Peter Khalil: Since 20 January this year, the people of Afrin in northern Syria have been under heavy bombardment from Turkish armed forces as part of an incursion into Syria. On 6 February, the UN resident humanitarian coordinator of Syria released a statement condemning the military operations in Afrin which have trapped civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that, as at the end of January, there had already been 67 civilian deaths and nearly 200 injured as a result of the Turkish air strikes. Air strikes have also destroyed a 3,000-year-old Neo-Hittite temple built around 1300 BC. Turkish officials, including their foreign minister, have stated that the intention of the operation is to rid Afrin of terrorist elements, including ISIS, although there is no ISIS presence in Afrin. The population of Afrin is under a secular administration, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, with security provided by the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led, multiethnic, pro-women’s-rights group in Syria. They’ve been a key ally for the US and Western allies during the Syrian Civil War, playing a major role in the eventual removal of ISIS from its de facto capital of Raqqa.
Sadly, despite a relatively positive start to his administration, President Erdogan’s rule has, over 3½ years, become increasingly authoritarian, devolving into fear, the persecution of minorities such as Kurds, the breakdown of democratic foundations and the dissolution of human rights. While Australia has had a shared history and an important relationship with Turkey since World War I and while the relationship between our nations is important, the federal government must condemn the Turkish President’s incursion into Afrin. I call on the Australian government to make direct representations to the Turkish government, imploring them to halt operations immediately, before there are any more civilian casualties.