Hundreds demonstrated in Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli on Saturday, in response to a call by Kurdish authorities for global protests against Turkey’s military presence in the flashpoint Afrin region.
Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels seized the northwest Afrin region from Kurdish fighters in March, after a two-month military offensive that prompted tens of thousands of people to flee.
Since then, thousands of people displaced from other parts of Syria -- notably the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus -- have been resettled in the emptied city.
Syria’s Kurds, who have built up their own autonomous administrations in the chaos of the country’s seven-year war, say that amounts to demographic change.
On Saturday, men and women marched through the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli to protest Turkey’s military presence.
They waved the yellow, green, and red flag that represents Kurdish part of Syria, as well as signs that read: “No to Turkish occupation.”
“Leave, leave, Erdogan! Killer, killer, Erdogan!” many chanted, in reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ghassan Juli, a 38-year-old resident of Qamishli, described the Afrin developments as a “disaster.”
“Our people were forced out, and fighters from other areas were brought to live there,” he said.
Her head wrapped in a shawl that matched the Kurdish flag, Bahia Hassan said Afrin’s original residents were afraid to return because of fears of abduction or worse.
“Enough killing, enough kidnapping our boys! Enough killing women and children. We won’t accept this,” said the 45-year-old.
Syria’s Kurds control swathes of the country’s north, and many of those who fled to Afrin escaped into nearby Kurdish-held territory.
Around 135,000 stayed in the Afrin region, more than a third of them in the urban center that shares the same name, according to the United Nations.
Since war broke out in 2011, half of Syria’s population has been displaced, including more than five million outside the country and another six million internally.