Turkish media have reported that 300 Syrian Turkmens and Arabs have taken refuge in Turkey after allegedly being forced by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) to leave the northern Syrian district of Tal Abyad.
The refugees were living in three villages located south of the Turkmen town of Hammam in Tal Abyad. They entered Turkey through the Turkish border district of Akcakale in the province of Sanliurfa and applied for asylum.
Tal Abyad lies within the Raqqa province of Syria across from Akcakale.
Tal Abyad fell under the control of ISIS in June 2014 and was captured by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces on June 15, 2015.
The YPG is the militant wing of the PYD, which is considered by Turkey to be the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed PKK.
Abdulhamid Ahmad, one of the refugees, told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) that the PYD members came to their villages and asked them to leave their homes because the villages are within the boundaries of Tal Abyad controlled by the PYD.
Ahmad said that they were forced to leave the villages and take refuge in Turkey without taking anything with them, fearing for their lives.
Turkmen activists and the Syrian Turkmen National Movement Party released a statement in early June calling on Turkey to take immediate action in order to protect the lives of Turkmens who have been victimised in Syria.
The statement said, "Both ISIS and the PYD have forced 15,000 Turkmens living in the Turkmen town of Hammam and its surrounding villages to fight on their side and threaten the locals with death if they refuse to join the fighting. Turkmens have also been forced to leave their homes and villages because of the ongoing fighting since June 2," according to Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah.
More than 23,000 civilians from Syrian villages and towns have crossed the Turkish border into the southeast province of Sanliurfa since the capture of Tal Abyad by the PYD, as the YPG along with the FSA forces carried out operations with the help of US-led coalition air strikes in the northeastern regions of Tal Abyad and Al Hasakah to push back ISIS.
Tal Abyad is located between the Kurdish Kobane and Jazira “cantons” and has strategic importance because it commands the major trade and smuggling routes to Raqqa, the first major city conquered by ISIS. The PYD was able to join both “cantons,” after taking control of Tal Abyad.
Turkey has recently raised concerns over border security and the displacement of Turkmen and Arabs from Tal Abyad.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously gave a statement saying that “Arabs and Turkmens appear to have been targeted in Tal Abyad. Arabs and Turkmens numbering 15,000 people crossed into Turkey through the border and the PYD and PKK settled into the places they left. This is not a good sign.”
The American ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, recently announced that the US government has conveyed Turkish concerns regarding the territorial integrity of Syria and demographic changes in northern Syria - which are shared by the Obama administration - to the PYD’s leadership.
Pentagon spokesman Elissa Smith also said, “We treat any allegations [of ethnic cleansing] very seriously and have made clear to all actors that such behavior is unacceptable,” speaking in an interview with Turkey’s AA.
“[We] urge these groups to fulfill those public pledges, and will continue to encourage all forces in Tal Abyad to help set conditions for the return of refugees," she added.
She also urged the PYD to administer the areas recently captured by the group inclusively and respect the rights of the local population.