Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water

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Syrian Kurds queue under blistering heat for water delivered by trucks near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
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Very young children have not been spared from queueing for water in the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
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A Turkish military battle tank is seen along the M4 highway, which links the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Latakia, in this March 15, 2020 file photo. (AFP)
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Residents queue for water near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
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A Turkish military battle tank is seen along the M4 highway, which links the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Latakia, in this March 15, 2020 file photo. (AFP)
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Very young children have not been spared from queueing for water in the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
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Updated 05 October 2020

Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water

  • Water disruptions in Hasakah spell more suffering for civilians unless Turkish forces withdraw from NE Syria
  • Turkey’s stated aim of creating a safe zone along the border now entails cutting off water as a pressure tactic

DUBAI: Near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, in northeastern Syria, empty jerry cans were piled high on the roadside, where women and their restless children waited in the blistering heat for trucks to bring water to their parched community. Just a few days earlier, Turkish occupation forces had once again cut off the water supply from the Alouk pumping station, five kilometers away.

This critical facility normally supplies drinking water to nearly 1 million people in Hasakah. Without it, the province goes thirsty.

“We had no water for a month,” recalled Ahmed Zubair, 22, who works at a local phone shop. “Without water, we can’t protect ourselves against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This is a reason for the spread of disease, because there’s not enough water for cleaning, only for drinking. This is a danger for children and for society in general.”

Xelil Osman, a local delivery driver, said: “We were delivering water to the people with trucks. The water situation is really bad, and we always worry it won’t be enough for the people. If there is water, we deliver it. But if there is none, we have nothing to deliver.”

 

It was no accident of fate that water had to be delivered by road to tens of thousands of Kurdish residents in Ras Al-Ain and surrounding areas in Hasakah for nearly four weeks since Aug. 13.

In October last year, Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies launched their self-proclaimed Operation Peace Spring, targeting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria. The SDF is mostly made up of members of the People’s Protection Units, which Turkey considers a terror group because of its ideological connection to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, whose armed struggle since 1984 for greater Kurdish rights evolved into an insurgency over time.

The SDF had spearheaded the US-backed coalition campaign against Daesh in northern Syria, destroying the militants’ last holdouts in Deir ez-Zor in March 2019. However, in a “betrayal” that stunned coalition partners and shocked the US foreign-policy establishment, Washington did nothing when Ankara launched a massive assault on the SDF in October 2019, forcing it to withdraw from its positions along the Turkey-Syria border.

Just a few hours into Turkey’s cross-border offensive, artillery shells hit the Alouk pumping station, immediately putting it out of service. Although the facility has since been repaired with international oversight, it remains under Turkish control.

Under the circumstances, the area’s limited water reserves can be exploited at will, regardless of what international humanitarian laws guarding civilian infrastructure say. This puts additional pressure on the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), which currently administers the area also known as Rojava.




A Kurdish boy takes his turn to get his share of water delivered by trucks near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)

“The NES has dug a few water wells as an alternative, but this does not provide enough water,” Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a political analyst and journalist who covers Kurdish affairs, told Arab News. “The only solution is for the international community to put pressure on the Turkish government to stop cutting off water to parts of northern Syria.”

When the taps ran dry in August, the international community began applying pressure on Ankara, but with little success. James Jeffrey, the US special envoy for Syria, reportedly urged the Turkish leadership to resume water supplies, while Russian military engineers in the area set to work on a pipeline to help quench Ras Al-Ain’s thirst.

Russia backs Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose regime is locked in a low-intensity war with Turkish forces in the northwestern province of Idlib and in a three-way contest with the Turks and the SDF over control of northeast Syria.

 

Russia is keen to win favor with the Kurds to help promote a diplomatic solution to the civil conflict in Syria. Moscow believes the Kurds must be included in constitutional talks with the regime, otherwise a mutually accepted government and a unified country will not be possible.

The stated aim of Ankara’s Operation Peace Spring was to force the SDF back from the Turkish border by creating a self-declared safe zone reaching some 30 kilometers into Syrian territory.

Almost a year on, and with the US now bolstering its Syria deployments with Sentinel radars, additional fighter patrols, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in its escalating rivalry with Russia, the area remains anything but safe.




A Turkish military battle tank is seen along the M4 highway, which links the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Latakia, in this March 15, 2020 file photo. (AFP)

“I am from Ras Al-Ain. After Turkey occupied my town and cut off the water from the Alouk pumping station, people in Hasakah, who have already been living in difficult conditions, did not have any water for drinking or washing, and this was all in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis,” Muhammed Baqi, of the Hevy Organization for Relief and Development, told Arab News.

“The Kurdish administration tried to drill a water well called Al-Himme Water Station, but it did not work because the water they drilled was not drinkable — it was only good for washing,” he said. “The amount of water from this well was also not enough. Alouk continues to be the main source for water in Hasakah.”

 

Disputes over the supply of electricity to the Alouk pumping station appear to have inflamed an already tense situation.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog, the Turkish side cut off Hasakah’s water supply to pressure the NES to supply more electricity from its Mabrouka power plant to areas controlled by Turkey’s Syrian proxies. But Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense insisted in early August that Alouka was under maintenance and that Hasakah was continuing to receive water.

“Though the Alouk pumping station has been fixed under international mediation, Turkey regularly cuts the water flow to NES areas and prevents repairs from taking place,” said Thomas McClure, a researcher at the Rojava Information Center.

“Turkey has cut off the water supply from Hasakah 13 times this year, according to the UN, in order to exert political pressure on the NES.

“Most recently, the whole Hasakah region spent two weeks in the sweltering August heat totally without water, and some neighborhoods spent over two months without a drop of water being delivered.”

 

As COVID-19 cases rise and temperatures remain high, all efforts to reopen the Alouk pumping station have failed. Meanwhile, the Kurdish Red Crescent and other aid agencies have struggled to find alternative water sources for the region.

The Al-Himme Water Station offers a partial solution for now. “However, it doesn’t cover more than 25 percent of the people’s needs,” said Bassam Al-Ahmad, director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, a nongovernmental organization working on documenting human rights violations in Syria.

“The long-term solution is for Turkey to withdraw from northern Syria. It is Syrian land. At the moment we need a strong international position against Turkish assaults.”

Pressing for justice, local aid agencies say Turkey has not only broken international humanitarian law by denying Hasakah access to running water but has actually committed a war crime. They say that since the water-pumping stations and dams of northeastern Syria are located near the front lines, their protection is vital for the well-being of the local population.

“According to international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to cut the water supply to a civilian population is a crime against humanity and a war crime,” Sara Montinaro, a lawyer and project manager for the Kurdish Red Crescent, told Arab News.




Residents queue for water near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)

According to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, military operations must be conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law and avoid the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, including water and sanitation.

“With the current COVID-19 situation, the situation on the ground is even worse than before, yet Turkey does not seem to be changing its behavior towards the Syrian Kurds,” Montinaro said.

“There are now several statements from the UN asking Turkey to stop cutting off water from the people, but until now they haven’t done anything. What is happening is a violation of international humanitarian law.”

For now, the women on the roadside near Ras Al-Ain must continue intermittently to rely on water trucked in by road until a more sustainable source can be found and secured — or Turkey lifts its boot off the hose.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

 


Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations”
  • Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.

HIGHLIGHT

Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.