Kurdish Australians say they fear for family members in northern Syria, and for the future of their people, following Turkish airstrikes, artillery bombardment and military invasion of Kurdish-dominated cities and villages.
Following the sudden withdrawal of US troops from the Kurdish-controlled areas of north-eastern Syria – known as Rojava – Turkey has begun a long-threatened assault on Kurdish centres.
The Turkish military “launched the land operation into the east of the Euphrates River” on Wednesday, later claiming to have hit 181 “militant targets”.
Video footage showed civilians fleeing towns with columns of smoke rising in the background and jet trails visible in the sky.
Observers reported at least seven civilians had been killed.
Scott Morrison says he has 'deep concerns' Turkey's advance into Syria could help Isis
The president of the Kurdish Lobby Australia, Eziz Bawermend, said Kurds in Australia felt their people had been abandoned not only by long-standing ally the US, but also by the broader global community.
“It’s a feeling of horror, if you like, we feel abandoned, we feel despondent and totally hopeless. I spoke with several people on both sides of the [Turkish-Syrian] border, and it’s the same feeling: does the world care? Will anything happen? What have we done to deserve this?”
Bawermend said the Kurdish people had been “complete and totally betrayed by one man” – US president Donald Trump – who unilaterally withdrew American troops after a phone call with the Turkish president, but were also suffering because of global indifference, even complicity.
“It’s American jet fighters, German tanks, French artillery, against lightly armed militia. People are just scared, running, but they don’t know where they can go to be safe. It is villages and populated areas that are being bombed.”
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the US, have borne the brunt of fighting against the Isis terrorist network, suffering significant casualties, including up to 11,000 fighters killed.
Bawermend said the US’s dramatic withdrawal had shown that the Trump White House was an unreliable ally.
“It’s a total and complete betrayal. It sends a very strong message to people all over the world. Northern Syria is very far away, but the message will go around the world. This US administration cannot be trusted, when the going gets tough, they will pack up and run away.”
Bawermend said he hoped other forces in the US political system, its Congress and Trump’s Republican party, might help restore American support for Kurdish forces, and protection for Kurdish people. Otherwise, he said, he feared genocide.
“We expect a bloodbath.”
Bawermend urged a boycott of “Turkish goods and services”, in particular tourism, as a way the public could put pressure on Ankara to end its aggression, and support the Kurdish cause.
“Enough drops of water, fill a glass, a river, an ocean, that’s how I see people power. I’m not asking anybody to sacrifice anything, but to consider alternatives to Turkish goods and services, as a non-destructive way to make their views known.”
Heval Herki, from the Federation of Kurdish Democratic Society in Australia, said the war would “bring many casualties, many deaths, chaos for Rojava, for the region, for the whole world”.
Herki said there was barely a Kurdish family in Australia that had not lost someone to the violence of the region over the past five years, and said many now feared further deaths from the Turkish incursion and from a resurgent Isis in the chaos expected to follow.
“People have contacted their families in cities being bombed, they say they are stranded in fear, the land is very flat, and people fear when the bombs will come.
“Many houses, many buildings have been destroyed. It is indiscriminate, massive air bombardment to cause chaos and fear among the people. But where can they go? There is no exit for them in any direction.”
'On the edge of a humanitarian catastrophe': Turkish offensive begins
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Thursday the government was “concerned about what we’re seeing, of the actions of the Turkish government moving into Syria, and what that could mean for the safety of the people in that area”.
“We are also very concerned about what this could mean for the potential resurgence of Daesh [Isis] and we will be working through all diplomatic channels, working with our colleagues, whether in Europe or the United States or elsewhere, where we have been in partnership in the Middle East for some time, to closely monitor these developments.”
The UN security council was due to meet on Thursday to discuss the Turkish offensive. But the council was not expected to strongly condemn Ankara’s actions, given tacit Russian support and US ambivalence.
Launching the offensive, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said it was being undertaken by Turkish military and Turkish-backed Syrian militias, against Kurdish forces and Isis.
“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” he wrote on social media.
Turkey says it wants to establish a 32-kilometre wide “safety zone” along the border, as protection against the threat of what it regards as Kurdish terrorist groups as well as Isis. Turkey also says it wants to resettle Syrian refugees in the zone.
The eight-year Syrian civil war is estimated to have killed up to 570,000 people, including more than 100,000 civilians, and has led to more than seven million internally displaced people and five million refugees.