The US Withdrawal from Northern Syria
The Kurds are an ethnic group with populations living in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) form a large part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and have been key-US allies in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, commonly referred to as “ISIS”) and are currently guarding the group’s prisoners in the region. Kurdish forces also played a key role in protecting the Yazidi population during the 2014 genocide. Turkey, however, regards the YPG as terrorists due to their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey plans to establish a “safe-zone” along the Turkish Syrian border, creating a 20-mile deep area on the Syrian side, Turkish President Recep Erdogan plans to resettle at least a million Syrian refugees from Turkey to this safe zone, by “clearing” the area of Kurdish forces. Kurdish groups fear that this could lead to potential ethnic cleansing and genocide by the Turkish forces, and many human rights groups have cautioned against its creation of the so-called safe zone, citing the massacre in Srebanica in Bosnia-Herzegovina as an example of past areas becoming death traps.
Civilians began fleeing the region upon the US announcement, creating a mass exodus of tens of thousands. Organizations call on parties to respect international law, refraining from the targeting of civilians or engaging in indiscriminate bombing.
More broadly, due to the YPG’s role in guarding prisons holding thousands of ISIL-affiliated actors, the Turkish offensive may mean the violence risks the release of alleged criminals, preventing judicial accountability for atrocities such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
What to Watch:
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