Turkey slammed for airstrike that killed three women in Syria

Turkey’s invasion and occupation of part of northern Syria has sowed chaos and instability, including fueling extremist groups and ethnic cleansing.

Women mourn the death of a man who was killed in a Turkish airstrikes in Sheladize in the north of Dohuk province, close to the Turkish border, Iraq June 22, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/KAWA OMAR)
Women mourn the death of a man who was killed in a Turkish airstrikes in Sheladize in the north of Dohuk province, close to the Turkish border, Iraq June 22, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KAWA OMAR)
Turkey has been slammed for a drone strike in Syria that killed three women on June 23. It is the latest human-rights violation by Turkey in Syria after revelations that Turkish-backed Syrian extremist groups have been kidnapping women in Afrin and holding them in secret prisons.
Turkey is a NATO member. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended his deepest sympathies to the families of those killed on the Kobane airstrike but did not mention Turkey by name.
Three women were killed in the airstrike on Tuesday. According to Kurdistan24, one of them was Zehra Berkel, a female activist for women’s rights. Activists claimed she was targeted because Turkey’s regime increasingly has a male-dominated “patriarchal face.”


Local media in Syria said the other victims of the strike were Mizgin Xelil and Amina Waysi. Social-media activists have said the airstrike is yet another example of how Ankara’s role in Syria is increasingly a war on women and minorities.
The US State Department condemned the airstrike, spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a press statement that did not name Turkey. It appears that the US is afraid to condemn Ankara, even though Turkey often slams and condemns the US. Washington has said a “continued spiral of violence impedes the hope for any such resolution [of the conflict].” Ankara is accused of breaking this ceasefire via the drone strike.
Turkey’s invasion and occupation of part of northern Syria has sowed chaos and instability, including fueling extremist groups and ethnic cleansing, according to numerous reports. A memo by a US official last October, when Turkey invaded Syria after threatening US forces, accused Ankara-backed groups of ethnic cleansing.
Turkish pro-government media celebrated the murder of Kurdish women’s-rights activist Hevrin Khalaf, a young woman who was dragged from her car, beaten and shot to death in October by Turkish-backed groups. Her killing may have been a war crime, according to officials.
At least nine other civilians were executed last October. Christian minorities and Yazidis were also targeted in both Tel Abyad and Afrin. Recent testimony to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom confirmed the abuses in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Syria.
In recent days, more evidence has come to light of the abuses in Turkish-occupied areas of Syria. On June 22, a Turkish official opened a new office in the town of Sere Kaniya (Ras al-Ain) in northern Syria, but no women were able to attend. Activists noted that half the population was therefore kept out of the opening ceremony. Kurdish signs have also been removed and only Turkish and Arabic signs put up.
In other areas of northern Syria, accusations emerged on June 23 of wheat being stolen from locals and sent to Turkey.
Former US anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk tweeted: “as Syria is on the verge of famine (per the UN), Turkish backed forces in northeast Syria are looting and shipping 10,000 tons of Syrian wheat to Turkey.” Arab women in the area protested the theft of the wheat, shouting, “Why are you looting our wheat?” on a video.
Ankara claimed in 2019, when it sought to invade Syria and order US President Donald Trump to remove American forces, that it would invest in the area and resettle mostly Arab Syrian refugees in areas it was going to occupy. Instead, some 200,000 people fled northern Syria during the invasion in October, and it appears there has been no investment. Instead, airstrikes, like the one near Kobane, have targeted areas where people are trying to recover.
Kobane was one of the places hardest hit by ISIS and was under siege in 2014 and early 2015. It was US airstrikes and resistance by Kurdish fighters that kept the city from falling to the global jihadist group.
The US helped the Kurds form the Syrian Democratic Forces, the group that liberated eastern Syria and defeated ISIS. The US withdrawal in October from the border caused the SDF to be attacked. Russia signed an agreement with Turkey partitioning the areas the US had been formerly stabilizing.


Women have borne the brunt of the recent violence in northern Syria. Once under threat by ISIS, now they are being persecuted, kidnapped and kept in secret prisons by extremist groups. In areas occupied by Ankara, women have been removed as co-leaders of councils and largely dismissed from any official role. Under previous administrations, they often had equal administrative posts.
On June 7, a young Kurdish woman who had been kidnapped was found murdered in Azaz in northern Syria.
In the neighboring Sinjar region of northern Iraq, where Yazidi women are recovering from the ISIS genocide that targeted minority women for enslavement, recent airstrikes by Ankara have led to new insecurity as well. There are still almost 3,000 Yazidis missing since the 2014 genocide, many of them women and children. Some were trafficked to Turkey or to Idlib, which is dominated by extremist groups.
Several Yazidi women and children have been found in Idlib in the last year. An estimate in March 2019 said up to 200 women were being held in various areas of Syria, some in Idlib. In recent weeks, alleged US drone strikes have also targeted al-Qaeda members who reside in Turkish-occupied areas of Syria, including strikes on June 14 and June 20. A drone also killed an ISIS member in Afrin, which is run by Turkey, on May 23.
In Afrin, Kurdish women have protested being ordered to cover their hair and wear hijab veils, according to recent reports. Women who wear jeans – who want to dress as they choose – are called “whore, disbeliever, dogs of Assad and Shia” on the streets, The Independent reported.
When Turkey sought to invade northern Syria, it claimed to be doing so for security reasons and to fight “terrorists.” However, the increase in the number of terrorists in Turkish-occupied areas in recent months – and the insecurity for minorities and women – points to a troubling result of the NATO member’s role. The drone strike killing the three women appears to be linked to the overall assault and persecutions across northern Syria, according to activists.