Syria’s new exiles: Kurds flee Afrin after Turkish assault
On a muddy trail in northern Syria, the war’s newest exiles are leaving. Most are Kurds, fleeing Afrin for the regime-held city of Aleppo, just over a grey horizon. Behind them, Turkish troops and Arab forces they sponsor have encircled their home city except for the squeeze point they used to flee. Ahead, Shia militants allied to the Syrian army man checkpoints deciding who can pass.
With Syria’s war ticking over into its eighth gruelling year, the north of the country is once more on the move. The Kurds are bearing the brunt of the latest upheaval, fleeing their enclave near the Turkish border as a promised storming of Afrin draws near. At least 250 civilians have been killed in the bombardment of Afrin as the Turks and their proxies have advanced. Many abandoning the majority-Kurdish enclave fear they may not be allowed to return when – and if – the dust finally settles on this war without restraint. On Sunday morning, the Turkish backed Free Syrian Army rebels said they had entered the town after Kurdish forces pulled out. Everything appears up for grabs now: their homes, futures and even the Kurdish cause.
“We sat this out for the past seven years,” said Hero, a Kurdish resident of Afrin who had made it to Aleppo. “We bothered no one and watched the storm pass all around us. Then the Turks came for us.”
A safe haven in the tempest of Syria, Afrin had avoided the war in the rest of the north until a Turkish-led incursion into its surrounding hills seven weeks ago. Idlib and Aleppo, not far away, had been ravaged by jets and insurgency. Afrin, meanwhile, had been a haven for refugees from elsewhere. Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, Muslims, even Yazidis from Iraq, had hunkered down as war raged all around.