AMUDE, SYRIA – For weeks, Turkey has been amassing its troops near its border with Syria for what appears to be an imminent attack against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that Ankara views as terrorists.
In this border town in northern Syria, locals say such an attack could throw the already-volatile region into further instability.
While the situation may seem calm at the moment, residents in Amude say they have been living in constant fear since the Turkish military has recently increased its threats to carry out an offensive against this Kurdish enclave that is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that his country is determined to destroy “to pieces” what he called a “terror corridor” in northern Syria.
Turkey views the SDF and its political wing, the PYD, as an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is a U.S. and EU-designated terrorist organization.
Kurdish fighters affiliated with the SDF, however, have played an effective role in the ongoing U.S.-led fight against Islamic State militants in Syria.
In a bid to avoid a confrontation between its NATO ally Turkey and its SDF partners, the U.S. has assumed a mediation role.
Last week, CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie visited Syria for talks with Kurdish military officials, while at the same time U.S. envoy for Syria James Jeffrey was in Ankara for discussions with Turkish officials to help defuse Kurdish-Turkish tensions.
The “Americans can play a decisive role in resolving problems between us and Turkey,” said Mustafa Bali, an SDF commander and the group’s spokesperson who was at the meeting with McKenzie. “We have always said that we as Kurds are not a threat to anybody. We are open to dialogue. We are open to discuss a solution for this problem.”
“At the same time, we don’t accept threats. When our people come under danger, we have the right to fight and defend ourselves,” he told VOA.
Some Syrian Kurdish groups who oppose the SDF rule say that Turkey’s sensitivities must be taken into account.
“As a neighboring country, Turkey would never allow the PKK to be on its border. Turkey considers the PYD here as part of PKK. So these threats would continue until a permanent settlement is reached,” said Abdulillah Uje, an official with the Kurdish National Council.
For local residents, the Turkish threats have been part of their daily routines since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011.
“Turkish threats are nothing new,” said Sherin Ibrahim, a local radio journalist. “We’ve been living with those threats for years.”
“I think what Turkey really wants is to control parts of our region so that Kurds and Syrian Democratic Forces will have no access to the border. It’s all a political maneuver for more gains in the broader Syrian context,” she told VOA.
Others say that Turkey has no right to invade a neighboring country under false pretenses.
“Those excuses that Turkey keeps using about securing its borders aren’t valid. For almost nine years since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, not a single bullet or a bomb has been fired into Turkey from the Syrian side,” said Dilshad Abdo, a Kurdish political activist.