Syrians are split over the establishment of a buffer zone by the U.S. and Turkey in a border region of northeastern Syria. While some cite security and stability in support of the plan, others firmly oppose Turkish intervention that they believe could only lead to more bloodshed.
Muhammad, a 53-year-old farmer from Izaz, is one of the more than 1.8 million Syrians scattered in refugee camps across Turkey. Having fled with his family to Kilis, Turkey, from Assad’s bombings and the Islamic State, he believes a buffer zone is an urgent necessity. “It doesn’t matter who intervenes,” he told Syria Deeply. “All we want is to go back home and be safe. We don’t want to stay here forever.”
A largely unarmed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, but has since devolved into a full-on armed conflict. More than 240,000 Syrians have died throughout the conflict, and another more than 4 million have been rendered refugees.
In late July, the U.S. and Turkey announced their intention to create a de facto no-fly zone in northern Syria, designed to provide protection from Assad’s bombings and allow refugees from that area to return to their homes. The two countries also plan to evict the Islamic state (ISIS) with airstrikes in order to establish the safe area, which will span some 55 miles wide and 25 miles long.
The Turkish military has already been launching airstrikes on the ISIS and the leftist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), and the U.S. recently executed its first drone strike launched from Turkish soil into Syria.
“We’ve already lost a lot – people, businesses, property,” he continued. “We have the right to live with some degree of security.”
Whether Turkey or another country, Muhammad says that whoever intervenes should help overthrow the Assad government and protect Syrians from ISIS, which keeps a brutal grip on the people living under its control. “We live with the constant fear of missiles and explosive barrels falling from the skies,” he said, “and we live in constant fear of ISIS on the ground.”
Muhammad hopes that Turkish intervention could permit Syrians to “live normal lives” once again. “Most Syrian refugees live here in Turkey and they treat us well, so I don’t think intervention would turn into an occupation.”
In parts of northern Syria, such as Aleppo, local residents have struggled to fend off ISIS advances, as reported by Syria Deeply in the past. Nonetheless, the group already controls more than half of Syrian territory and is currently gripped in battle with other rebel groups over four key villages that provide a supply route from Aleppo’s northern outskirts to Turkey.
Yet not everyone agrees with Muhammad. Rama, 36, worked as a lawyer in her hometown of Aleppo before also having to flee to Turkey two years ago. Explaining why she rejects Turkish and U.S. involvement in Syria, Rama said: “Any foreign intervention is a form of occupation.”
Turkish policy toward is Syria is part of a desire to “revive the Ottoman Empire,” Rama said accusingly. “We’ve already suffered enough and we want it to stop, not continue in a new form.”
Pointing to foreign fighters of ISIS and Hezbollah, the Lebanese political organization fighting alongside the Assad government, Rama decried them as “mercenaries and another form of occupation. They must leave Syria.”
Her 39-year-old husband, Abdul Salam, who hails from a village on the outskirts of Aleppo, disagrees with Rama. He claims that “the majority of people from northern Syria” would welcome a buffer zone. “Syrians in that area are suffering because of both the regime and ISIS,” he said. “The Syrian people are scared and don’t have food, fuel or services… they need a safe place to go.”
“A buffer zone would stop the continuous displacement of Syrians,” he added. “For how long will Syrians remain in these refugee camps? The world should do something already.”
Syrians still in their country who spoke to Syria Deeply were more open to the idea of a buffer zone. Mazin, 19, who lives with his family in the Idlib-area village of Ma’arrat Misrin, believes that intervention is long overdue. “[Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan said several times he wouldn’t allow more massacres in Syria, but dozens have happened and Turkey did nothing,” he said. “Of course, we don’t blame Turkey for the massacres, but we want to remind the world that action is needed.”
Mazin’s dream of starting university this year has been crushed by the civil war, which has made it impossible for him to commute to any of the nearby cities that have universities. “I don’t want to leave Syria, but we’re targeted every day with one or two barrel bombs,” he explained, saying that a buffer zone may allow a degree of normalcy to return to the country’s northeast. “We don’t just need it here but all along northern Syria.”
Many Syrians said that they believe a buffer zone could hasten President Assad’s fall while also providing protection from ISIS. Abu Khalid, 66, who comes from a northern Aleppo village, said, “All of Syria needs buffer zones, but our areas are very urgent.”
Photo courtesy of AP