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API Statement on Turkish Offensive in Northeastern Syria

Property damage in Qamishli following airstrikes on Oct. 9, 2019. (Photo: Assyria TV)

The Assyrian Policy Institute condemns the Turkish military incursion into northern Syria and the reported indiscriminate airstrikes which have resulted in civilian casualties, including in the town of Qamishli, a town founded by Assyrian survivors of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915.

Over the course of the last several days, the API spoke to a number of Assyrian residents in Qamishli by phone. Shelling has already reached Assyrian areas and two Assyrian civilians have sustained serious injuries. Given the abruptness of the U.S. withdrawal and the uncertainty about the scope of the Turkish military operation, the Assyrian community in northern Syria is in a state of great anxiety.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the Assyrian population in the country has dropped significantly. In February 2015, ISIS invaded the 35 Assyrian villages of the Khabour Region, taking hundreds of civilians captive and forcing thousands into external displacement, effectively ending the Assyrian presence in the Khabour Region.

In the wake of the sudden American withdrawal, the various actors in the region are now poised to engage in a major conflict which could lead to the end of the Assyrian presence in Syria. This comes directly after recent promises from US officials to exert more effort to protect vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East.

We are concerned by the potentially grave implications for the safety and survival of minorities in the region. Turkish forces have already shown themselves to be a threat to minorities in Syria as many Yazidis fled Turkish-held Afrin after seeing Yazidi temples destroyed by Turkish-supported Islamist fighters. The fate of an estimated 10,000 ISIS fighters currently detained by Kurdish forces is now in the balance, with terrifying potential ramifications for communities who have already been subject to genocide at the hands of those fighters.

Turkey has consistently abetted ISIS throughout the Syria conflict through its open border policy, provision of weapons to questionable groups, and other practices. American withdrawal allows Turkish-supported extremism to be reasserted in the area.

The people of northeastern Syria—of all ethnic and religious backgrounds—have already suffered from the impact of armed conflict, terrorism, displacement, and dire living conditions. Further conflict in the region will lead to a loss of civilian life, forced displacement, and may create conditions for the reemergence of ISIS and the engineering of demographic change.


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