humanity,” warned Ahmed.
She rejected Turkey’s plans to establish a safe zone in northern Syria, saying any such zone would constitute an “occupation”.
Ahmed also called on the international community to provide support for the Kurdish prosecution of an estimated 800 to 900 Islamic State fighters in detention, warning that if the UN and Western states failed to prevent a Turkish assault, the fighters could escape.
“If the Turks attack then it is true we will be fighting for our own existence and it is possible we may not be able to keep them under control and they may return to Europe,” she said.
“It would be better if they are tried in their own countries,” Ahmed added. Germany and France on Monday refused US calls to immediately repatriate suspected IS fighters.
“The regime has shown no signs of interest in a meaningful dialogue with us about Syria’s future,” Ahmed said, denying reports that Kurdish forces had sought to ally themselves with the Assad regime in order to protect themselves from a Turkish offensive.
On Monday, the US stated that it would categorically refuse to assist Kurdish forces if they allied with Assad.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.