Turkey’s attacks on Rojava killed more than 140 people in 2023

Most recent offensive, in last two weeks of year, destroyed infrastructure and left 90,000 children without school

Funeral, on December 26, 2023, of several of the people killed in the attack against Qamislo.
Funeral, on December 26, 2023, of several of the people killed in the attack against Qamislo. Author: YPJ Information @ Twitter
Several waves of attacks by the Turkish army against the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria (AANES) during 2023 have killed 146 people and destroyed civilian and military infrastructure in the region, according to the latest tally by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Of these deaths, nine were recorded in the last week of the year. This was when Turkey launched a fresh offensive against the autonomous area led by the left-wing Kurdish movement in Rojava.

Also, according to SOHR data, 10 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in Syria during the year.

Between 23 and 31 December, Turkish air and artillery attacks targeted civilian and military facilities along the Syrian-Turkish border. These targets included Qamişlo, Amûdê, Tirbespî, Kobanê, Tel Rifaat and other smaller settlements. In Qamişlo, nine civilians —initially six— were killed, and dozens more were wounded.

According to AANES officials, the latest Turkish offensive has had a serious impact on civilian infrastructure in the territory. The government in northern and eastern Syria said the airstrikes hit hospitals, energy production plants, gas stations, warehouses, garages, and farms.

The AANES Education Ministry added that about 90,000 pupils have been prevented from getting to their classes due to the pre-emptive closure of 712 schools.

The AANES is the federal autonomous system that the left-wing Kurdish movement proclaimed in northern and eastern Syria in 2018 on the basis of several self-governing cantons that had existed since 2013. It includes the territories traditionally attached to Western Kurdistan, or Rojava, as well as other surrounding Arab-majority regions. However, its armed forces, the SDF, do not control some Kurdish-majority areas, such as Efrîn, currently under Turkish occupation.

Criticism of US attitude
Although the US is the SDF’s main international supporter —to varying intensity, depending on the moment—, SDF commander Mazloum Abdi has criticised Washington’s attitude to the recent offensive. Abdi said that the US government’s “silence” amounted to “unofficial approval” of the Turkish attacks.

US military assistance was key to enabling Kurdish forces to resist Islamic State's Kobanê siege between 2014 and 2015. After that, however, Washington has not prevented another of its allies in the region, Turkey, from launching several offensives against Rojava and occupying several regions.

Turkey says attacks are part of fight against PKK

While the AANES authorities believe that Turkey’s ultimate motive for repeatedly attacking northern Syria is to destroy Kurdish-led self-rule, Turkey’s Defence Ministry claims that the offensive targeted members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Defense Units (YPG). The ministry claims that Turkey has “neutralised” (i.e. killed or detained) more than 2,200 members of these Kurdish groups during 2023 in the north of Syria, Southern Kurdistan (Iraq) and Northern Kurdistan (Turkey).

The Turkish government added that the offensive in the last two weeks of the year followed a PKK attack on a Turkish base in South Kurdistan. In that attack, 12 Turkish soldiers were killed.