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Fighting for more than survival

The Kurdish people in North Syria are attacked by Turkey to the north and Syria to the south. No one wants them there but they have nowhere to go.

People attend the funeral of four Kurds in the town of Jinderis, Syria, 21 March 2023. The assailants shot the Kurdish men as they were lighting a fire in celebration of the Nowruz holiday. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

This article, by undergraduate student Thomas Hickey, was produced as part of News Decoder’s educational mission to foster global awareness through journalism. Hickey is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.

Turkish bombs landed on a Kurdish refugee camp in Northern Syria in October 2023. The attack was just the latest in a decades-long campaign by the Turkish to prevent an independent Kurdish country.

 “Turkish aircraft bombed the vicinity of the camp, creating fear in the population, and pushing some of the present NGOs to stop their work,” said Berivan Amude, who works in the information and documentation office for the Women’s Protection Units or YPJ in Northern Syria. The YPJ is a Kurdish, all-female fighting force.

Kurds make up one of the largest ethnic groups in Syria, but they lack an independent state of their own recognized by other nations. In their attempts to get this recognition, they have battled Turkey and the terrorist organization known as ISIS for decades.

“All of North and East Syria is facing the danger of falling into the same situation if the threats of ISIS and Turkey are not overcome,” Amude said.

One reason behind the attacks might be the cultural differences between the Turkish and Kurdish people.

The Kurdish government allows for strong involvement from both women and Christians, according to Muhammad Hassan, an official of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. The Autonomous Administration is a de facto government in North Syria, pushing for independence for its many ethnic groups, including the Kurds.

Rights not recognized in the region

Hassan said this unique government structure allows Amude and other women to make important decisions and fight alongside men. Other actors in this region could fear that this model could become more popular and spread to other countries in the Middle East.

“Self-defense against Turkey’s politics has many aspects, not just open war. It is rather about the self-organization of oppressed people that finally develop a project of freedom,” Amude said. “It also involves developing a free society.”

Instability in the region benefits both Turkey and Syria. Turkey sees an independent Kurdish state as a threat, so instability in Syria gives them security from a Kurdish government system. Kurds are not included in the Turkish system, and Turkey also wants them to be excluded from the Syrian regime. Syria, on its part, does not want the Kurdish people to have their own government, nor be part of Turkey’s regime.

Neither party agrees with the Kurdish governing structure, and both fear Kurdish autonomy.

The October 2023 attack on the Washokani refugee camp in Northern Syria and other attacks by Turkey aim to dismantle their system.

Aid organizations put at risk

The conflict prevents proper health and recovery needs to reach the Kurdish people as aid organizations are also put at risk. Health assistance then becomes sporadic. When health services become unavailable, people turn to other places to get the resources they need, regardless of whether they have to leave their home and culture.

“They only have about four liters of diesel a day for a whole family,” Amude said. “They would use it for heating, and this is not enough for living in a tent. The number of tents is so few, that sometimes two or three families will stay in one tent.”

For the Kurdish people living in Northeast Syria, attacks destroy their way of living and the systems that keep them safe. Turkey severely hinders their fight against ISIS, Hassan said. ISIS has strongholds in the Middle East, and uses violence against the Kurds to strengthen their hold on the region at the cost of safety.

“The Turkish attacks targeted vital infrastructure,” Hassan said. “Water stations, electricity, power stations, gas stations were targeted. We have a maximum of one or two hours of power [per day] because of these attacks.”

These attacks destroy the infrastructure and jobs that these resources would have previously provided. As a result of the repeated attacks, the Autonomous Administration must spread resources thin, which further deteriorates the Kurdish economic situation.

Resources stretched thin

A decreased budget prevents the government from creating more job opportunities for people living in the region.

“When you have less job opportunities, this is used by ISIS to recruit young people in different areas,” Hassan said. “Because terrorism usually tries to recruit those impoverished communities or young people with no job opportunities and no vision for the future.”

Hassan pointed to another Turkish airstrike on 30 October 2022 which targeted Kurdish service and infrastructure stations.

These attacks and more create damage to infrastructure that the Autonomous Administration already had worked diligently to repair after previous attacks. This sucks the hope out of the people, Hassan said, pushing them to join ISIS or flee altogether to escape the violence.

“This is a problem because the region is being emptied by the people, and we want our people to stay here, to stay in the homeland,” he said.

Peace that doesn’t seem possible

ne professor who specializes in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at a U.S. university is doubtful of an independent Kurdish state. There are simply too many players in the region to make self-determination for Kurdistan possible, the professor said, asking that their name not be published because of fear of reprisal from the Turkish government should they travel there.

“I’m skeptical of the word peace,” they said. “Peace should be the objective, but there has to be a worthy cost.”

According to a 2023 report by Max Hoffman, the associate director of National Security and International Policy at the Center of American Progress, Turkey sought peace with the Kurds between 2013 and 2015.

Syria, however, fell into war during this time. In southern Turkey, Syria sought to assimilate the different ethnic groups, including Kurds. Syria views Kurdish desire for independence as a threat, according to Amude. During 2015, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) occupied enclaves in North Syria and began to gain favor from the United States. The PYD is a left-wing fighting force within Autonomous Administration, according to the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center. Turkey saw this as an opportunity to capitalize off the precariousness in the region and weaken the Kurds.

Hassan said that it seems at times that Turkey and ISIS coordinate attacks; it is unclear whether they simply turn a blind eye to ISIS or whether they are in greater cooperation. Regardless, Hassan believes the attacks are carried out based on a hatred for the way the Kurds operate.

Members of the Autonomous Administration fear that the very existence of their people and culture is on the line. The recent airstrikes on the refugee camp in North Syria only point to an unwavering Turkish effort to eliminate Kurds from the region.

“Turkey and the other actors in the region don’t want stability in North Syria, in the region that is governed by the Autonomous Administration,” Hassan said. “They don’t want our project to succeed.”


  1. What makes the Kurdish government different from those in surrounding regions?

  2. Why would Turkey and Syria feel threatened by an independent Kurdish state?

  3. Should outside governments, like the United States, Europe, Russia or China, play a part in trying to resolve conflict in the region?


(c) 2024, News Decoder


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