“Operation Peace Spring”: Its Impact on Displaced Persons and Civilians
- updated: October 17, 2023
The anniversary of the Turkish operation “Operation Peace Spring” weighs heavily on the displaced population from Ras al-Ain/Serekaniye and Tel Abyad. This year coincides with intense Turkish military shelling in the areas of northeastern Syria, which began on October 5th. Four years ago, on October 9th, 2019, Turkey and the factions of the “Syrian National Army” launched a military operation, during which they gained control over a border strip extending for more than 100 kilometers between the cities of Tel Abyad in northern Raqqa and Ras al-Ain in Hassakah province. The announcement by US President Donald Trump of the withdrawal of his forces from the region paved the way for “Syrian Democratic Forces” to seek assistance from Russia, which seized the opportunity to bolster its military presence east of the Euphrates. On October 22nd, 2019, the Turkish and Russian sides agreed during a presidential summit between Putin and Erdogan in the Russian city of Sochi, on the withdrawal of “Syrian Democratic Forces” to 33 kilometers inside Syrian territory, away from Turkish territory, and the conduct of joint Turkish-Russian military patrols to a depth of 5 kilometers along the border, except for the Turkish-controlled area between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain. The operation also led to the entry of forces affiliated with the Syrian regime into the areas of self-administration, and Russia established a military base at Qamishli Airport linked to the Hmeimim base in Latakia, housing fighter jets and an air defense system.
While the stated goal of the operation was Turkey’s security concerns over the presence of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on its southern border, the consequences of the operation were catastrophic for the population. It led to significant forced displacement in these areas. According to the United Nations, about 180,000 people left during the first three weeks from both regions. In Ras al-Ain/Serekaniye, out of 162,000 residents, around 85% left, resulting in a loss of its national, religious, and ethnic diversity. Only a few Christian and Yazidi Kurds remained due to the violations they suffered at the hands of the National Army elements. Similarly, about 70% of the population of Tel Abyad, numbering around 129,000, left. Arabs make up half of the population of the Tel Abyad area, with approximately 30 to 40% being Kurds. There is a small Turkmen minority and a similar Armenian one. It is a mixed Arab-Kurdish-Armenian-Turkmen area. The massive exodus of residents from these areas can be attributed to what happened in Afrin during the Turkish “Olive Branch” operation in 2018, about a year before the operation, and the violations committed by National Army elements there1 further exacerbated these fears. This chaos, along with widespread land seizures, property confiscation, arbitrary arrests, and violence, including sexual violence, perpetrated by National Army elements2, continued to fuel these fears. Even after the end of the military operation, most of those who left did not return to their original places of residence. The violations documented by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, in its reports issued in March of this year, include the “continued prevalence of arbitrary detention and simultaneous use of torture in areas controlled by the Syrian National Army, especially against Kurdish residents who are often accused of dealing with the self-administration.” unit. The committee stated that “members of the National Army have continued to deprive people of their freedom arbitrarily, detaining some incommunicado and others in a manner amounting to enforced disappearance. They also continued to commit torture, including rape, severe ill-treatment, killing, taking hostages, and looting,” and confirmed that all these violations “may amount to war crimes4.”
Today, displaced persons are distributed in the provinces of Hasakah and Raqqa. The majority of the residents of Ras al-Ain/Serekaniye reside in unofficial camps like Twaineh/Washokani and Altalae’/Serekaniye in Hasakah province, while most of the residents of Tel Abyad reside in Raqqa and its countryside. Before the renewed Turkish shelling, a protest demonstration was held by the residents demanding to return to their homes and lands, as is the case every year. However, the shelling that targeted the surroundings of Washokani camp on its first day forced the displaced to stop the annual activities that served as an outlet for them and the day they awaited to remind the world of their cause.
The current bombing campaign was preceded by Turkey’s clear announcement of its intention to destroy what it described as the infrastructure of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the People’s Protection Units in response to Ankara’s attack, which the Kurdistan Workers’ Party claimed and which the Syrian Democratic Forces denied any connection to. This coincided with intense shelling by the Syrian regime in northwest Syria. It also witnessed a precedent as the forces of the “international coalition” stationed at the Tel Baidar base in the northwest of Al-Hasakah province shot down a Turkish drone while it was flying near the American base. It was expected to be followed by a Turkish de-escalation, but in a phone call between the Turkish defense minister and his American counterpart, the latter said that his country understands “Turkey’s legitimate security concerns” and they agreed to coordinate to prevent similar incidents.
The current American and European silence regarding the current Turkish attacks can be linked to the need for Turkey as a transit route for Israeli gas and to maintain the Turkish-American rapprochement witnessed this year, which Turkish President described as a “new phase” in July of this current year on the sidelines of the NATO summit held in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in July of the current year, in a meeting that was the first after Erdogan’s election as President of Turkey. It also included discussions on providing Turkey with F-16 fighter jets worth $20 billion, and updating and upgrading about 80 of its current warplanes of the same model, a request that was previously stalled due to American conditions, one of the most important of which was the approval of Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
This rapprochement and the current Turkish bombing does not mean an imminent Turkish ground operation in northeastern Syria, as the United States does not want its forces to be in the midst of ground battles, but it does not mind weakening the “Syrian Democratic Forces” by damaging the livelihoods of 4 million people in its areas of control. The current shelling targeted infrastructure, and dozens of vital facilities were hit, including oil, electricity, and water stations, while the region is preparing for the winter season. The United States seems keen on the “self-administration” to remain under its umbrella and does not want a strong Syrian party neither in northeastern Syria nor in its northwest, where its residents are subjected to continuous brutal shelling by the Syrian regime and Russian planes, which has led to the killing of dozens of civilians and the suspension of vital humanitarian facilities from working in Idlib province and western Aleppo countryside since last Thursday.
We, in the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the “Peace Spring,” renew our condemnation of acts of violence, regardless of the perpetrators. Syrians can no longer bear further military escalation that reduces the chances of reaching a political solution according to Resolution 2254, which will ensure the voluntary and safe return of displaced women and men to their original places of residence. We emphasize that addressing the violations of all parties to human rights in all Syrian areas, including Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, is a political and moral duty. The international community, Turkey, and local authorities must work together to ensure accountability for the responsible parties and provide support to the affected women and men, and stop demographic change operations.
Only through a commitment to justice and human rights can these areas move towards a more stable and inclusive future, where the rights and dignity of all residents are respected and protected.
The Political Committee in the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.