An appeal to the secretary-general of the United Nations and the European Union by 45 human rights and press organisations and civil society activists warning against the serious ramifications of Turkey’s systematic scheme of demographic change in north Syria
Your Excellency, Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations
The joint presidency of Brussels VI Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region (held on April 9-10)
All international conventions stipulate the importance to defend human rights of people in their homeland, particularly the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the American Convention on Human Rights.
Land ownership is a fundamental right guaranteed by these conventions, and it is related to the rights of indigenous people in term of the importance of the land and its relation with the identity and existence of societies. This sacred right is held up by well-known Turkish-led entities in Syria which is publicly pursuing the settlement of one million Syrian people, who had sought refuge in Turkey, in predominantly-Kurdish enclaves under the control of Turkish forces and their proxies along the border strip between Syria and Turkey in the provinces of Aleppo, Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah, amid shameful inaction by the international community.
These efforts come as a part of an evil plot to stir up strife, ignite civil war in that region, change its demography and erase its cultural and historical identity with the aim of exterminating that pillar of Syrian society, the Kurds, who have been all along expressing their readiness to live with all segments of Syrian society in a frame of respect and tolerance, and away from violence, force and duress. Adopting such evil policy, Turkey is carrying on with its orderly and systematic scheme of demographic change under the pretext of the so-called “voluntary return.”
We, at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), see that Turkey’s preparation for the project of “voluntary return” of one million Syrian people, according to which these Syrian refugees in Turkey will be settled in that region controlled by Turkish forces and their factions in north Syria, carries serious and unwelcome repercussions which may lead to igniting conflicts in that area, and may batter the entire Syrian territory. The Turkish president claims that these areas have become “safe” in the wake of the military operations launched by Turkish forces in Syria in 2016, 2018 and 2019. However, the developments on the ground and the daily violations, which have been committed since the first day of Turkish invasion in Syria and documented by SOHR and other human rights organisations, are damming evidence that these areas have become a breeding ground for killing, looting, humiliation and security chaos. Ironically, Turkish officers and soldiers supervise these violations which have been committed in full view of all international and regional powers.
These violations have not been confined to forcible displacement, taking over civilian land, seizure of crops and olive trees and water cut-offs, as Turkish forces and the “Free Army” have sold civilian real estate, felled trees kidnapped civilians as a part of a systematic plan to intimidate and terrorise the indigenous Kurdish inhabitants and force them to leave the region.
With the help of its mercenaries, Turkey has continued to establish random settlements in Syrian territory, as well as Turkification through changing the names of schools and institutes into Turkish names, violating the identity of north-west Syrian region.
The violations also included search for buried treasures, artifacts and antiques in archaeological sites where Turkish-backed militiamen used heavy diggers and earth-moving machineries for digging and excavating these sites, sabotaging Syria’s historical heritage. These practices come as a part of efforts to pave the way to annex that region to Turkish territory.
In the first four months of 2022, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented scores of violations, crimes and developments in the areas controlled by Turkish forces and their proxy factions (Euphrates Shield area and its surroundings, Peace Spring area and Olive Branch area). The most prominent of these events was the death of 121 people in acts of violence; and they are as follows:
- 68 civilians: 54 men, 11 children and three women.
- 59 combatants.
- Six Turkish soldiers.
- Two suicide bombers.
During the same period, the first four months of 2022, SOHR also documented the following violations and events:
- 238 civilians and combatants were injured in acts of violence.
- 52 factional, family and tribal infightings and armed attacks.
- 30 explosions, including IED explosions and bomb attacks.
- 320 arbitrary arrests and kidnaps of civilians, including two women and three children.
We, the signatories, associations and organizations, warn against the following:
- Serious ramifications of the ongoing demographic change in north and east Syria.
- Critical repercussions of settling one million Syrian citizens in Turkish-held areas in Syria, especially since these culture, traditions and habits of these citizens are different from those of the region’s indigenous inhabitants, which may serve to stir up strife and lead to a civil war.
- Unwelcome repercussions of establishing settlements and luring non-Syrians to be stationed in that region.
- Repercussions of the ongoing desertification and elimination of plant resources in that region through illegal logging and water cut-offs.
Accordingly, we appeal to you to:
- Hold Turkey and its mercenaries accountable for the violations and crimes they have committed in north Syria.
- Bring all criminals, perpetrators of violations and all those who aided and abetted humiliation and crimes against humanity in north Syria region to justice.
- Refrain from funding Erdogan’s project dubbed “voluntary return” and not to give it legal cover, so that the region can avoid a possible civil war, especially since this project contributes to enhancing the systematic national demographic change in these areas.
- Postpone the voluntary return of Syrian citizens until the situation in Syria is settled, so that no one of the returnees will be persecuted by the Syrian regime.
- Secure a safe environment for the return of civilians, including securing residence and making sure that the returnees will enjoy decent standards of living.
We, the signatories, affirm that:
- The north Syria region is not safe yet to receive Syrian civilians, as murders and conflicts and rivalries among the Turkish-backed factions are documented daily.
- A voluntary return must be accompanied by rehabilitation of the region’s infrastructure, especially schools and hospitals.
- Rehabilitation, psychological support and training events must be provided.
- Support has to be granted by national and international funds in order to secure a suitable environment.
These are the basic standards of a dignified living for a part of Syrian people who have already been grappling with displacement repercussions and blatant violations during Syria’s protracted war which has been raging for over a decade. Finally, we hope that the plight of Syrians and all the above mentioned practices, which violate dignity and all human rights adopted by all international conventions, will come to an end.
1- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)
2- The Kurdish Legal Commission (DYK)
3- Ezdina Foundation
4- Adel Center for Human Rights
5- Lekolin Center for Legal Studies and Research – Germany
6- Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
7- Mahabad Organization for Human Rights M. O. H. R.
8- Yazidi Union of Syria (YES)
9- German-Kurdish Forum
10- Human Rights Organization – Afrin Syria
11- Kurdish Civil Society in Europe
12- Kurdische Gemeinde Stuttgart e.V
13- Efrin Post News Network
14- Afrin Media Center
15- Kurds without Borders
16- Syrian Center for Defending Human Rights
17- Violations Documentation Center in North and East Syria
18- Human Rights Organization in Syria (MAF)
19- Human Rights Commission in Syria (MAF)
20- Afrin Social Association
21- Hevi Kurdish Association in Belgium
22- Tel Abyad Forum for Civil Community
23- West Kurdistan Intellectuals Union (HRRK)
24- Kurdish Committee for Human Rights (observer)
25- Afrin Activists Network
26- Kurdish Organization for Human Rights in Syria (DAD)
27- Center for Research and Protection of Women’s Rights in Syria
28- Free Regional Council for supporting Human Rights
29- Rights Defence Initiative Organization
30- Committee of the displaced people of Sere Kaniye / Ras Al-Ain
31- Bar Association in Afrin canton
32- Kurdistan Civil Society Forces
33- The National Association for Afrin
34- Network Kurdish Antenna
35- Human Rights Organization in Jazeera
36- Human Rights Organization in Farat
37- Kurdish Writers and Intellectuals Gathering
38- Clergymen Forum
39- Kurdish academics and university students
40- jiyan Organization for Women
41- Kurdish Human Rights and Lawyers Gathering
42- Association of displaced people of Al-Shahbaa
43- The Union of Journalists of the Kurds in Syria
44- Media Academy Organization
45- Syrian Kurdish Journalists Network