A building collapse in Syria is reminder of Turkey’s occupation - analysis

The collapse of a building in Aleppo and the 5-year anniversary of the invasion of Afrin are symbols of how Syria continues to suffer while the global powers concentrate elsewhere.

 An excavator works on the scene of a residential building collapse in the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria January 22, 2023. (photo credit: SHAM FM/Handout via REUTERS)
An excavator works on the scene of a residential building collapse in the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria January 22, 2023.
(photo credit: SHAM FM/Handout via REUTERS)

At least 16 people were killed in the collapse of a building in Aleppo, according to Syrian media. The collapse took place in the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood, an area where many members of the Kurdish minority live, reports from The National and other outlets noted.

The victims of the collapse were believed to be people displaced from the Kurdish area of Afrin. Kurds and other minorities were forced to flee the city in 2018 when Turkey launched an invasion and backed extremist groups.

Ankara’s invasion of Afrin has now led to five years of illegal occupation, which led to the displacement of 200,000 people – and it is only one of several areas of Syria that Turkey currently occupies.

In 2019, Turkey launched another invasion of an area near Serekaniye, a town that straddles the Turkish-Syria border, causing another 200,000 to flee. In Afrin, many armed gangs, some of them affiliated with Turkish-backed militias and elements of the Syrian National Army, have caused instability and kept Kurds, Yazidis and others from returning. In their place, Syrians from other parts of Syria have settled in Afrin and extremist groups such as ISIS began operating in the border area between Afrin, Idlib and the Turkish border.

A reminder of hardships inflicted on millions of Syrians

The building collapse in Aleppo is a reminder of the hardships that continue to be inflicted on millions of Syrians. According to The National, “rescue teams are working to free around 20 people from under the rubble. Video footage showed emergency workers and civilians searching through a huge pile of debris. Relatives gathered at the scene and at nearby hospitals to look for the missing and mourn the dead.”

 Members of a rescue team work on the scene of a residential building collapse in the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria January 22, 2023. (credit: SHAM FM/Handout via REUTERS) Members of a rescue team work on the scene of a residential building collapse in the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria January 22, 2023. (credit: SHAM FM/Handout via REUTERS)

The report added that “the building was home to five families displaced from Afrin, a town near Aleppo under the control of Turkish-backed forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Kurdish-affiliated news agencies.”

The story of Afrin and its people is not often covered in international media, in part because reporters don’t have access. In addition, Ankara has threatened more invasions of other parts of Syria before its elections in May. This has left many Kurds and other minorities concerned for their safety.

This is all going on while the US continues to back the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main opposition that has been fighting ISIS in Syria. Made up of Kurdish fighters, as well as Arabs, Christians and other Syrians, the group is regularly targeted by Ankara in drone strikes.

All this means that a swath of Syria continues to be unstable and it is unclear who will control those areas in future.

The Syrian regime took over most of Aleppo in 2016 and has continued to consolidate gains since then. The extremist group HTS in the Idlib province has expanded its areas of control into Afrin.

Meanwhile, Turkey continues to exercise some control over Idlib and Afrin, while also controlling areas near Al-Bab and Serekaniyeh. The SDF, backed by the US, controls eastern Syria while Russia and Iran control other parts of it, and ISIS continues to pose a threat as well. This combustible situation leaves many displaced people without a way to return home or rebuild their lives.

In recent months, there has been talk of reconciliation between Turkey and the Syrian regime. It is unclear what this would mean for the former Syrian rebels and people in Idlib and Afrin, or what it means for people displaced by Turkey’s invasions.

The international community, focused on the war in Ukraine and other issues, is ignoring the suffering in Syria. The collapse of a building in Aleppo and the five-year anniversary of the invasion of Afrin are symbols of how Syria continues to suffer while the global powers concentrate elsewhere.