The mood is tense in Amuda, the Syrian community on the Turkish border where Dr. Haval Chweich grew up and many of his uncles, aunts, and cousins still live.
Strikes on nearby Sere Kaniye by Turkish forces have made Chweich’s relatives worry that the violence will soon be at their doorstep, and some would like to flee, but their options are limited.
“They’re really disturbed, anxious, and really scared that Turkey would attack that area,” said Chweich, a Melrose resident and a physician at Tufts Medical Center. “There isn’t really any safe place to be in now.”
Chweich was among a few dozen Kurds and their supporters who met Saturday with US Representative Seth Moulton at First Church in Boston to discuss Turkey’s incursion into Kurdish-occupied areas of northeast Syria as a five-day pause in the fighting faltered.
During the hourlong gathering organized by the New England Kurdish Association, Moulton heard pleas for a no-fly zone over northern Syria, economic sanctions against Turkey, a resolution from the United Nations condemning Turkish attacks on the Kurds, and intervention from NATO, which counts Turkey as a member.
Many directed anger toward President Trump, who cleared the way last Sunday for Turkey to launch its assault in northern Syria by directing US forces to leave the region. The withdrawal left Kurdish fighters alone to defend themselves against Turkey and has been criticized as a betrayal of Kurds who spent years helping the American offensive on Islamic State militants.
“As an American Kurd, I feel very, very betrayed by the policies that have come out of the White House,” said Shawnam Osman, a recent law school graduate who lives in Dorchester. “We need to intervene immediately. We need to condemn what’s been happening. We need to get Turkey out of NATO. We need to speak out against the ethnic cleansing before it’s too late.”
Moulton, a Democrat from Salem, offered his support for the Kurds and expressed outrage over Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria after consulting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
“The fundamental problem is we don’t have a strategy to deal with Turkey, which has essentially become a rogue NATO ally,” said Moulton, who raised concerns about Turkey growing closer to Russia. “I think we got to be tough on Turkey and I think we got to be tough on Erdogan, and especially his inner circle because, at the end of the day, it’s essentially a dictatorship right now. They’re the ones calling the shots.”
Moulton cautioned the audience that Congress’s ability to influence US policy in Turkey has its limits under Trump.
“I also don’t want to give you any false hope. What’s happening on the ground right now is not going to resolve overnight,” he said.
Mazlum Efrin, 20, a resident of Westford, said he was in Syria from January until last month. He lived for a time in the Kurdish region of Rojava and joined the local defense force known as the YPG or People’s Defense Units.
As he was readying to leave, Efrin said he was heartened by an August agreement between Turkey and the United States that created a safe zone under Turkish control along the border with Syria.
“The Kurds signed onto to it. It was working,” Efrin said. “And then overnight Donald Trump changed his mind and backed out of the deal without any warning.”
Seyhmus Yuksekkaya, a Swampscott resident and cofounder of the New England Kurdish Association, said Turkey should be stripped of its NATO membership and Congress must bring economic sanctions against the country.
“I believe the overwhelming majority of the American people agree with us and what we’re doing here. So the policy will change only if we take action every day until the policy is reversed,” Yuksekkaya told the gathering.
Mehmet Akbas, an engineer from Providence, said the Kurdish fight against Islamic State militants in northern Syria made the United States more secure. When the Islamic State’s power was at its peak, Akbas said, Americans endured terrorist attacks such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015.
“When toxic ideologies flourish in other parts of the world, we cannot put our heads in the sand and say, ‘It’s far away from me. It’s not my problem,’ ” Akbas said. “It eventually comes to us.”
Chweich, whose family lives in Amuda, Syria, said he hopes Congress pursues economic sanctions against Turkey to deter it from further attacks. He said he has no faith in Trump to change course.
“There is a difference between what I wish and what I think is practical,” Chweich said. “I think this is really the practical hope we have now.”