The end of the 150-hour cease-fire brokered by Russia threatened to reignite fighting that erupted after President Trump decided earlier this month to withdraw U.S. troops from the area and leave their Kurdish allies to fend for themselves in the face of a Turkish military offensive.
The temporary pause in hostilities also gave the various belligerents time to redraw the map of northern Syria and confront its residents with new realities and new risks. As the mostly Syrian Kurdish fighters pulled back from the Turkish border, the Turkish military and its militia allies advanced from the north and Syrian government forces advanced from the south, retaking territory that had changed hands during the eight-year civil war.
The largely Kurdish communities of northeastern Syria feared both: their longtime Turkish adversaries and Syrian government forces that could view the locals as turncoats.
“The men feel strong, the women and children are scared, and no one knows what is coming,” said Jawan, 34, standing in Derik’s clothing bazaar, holding his 9-month-old daughter. “This is bigger than us, really. America was meant to protect us, but that’s done now. So I guess we’ll just wait.”