First Published: 2018-03-21

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin
With their hometown overrun, Nowruz this year is nothing but "tragedy and displacement" for Kurds fleeing Turkish assault in Syria's Afrin.
Middle East Online

Khalil Tamr, 82-years-old, who fled Afrin in northern Syria, lies inside an abandoned house in the village of az-Ziyarah.

ZIYARA - With tears in her eyes, Rasheeda Ali said she would not celebrate the Kurdish New Year this week after she and her family were forced to flee under fire from Syria's Afrin.

The annual Nowruz holiday which was being marked on Wednesday had always been a time for Syrian Kurdish families to gather together and mark new beginnings, but this year is different.

Tens of thousands have been left homeless after abandoning their homes and loved ones in the northwestern city of Afrin, now controlled by Turkish troops and allied rebels.

The fall of Afrin on Sunday was a major blow for Syria's Kurds, who have proudly run autonomous local governments since 2013 -- finally speaking Kurdish and marking customs long banned by the Damascus government.

With her hometown overrun, Nowruz this year is nothing but "tragedy and displacement," Ali said, a mauve scarf wrapped around her hair and her eyes moist with tears.

"Death would have been easier than leaving our home," said the 40-year-old Arabic language teacher, in an area outside Afrin that is jointly held by Kurds and the Syrian regime.

"I left my home -- which looks like a palace -- and now I live in this house with 50 other people," she said, gesturing to the small room in a collective shelter in the Ziyara area.

Children huddled around her as she spoke. A mattress was propped up against a wall behind her and scant belongings were stacked on bare metal shelves.

- 'Nowruz means nothing' -

Around 100,000 civilians streamed out of Afrin, using the only escape route available into government-held zones to the south and east, the United Nations says.

They hit the road on foot, in cars, on motorbikes and in pickup trucks, with what little belongings they could carry or cram into their vehicles.

Once in regime territory, they sought shelter in mosques, schools and buildings under construction.

Some have nowhere at all to go and have been sleeping in their vehicles, others are still on roadsides sleeping in the open.

For Syria's Kurds, Nowruz symbolises the deliverance of Kurdish people from a mythical tyrant -- but that was hard to imagine now.

"I'll never forget fleeing. Looking back and getting a last glimpse of Afrin, feeling helpless and torn," said 38-year-old Rohan, also displaced.

"Away from Afrin, Nowruz means nothing. Afrin was our paradise," she said in the nearby Zahraa area.

In Ziyara, Mohammed Zaki, a middle-aged man, recounted how he and his family fled farmland on which they had lived for generations.

"We fled on foot carrying just the clothes we wore," he said, now living with several other displaced families.

Women and children packed the room, as a small child slept bundled up in a donated blanket behind him.

"We have no money to buy food. We left everything and came here penniless," Zaki said.

It may be Nowruz but "we wouldn't dream of celebrating", he said. "We just dream of ending this tragedy for our children."

- 'I lost my children' -

Afrin, an agricultural area famed for its olive trees, was part of territory in northern Syria where the Kurds have been setting up systems of self-rule.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) recaptured eastern areas of the territory from the Islamic State group, with backing from a US-led coalition.

The Kurds have otherwise largely stayed out of Syria's complex seven-year conflict, instead focusing on building their own institutions including in Afrin.

But Turkish-led forces on January 20 launched a deadly assault on Afrin, dragging Kurds into conflict and capturing the city in a major setback for the dream of autonomy.

His boots and a bag of flat bread by his side, 82-year-old Khalil Tamer sat on a blanket atop a layer of straw -- thin cushioning for the hard concrete floor underneath.

With his head hung low, he recounted how he and his family escaped fighting in the neighbouring province of Aleppo to Afrin.

When Turkey began its assault on the YPG, whom it considers "terrorists," Tamer and his family were forced to flee a second time.

"We walked out on foot for four days straight," he said. But in the chaos, he was separated from some of his loved ones and will mark Nowruz without them.

Smoking a cigarette in a holder, he repeated his fate in disbelief.

"We lost the children. I lost them. I lost my children."


Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai