Turkey’s transfer of Syrian families to Tell Abyad from Afrin has reignited worries of demographic engineering in northern Syria
Turkey has transferred hundreds of people to the northeastern Syrian town of Tell Abyad from the Turkish-controlled Operation Euphrates Shield region, stunning many families displaced from the town that have been hoping to return to their villages in the area, which fell under Turkish control during a military operation in November 2019. A new round of population transfers is reportedly underway.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes no secret of his intention to uproot Kurdish self-rule in northern Syria and change the demographic character of the region, often reiterating Ankara’s plan to move up to two million refugees to a safe zone that is planned to be set up in the Operation Peace Spring region in the northeast. Addressing the UN General Assembly last year, Erdogan said Turkey initially planned to transfer up to one million refugees to the area by constructing 140 villages and 10 towns in the region. The second phase of the plan involves extending the resettlements to the town of Deir ez-Zor, which lies on the critical M-4 highway linking the country’s east and west.
Turkey’s cross-border operations in Syria remain in full swing despite the novel coronavirus outbreak that sent the world into turmoil. Population transfers to the east of the Euphrates River from the western side are increasing along with the Turkish military activities.
On April 20, a convoy of 151 vehicles, including 14 buses, departed from Jarablus, arrived in Turkey via the Karkamis crossing and then crossed into Tell Abyad from the Turkish town of Akcakale.
Videos of the convoy were leaked over social media, forcing the governor’s office in Turkey’s southern border province of Urfa to respond. A written statement on April 21 inexplicably claimed that the convoy was carrying families displaced from Tell Abyad under the Kurdish administration. Turkish media reports hailed the news, saying downtrodden families who had escaped the Kurdish rule in Tell Abyad and settled in Afrin were now returning to their homes.