For more than a week Turkish troops in armoured vehicles have been pelted with rocks by angry crowds of civilians, during their joint ground patrol with Russian troops in northern Syria, near Kobani, the predominantly Kurdish town on the Turkish border that was a symbol of resistance against the Isis terrorist group, and now against Turkey.
Although Turkish forces fired live ammunition at protesters during the joint patrol with Russian troops on Tuesday November 12th men, women and children have kept on gathering to protest each Turkish convoy passing by, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). A crowd of civilians protesters, chanting anti-Turkish slogans and flashing victory signs, shouted, “We are Kurds. We are proud. We want our rights. Turkey can never annihilate us,” in a video record pressed by Reuters.
Despite the Turkish offensive operation being paused after agreements including a cease fire truce were brokered by Washington and Moscow with Ankara, eye witnesses told Reuters that three people were wounded at the scene, and that Turkish soldiers first fired their weapons into the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd, before firing at the protesters. Tear gas was also used, according to the witnesses.
This angry reception by civilians foreshadows Turkey’s plans to gain a foothold in Kurdish territories on Syrian soil, and the seizure of 120 kms (75 miles) of land along the frontier, where hostility toward Turkish aggression is mounting by the minute. Turkey’s offensive operation against the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) started last month.
A Syrian protester was killed after a Turkish military vehicle ran him over on Friday as it drove through an angry crowd protesting a joint Turkish-Russian patrol in northeastern Syria, Kurdish forces and a Syria war monitoring group said.
Turkish patrols fall under a Sochi deal signed by Turkey and Russia stating that the SDF were to be pushed 30 kms (19 miles) from the Turkish border and replaced by Syrian forces, and the process should be guarded by Turkish- Russian patrols under the supervision of American patrols as well.
This was not the first incident when Turkish troops broke the agreement. Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, said in a tweet, "Turkish army is firing live bullets on Kurdish protesters and killing them in broad daylight."
The Turkish aggression and the shift of powers on the ground has been unsettling for residents in the area, many of whom are Kurds who have either fled the Turkish offensive operation or are feeling abandoned by US troops. More than 200,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting, amid warnings of demographic change to the Kurdish-populated border areas.
The United Nations said that more than 92 civilians have died so far as a result of Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria. Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN human rights office, said the death toll was based on “verified incidents”.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was deeply concerned for the civilians in the area after a key water pumping station was shut down due to the violence. The Allouk station, which serves more than 400,000 people in and around the city of Hassakeh, has not been functioning since October 30th. The ICRC and its partners have been distributing drinking water for the newly displaced and those in displaced camps in the area.
Moscow said Russian helicopters flew aerial patrols over the area for the first time last Thursday to guarantee the safety of civilians and supervise the fulfilment of the agreements. Separately, Russia negotiated an arrangement that would allow Syrian government troops to deploy along the border. Russian moves to contain the conflict in north Syria have been welcomed by civilians.
A circulated video footage from Kurdish television network K24 on Monday, November 11th, showed dozens of people gathered by a roadside in the northern Syrian town of Ad-Darbasiya cheering a Russian military convoy as it drove past, after throwing stones at Turkish tanks.
In a related development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insisted that the Turkish-Russian agreement was being implemented in full. He lashed out at Washington at a news conference, on Sunday November 17th, stating that the United States’ “inconsistent actions” in Syria stood in the way of a political settlement to the conflict.