Syrian Women’s Political Movement Newsletter – September 2020

Syrian Women’s Political Movement

September 2020

Dear all
The Assad regime is no stranger to policies of demographic change. Forcing civilians out of their areas has been an intrinsic part of the regime’s administration of Syria since the days of Hafez Assad. The first instance of this policy was the creation of the “Arab Belt” which started in 1974 soon after Assad the father took the reins of power when the regime moved the Arab inhabitants of the villages flooded by the newly-built Euphrates Dam, and made them settle in Kurdish regions along the northern borders. The belt spanned an area 300 km long and 15 km wide.

Over 4,000 Arab families were moved at the time from the Governorate of Raqqa to the Arab Belt region. The families were distributed into villages that were created specially for them. Thus, the region received a total of over 40,000 people, which made up 6% of the total population of the Governorate of Al-Hasaka.
After the breakout of the Syrian Revolution of 2011, the regime adopted a systematic policy of demographic change and force displacement across the country. In addition to the regime’s express wish in actuating this policy as a fact on the ground, other parties in the conflict have contributed substantially to the fulfilment of this criminal policy. The aim was to elude several legal commitments, which contravene the International Bill of Human Rights, under the pretext of the policy of de-escalation in areas of armed conflict, adopted by Iran, Turkey and Russia in Astana. These three countries carried out massive demographic change operations to re-enforce their presence in Syria and in order to avoid the Geneva talks.

Iran, for example, worked on its malicious project in the capital Damascus where it exploited the presence of Shia holy shrines. Under the pretext of protecting these sites, Iran started to settle Shia residents coming from Iraq, Lebanon and Iran in areas where the locals had been evacuated either due to war, or by purchasing their properties. Intimidation tactics were sometimes used to obtain property. At other times, the government itself expropriated properties under the pretext of them being unoccupied. Thus, these areas have become Shia-populated areas serving Iran’s agendas. This was the case in the city of Daraya in Damascus Countryside where the shrine of Sayyida Sukaina is. Seven hundred armed men and their families were forced to move to Idlib after a prolonged and painful siege. Over 300 Shia families were settled in the city to replace the people who left. The same happened in Sitt Zainab neighborhood in Damascus, as it has become headquarters for Iranian militias since 2012. These areas are run as if they were Iranian territories,  in total absence of the Syrian government and its institutions.

In 2016, after the forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party took over regions in the North East of Syria, they followed the regime’s example. Local resident of Arab, Assyrian, and Syriac descent, and even Kurds who did not support the Party were expelled out of their homes and regions. Then they were replaced with supporters who came from Turkey, Iraq and other Syrian regions.

On the 14th of April 2017, the regime started a forced displacement operation for the people of the towns of Madaya and Zabadani in the western part of Damascus Countryside. The residents were moved to Idlib in the North. One of the largest operations of demographic change, the displacement took place after a years-long siege laid by the regime and Hezbollah against the two towns causing a great deal of suffering including famine. The displacement came in fulfilment of an agreement which was reached in extreme secrecy under the auspices of the State of Qatar between two Islamist factions: Ahrar al-Sham Movement and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham on one side, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia on the other side. This operation marked a serious development in the regime’s demographic change plans as they involved support from its allies to perform displacement based on sectarian principles.

The extremist Islamist groups, Daesh and Jabhat Al-Nusra, also created a tangible change in the social and cultural structure in cities like Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Tal Abyad. Likewise, Turkish-backed factions, which took control after military operations, spared no effort in changing the social structure in the areas they took over. They performed acts of forced displacement against anyone who differed with their faith or ideology, committing all kinds of violations against members of other religions. Not least among these violations are the latest developments in the city of Afrin and in the East Euphrates regions where a majority Kurdish population coexisted with an ethnic mixture of Assyrians, Syriacs, and Arabs. Military operations in the regions known as “Olive Branch”, “Euphrates Shield” and “Peace Spring”, led to many violations in addition to the forced displacement of local residents along the Syria-Turkey border, causing a rip in a Kurdish social texture that has been in place for hundred of years. Around 500 thousand Kurdish residents were forced to move to be replaced with Syrian IDPs who came from other regions. A recent announcement by the Turkish Government indicated its intention to settle around one million internally displaced Syrians in the North East of Syria shortly before Operation Peace Spring under the pretext of protecting Turkey’s borders and national security.

The same strategy is still systematically applied by the Assad regime under patronage from Russia. The Syrian regime issued the fascistic Law no. 10 of 2018 which decrees the expropriation of real estate owned by displaced Syrians, especially those who oppose the regime as they are the ones who would not be able to return home to prove their ownership of their property. Thus, people’s rightful possessions are being taken by regime and its Russian allies who use them to house their supporters.

All forms of demographic change and systematic forced displacement are criminal and inhuman behavior and are internationally denounced according to the provisions of Paragraph D of Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Such behavior must always be exposed and challenged because it leads to erasing the national Syrian identity of several components of the Syrian society for the sake of promoting the existence of a totalitarian regime that serves the interests of foreign powers at the expense of its own people. They Syrian people have been suffering from injustice, oppression and displacement for the sole reason that they demanded their freedom and dignity. The countries and powers involved in the Syrian crisis must find a way to settle their differences away from the Syrian people who, after ten years of displacement and suffering, deserve a safe return to their home where they can live in peace and have the right of self-determination.

Nidal Joujak