Serê Kaniyê’s crops being stolen from its own owners

Izzedin Saleh

Photograph Izzedin Saleh – Harvest season

With no avail, just hoping to compensate a part of his loss in the last harvest season, Hani Soulaiman, 27 years old, communicates via WhatsApp with one of his neighbors in the western countryside of the city of Serê Kaniyê “Ras Al-Ain”; He entrusted him his own piece of land, so the latter may could harvest his crop.

Twenty hectares of wheat crop is the last thing that Soulaiman could gain from his agricultural land, after the Turkish backed Syrian radical factions seized his whole crop, in addition to all his agricultural equipments and supplies, all that after the Turkish aggression so called “Spring of Peace” which started on October 9, 2019.

Soulaiman works at a gas station in the village of Sêgir, south of the city of Derbasiyah, where he lives in with his family since they were displaced from the city of Serê Kaniyê. After a hard day, he plays with his two children, while talking to SHAR magazine about the losses he has suffered from as a result of the Turkish aggression: “I invested with a partner of me a piece of land of 90 hectares in the both villages of “Mukhtalla” and “Boga” in the western countryside of Serê Kaniyê, we planted 13 hectares of cotton, and it was time to harvest when we were displaced, then the Turkish backed factions stole our warehouses that were containing around 10 tons of watermelons, which we harvested recently, and around 20 tons of wheat seed, 5 tons of fertilizers and 25 thousand liters of diesel, in addition to fuel tanks and an electric generator”.

The loss of Soulaiman and his partner, did not stop at the contents of their warehouse; Rather, it exceeded the cotton crop seized by the Turkish backed radical factions, after the two partners finished harvesting in November 2019 in the village of “Boga”.

He tells SHAR: “We hired workers and harvested the crop, after the so-called (Army of Islam), which was controlling the village, allowed us, but after the end of the harvest and before the transfer of the crop, which amounted 170 bags, gunmen belonging to the 20th division of the“ Legion of the Levant ”seized it, and they expelled my partner from the land”.

These violations occur in a fertile agricultural area, which has always been known to supply the Syrian food basket with huge quantities of crops such as hard and soft wheat, barley, cotton and vegetables, which have contributed strongly to food security, and provided employment opportunities to a wide segment of citizens over the decades.

Hundreds of farmers from Serê Kaniyê and its countryside share with Hani Soulaiman the same fate, as a result of the Turkish backed Syrian opposition gunmen taking over the fields of the forcibly displaced people of the region, after stealing their crops, agricultural equipments, and deliberately burning agricultural fields along the lines of contact with the Syrian Democratic Forces and forces the Syrian government in the countryside of Tal Tamr and Zarkan (Abu Rasen), as well as the Turkish forces bulldozed some fields to establish military bases in their place.

“Spring of Peace” and what followed it of destruction

The so called “Spring of Peace” military aggression that ended on October 22, 2019 led to the Turkish army and its allies controlling a large border area in northeastern Syria, with a length of around 120 kilometers between the cities of Serê Kaniyê (Ras Al-Ain) north of Hasaka and Girê Sipî (Tel Abyad) in the north of Raqqa.

According to the (Office of the Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations), the Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria has displaced at least 200,000 people from the areas between the cities of Serê Kaniyê and Girê Sipî, while the self-administration estimated the number of people displaced from Serê Kaniyê alone, with 162.5 thousand people, including 45 thousand children.

However, regional and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, at separate times, accused the Turkish army and opposition factions of “gross violations and war crimes, during the attack on areas in northeastern Syria, as well as accusing them of preventing the return of displaced Kurdish families, and looting their property and illegally seizing or occupying it.

Seizuring of Yezidis’ properties

The religious and sectarian character of the opposition factions’ discourse, which is part of the so-called “national army”, led the followers of the Yazidi religion in Serê Kaniyê and its countryside to displace the area, with the start of the Turkish military operation, as the number of Yazidi families in the city reached before the operation of the “Spring of Peace” 45 families, whose members lived in the Zeradasht neighborhood, and the villages of (Shukria, Tal Sakher, Jan Tamr and Al-Asadiya) in their countryside, according to (Yazidi House).

“The Yezidis left behind 1,100 hectares of agricultural land, and their properties was also stolen after they were seized by the militants of the so-called “Falcons of the North” that belonged to the second corps of the so-called “Syrian National Army”, according to Rami Sido, a Yazidi citizen of the village of “Shukria” east of Serê Kaniyê.

Sido, 36 years old, is currently residing with his family in the city of Amouda, trying to settle again. He tells SHAR magazine: “The Yezidis will not return to Serê Kaniyê soon, due to the absence of security and stability, and for fear that they will not be able to practice their religious rituals in the presence of radical extremist groups in the city».

“The opposition armed men stole more than 100 tons of wheat seed, 200,000 liters of fuel, and about 100 hectares of cotton crops after harvesting after our displacement. They also stole all agricultural equipments from the Yezidis’ villages, in addition to seizing our homes and properties” he says.

