Turkey sees signs of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by Kurds in Syria

Syrian refugee women wait after crossing into Turkey at the Akcakale border gate in Sanliurfa province, Turkey. (Reuters)

Turkey accused Kurdish militia in northern Syria of persecuting civilians on Tuesday and said it saw signs of “a kind of ethnic cleansing,” drawing a parallel to the actions of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian Kurdish-led forces captured the town of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border on Monday from ISIS, driving the jihadists away in an advance backed by U.S.-led air strikes.

Turkey is uncomfortable with the gains by Kurdish militia, which now control almost half of the Syrian side of Turkey’s 900-km (560-mile) border, fearing it could inflame separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority.

“Daesh (ISIS) attacks and kills those it captures. PYD/PKK (Kurdish militias) seize certain regions and force people living there to migrate,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish state broadcaster TRT during a trip to Saudi Arabia.

“It doesn’t matter who comes; the regime, Daesh, the PYD, they are all persecuting civilians.”

He said the latest fighting had triggered a new influx of refugees to Turkey, already hosting 1.8 million Syrians, and that more than 23,000 people had crossed in the past week.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said late on Monday there were signs “pointing towards a kind of ethnic cleansing” by both Kurdish and Islamist groups as they fought in northern Syria.

“We see signs that work is being done on a formula to bring in other elements and combine cantons,” Arinc told reporters, referring to two regions controlled by Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

On Sunday, the Kurdish YPG militia denied accusations of oppression or that a “racist war” was taking place. In a statement published online it urged civilians to return to cities controlled by Syrian Kurds, guaranteeing their safety.

President Tayyip Erdogan has voiced concern about the latest YPG-led offensive, saying Kurds were taking over areas from which Arabs and Turkmen were being displaced. He has accused the West of backing what he called Kurdish terrorists and has said the outcome could eventually threaten Turkey's border.

The capture of Tel Abyad by the YPG and smaller Syrian rebel groups means the Syrian Kurds effectively control some 400 km (250 miles) of the Syrian-Turkish border that has been a conduit for foreign fighters joining Islamic State.

The border area was quiet on Tuesday, with a small group of less than a hundred people crossing back into Syria after ISIS fighters fled the town. Others were reluctant to return, saying they still feared ISIS militants.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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