Thousands of Kurds march to condemn Turkish preparations to invade Syrian canton of Afrin, and vow to defend themselves to the last
Thousands of Kurds on Thursday protested in Afrin against Turkish invasion plans, while also denying Turkish claims civilians were fleeing the Syrian canton. "Afrin is a cemetery of Erdogan," one banner read at the protests.
"The people of Afrin today said no to Turkish occupation and no to Turkish attacks on their ground, against their civilians," Roj Moussa, 20, a journalist, said after the protests.
"It was a huge protest, despite the rain and wind - I've never seen such huge protests before," he added.
The people of Afrin today said no to Turkish occupation and no to Turkish attacks
- Roj Moussa, Afrin resident and journalist
The protests come after days of mobilisation of Turkish armour and artillery on its border, and threats from Ankara that it will destroy the YPG militia in the canton, which it considers to be a terrorist organisation. Afrin was hit by Turkish artillery on Thursday morning.
The district of Afrin is home to about 500,000 civilians, a population which has doubled with refugees from fighting in other areas of the country.
It has been mostly spared such violence and is protected by the YPG - and the threat of Turkish invasion brings defiance from its people.
Azad, an IT engineer who marched against the Turkish threats on Thursday, said the protest was aimed against the recent shelling of villages by the Turkish army.
"A number of missiles targeted Afrin city centre, but it did not leave much damage," he said.
"The number of people leaving is limited compared to what the media says," he said about reports in the Turkish media that people in Afrin were leaving.
A woman holds a picture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan during a rally in Afrin (Reuters)
'We are not afraid'
According to Serbest, 37, who works at the local university, the Kurds in Afrin will not flee their homes.
"We have our mountains and caves, we will defend and stay. I was a half-hour ago in the streets, life was ordinary, markets were open, young people in the coffee shops," he said.
"Some expect an attack and others not. But some people are worried."
Nariman Hesso, a 25-year-old pro-Kurdish journalist, told Middle East Eye that despite Thursday's shelling "men, women and children came to the streets and sent an answer to Erdogan that they are never afraid”.
"The morale of people is very high and they will never give up their land. We will stand until the end against the Turkish attacks until the last drop of blood in their body,” she said.
The sons and daughters of the entirety of Rojava can resist the Turkish invasion in Afrin
- Roj Moussa, Afrin resident
Roj Moussa added: "Life is normal in Afrin, despite the Turkish occupation threats we are here, and we are here to stay.
"All the attacks in the last four days of the Turkish government made the people more powerful."
"The sons and daughters of Afrin took part in the liberation of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Manbij. Arin Mirkan [a female fighter from Afrin who died in Kobani in October 2014] was a symbol of the Kobani resistance," Moussa added.
"The sons and daughters of the entirety of Rojava can resist the Turkish invasion in Afrin," he added.
YPG and US soldiers have fought side by side against IS in Syria. But the US says it has no interests in Afrin (AFP)
Kurds look to Russia
Anger has also spread in Afrin over the US declaration that it had no interests in Afrin. Mohammed Bilo, another journalist in the canton, said all eyes were on Russia, which has military observers in the area.
"Afrin is under the influence of Russia," he said.
Abdulkarim Omer, the head of foreign relations for Jazira canton in northern Syria, called on both Russia and the US to pressure Turkey.
"A Turkish attack on Afrin will complicate the crisis in Syria," he told Middle East Eye. "It will affect the political process. We call on the international community and the US-led coalition to pressure the Turkish government.
"Both Russia and the United States should stop the Turkish government from attacking Afrin.
"Any attack on Afrin means the beginning of the end for the [Russian-sponsored] Sochi talks and the entire negotiations process will return to square one," he added.
"We hope the international community will not stand still and condemn such attacks and pressure Turkey to reconsider its policies in Syria," he stated.
Turkish tanks are transported to the border with Afrin (Reuters)
Doubts over Turkish threats
However, Omar Aloush, a senior Kurdish member of the Raqqa civil council, which controls the liberated city, doubts Russia or the US would allow a Turkish invasion.
"The US is trying to adopt a policy of dual containment, to ensure our participation in the war against terrorism, and to ensure Turkey does not support Russia," he added.
"In the meantime, Russia does not want Turkey to have a larger role [in Syria]," he added.
On Thursday, the Syrian government warned it is ready to destroy Turkish planes should they enter Syrian airspace
"This is a Russian message to avoid an agreement with Turkey [on Afrin]," an anonymous YPG official told MEE.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.