Emptying grain silos, transporting their contents to Turkey

According to the Economic Commission of the Self-Administration, the area of ​​agricultural lands belonging to Serê Kaniyê is estimated around 144 thousand hectares, most of which are now under the control of Turkey and the Syrian opposition factions, as “Ankara” and its allies seized about 24 thousand tons of wheat, and 1.5 One thousand tons of sterile wheat seed, 12 thousand tons of barley, and 2.5 thousand tons of fertilizers, were stored in grain silos (Aliya, AlSafh and Mabrooka), in addition to 2.4 thousand tons of cotton in “AlSafh” silos, where the self-administration was continuing to buy it from farmers, while the harvest has not yet ended.

Armed factions’ crimes in Serê Kaniyê and its countryside were not limited to theft and looting of civilian property and agricultural crops; Rather went beyond that, after they stole electrical generators from agricultural projects in the countryside of the city, and they destroyed electrical transformers that are used to feed agricultural projects by electricity in order to extract a quantity of copper from them that does not exceed $ 50 value” according to local activists Talk to SHAR magazine.

The same activists told SHAR: “After the Turkish military operation, the opposition factions, which are supported by Ankara, are now controlling the agricultural lands that belonged to (the Syrian-Libyan Industrial and Agricultural Investment Company) with an area of ​​18.7 thousand hectares, as well as public lands which is called (state farms) of an area of ​​35 thousand hectares and marketing the production to Turkey, where the Agricultural Directorate of the Self-Administration had invested by growing them with crops (wheat and barley) prior to the Turkish military operation.

satellite image showing the Turkish military base near the bridge of the “Al-Safah” village south of Serê Kaniyê / Ras al-Ain

Turkey’s seizure of civilian lands to establish military bases

After the operation called “Spring of Peace”, Turkey baptized to establish Turkish military bases in the countryside of Serê Kaniyê, including a military base in the village of “Dawoudiat Malla Salman” near the town of Zarkan/Abu Rasin, where the Turkish army bulldozed several houses for civilians from the village, in order to settle and fortify its military base. ”According to a resident of the village who told SHAR magazine: ”The Turkish forces expelled the returning residents from their village and declared it a military post”.

a picture of Turkish soldiers and military vehicles in Dawoudiyat Malla Salman village.

There are several Turkish military bases in the eastern, southern and western countryside of Serê kaniyê, in which Turkish soldiers of various units and military classifications are present, and they are protected by earthen mounds and ditches dug in their surroundings, in order to avoid possible attacks, according to what SHAR magazine documented based on testimonies made by activists from the region.

Those activists who refused to reveal their identity for security reasons added that “one of the largest Turkish military bases in the city’s countryside was established in November 2019, on agricultural land seized by Ankara near the villages of “Tal Al-Safa” and “Rihaniya” south of the city, It also transformed the home of one of the displaced families near the bridge of Al-Safah village (13 km south of the city), to a military base as well.

satellite image showing the Turkish military base near the villages of “Tal Al-Safa” and “Rihaniya”, south of Serê Kaniyê/Ras al-Ain.

A poor harvest season devoured by fire of war

It appears that the harvest season this year in Serê Kaniyê will be the least productive in decades, as the areas planted with wheat and barley crops do not exceed 20 thousand hectares, or only about 20% of what they were last year, as a result of the displacement and displacement of the majority of farmers who were forced to leave their lands.

These cultivated areas were not spared from the fires, as the so-called “national army” factions repeatedly burned agricultural crops in contact lines with the SDF, and points of the Syrian government forces in the villages of Tal Tamr and Zarkan, as they were burned 400 hectares of agricultural crops in the village of “Zaidi” west of Serê Kaniyê, which belongs to the “Khali” family, on the pretext of their loyalty to self-administration.

fire near the Turkish border crossing of the city of Serê Kaniyê / June 2019 / Hawar Agency

Exploiting farmers and imposing taxes on them

This season, after harvesting the barley crops, the farmers found themselves forced to sell it at a cost, after deducting the wages of agriculture, harvest and transport, so there is no access for them except the Turkish market through Tal Abyad crossing point controlled by the “Levant Front” which will undertake the task of buying at $ 60 per ton and then selling it to traders on the Turkish side at $ 100 per ton,” according to several testimonies given by farmers from the countryside of Serê Kaniyê to the SHAR magazine.

And not far from that, one of the battalions of the (Sultan Murad) Brigade imposed on every farmer in the villages of the southern countryside of Serê Kaniyê, 7 bags of crops, whether wheat or barley, as a tax to allow them to harvest,” according to a farmer from the village of “Al-Ahras”, who confirmed to SHAR magazine that he «lodged a complaint against the faction’s militants with the city’s local council, but to no avail».

In conjunction with the preparation of the investigation, a group of agricultural harvesters arrived a few days ago to Serê Kaniyê from Turkey through the border crossing in the city of Girê Sipî, where it is possible to start harvesting all crops in the region, after Turkey and armed opposition groups prevented entering agricultural harvesters to harvest the crop from outside its control areas.