A Turkish-Run ‘Safe Zone’ in Syria Would Turn into Killing Fields
There is increasing talk of a “security zone” in North-East Syria. If that means a zone occupied by Turkey it would end in death and destruction. Practically all Syrian Christian towns, villages and lands would suffer. So would Kurdish and many Arab towns and villages. If the U.S. plans to hand this zone to Turkey, the people living there will act to stop it. All of North-East Syria, currently organized as the Self-Administration of Northern Syria (SANES), currently allied to the U.S., will fuse itself with the Assad regime. That would put it within the Iranian sphere of influence. This is a major threat to the whole region.
The main image for this column shows the 20-mile zone that Turkey wants to occupy.
Ripping Out the Heart of a U.S. Ally
This “zone” includes key Syriac Christian towns such as Derik, Qamishli, Khabour Valley, and all of the smaller Syriac-Assyrian and Armenian villages. It also includes all the main Kurdish towns such as Manbij, Kobane, Sere Kanye, Dirbêsiyê, Amuda, Qamishli, and Al-Maabadahas, plus many Kurdish villages. Obviously there are also Arab villages in the area.
Kurdish Christian converts would be hunted down like animals.
The “zone” contains the majority of the population of SANES, as well as most administrative and education centers. The economy of North-East Syria rests on this region, which contains oil. So taking this area means that the U.S.-allied SANES and its military wing, the SDF, will be destroyed.
A Turkish Occupation Would Wipe Out Syrian Christians and Kurds
Based on Turkey’s occupation of the Kurdish Afrin region in 2018, we know what the Turks are planning: ethnic cleansing and religious persecution. We also know what happens in other parts of Syria that are occupied by Turkish jihadists (such as Al Bab area and Idlib). Turkey will move in its jihadist proxies from other parts of Syria. Erdogan, an Islamist, will allow them to impose sharia. Turkey will allow them to drive away the Kurds and Syrian Christians and replace the population. Churches will be destroyed. Kurdish Christian converts will be hunted down like animals (as they were in Afrin). Preaching Christianity or joining a church will again be illegal.
Therefore the people of Northeast Syria will never accept a Turkish occupation. Turkey has no right to Syrian land. Nor to occupy by force a population that is outside Turkish territory. Never has the SDF invaded or tried to invade or attack Turkey. But Erdogan cannot bear the existence of a Kurdish population that he cannot control. That’s why he’s hungry to subjugate this huge swathe of Syria.
Kurds Will Ally with Assad, and Iran Will Benefit
Obviously SANES and the SDF are not waiting around for Turkey to invade and ethnically cleanse them. If the U.S. leaves them without protection they will look elsewhere. Moscow promised SANES and the SDF protection against Turkey if they merge with the Assad regime. If there is no other solution, this will happen. It’s better than submitting to Turkish genocide. So the SDF will merge with the Syrian army, giving Assad some 50,000 new soldiers.
That fact will have massive consequences for the region. As you can see on the map, one-third of Syria is now part of SANES and defended by the SDF. SANES is strategically located between Iraq and the Iran/regime-controlled part of Syria. As of now, a tiny U.S. presence of 2,000 special forces soldiers keeps the peace, and contains both Turkey and Iran. Pull them out, and the region will change overnight from a U.S. ally to a Russian/Iranian asset.
Why Throw Away U.S. Leverage?
That would allow Iran to increase its troop movements and military buildup by 400 percent. It would create unprecedented Iranian pressure on Israel and the rest of the region. Some diplomats are trying to prevent either of these twin catastrophes — a Turkish genocide or an Iranian power-grab, with a mixed force of French and Arab troops to replace the Americans. It is very unclear if that can succeed in time. President Trump has threatened crippling economic sanctions against Turkey if it commits genocide. But that won’t stop Erdogan. Crushing the Kurds is too important to him.
There’s only one way to stop SANES from merging with the Assad regime. Make it absolutely clear that Turkish forces will not enter Syria, period. That the U.S. will use force to stop that, including a no-fly zone.
Anyone who cares about the safety of Syrian Christians, American allies, or Israel, should contact the president and ask him to stop the U.S. withdrawal, until a replacement force is fully in place.