WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lava Ibrahim and her sister Midya emigrated to the United States from Qamishli in northeast Syria seven years ago as refugees, grateful for the safe haven the country provided them.
Late on Friday, the Ibrahim sisters left their home in Columbus, Ohio, and drove eight hours through the night to join hundreds of other Kurds at a rally outside the White House on Saturday afternoon to protest against Turkey’s military assault on their former homeland.
They watched helplessly as Turkish jets this week killed several of their former neighbors and their 70-year-old grandfather fled his home after Turkey began its cross-border offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia.
The offensive began after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly shifted policy and withdrew some U.S. troops deployed to support Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State.
“Trump has helped Turkey kill us,” said Lava Ibrahim, 24, as a parade of protesters swirled around her holding posters, chanting “Save the Kurds,” and waving red, green, and yellow Kurdish flags.
“He said he’s watching the situation closely, but what is he watching? We did everything for the United States, and he’s letting us die.”
Trump has said he does not approve of Turkey’s incursion, and his administration said the attack was causing “great harm” in relations between Washington and Ankara.
Turkey’s assault on the Kurdish-controlled region of northeastern Syria has raised international alarm over its mass displacement of civilians and the possibility of a revival by Islamic State in Syria.
On Friday in the Ibrahim sisters’ Kurdish-held home city of Qamishli, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly car bomb, its first big attack since the Turkish assault began.
Five IS militants fled a jail there, and foreign women from the group being held in a camp torched tents and attacked guards with sticks and stones, said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in which the YPG militia comprises the main fighting element.
In a matter of days, there have been more than 150 casualties, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization that reports on the war.
“If the United States leaves us alone, we might ally with Russia or Syria to end this. What can we do? We trusted the United States,” said Sinam Mohamad, the U.S. co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Kurdish-led SDF.
Mohamad, whose husband and children live in Qamishli, on Thursday called on the United States to impose a no-fly zone over the area.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the purpose of the assault is to create a safe zone to resettle Syrian refugees and to defeat the YPG militia, which Ankara says is a terrorist group backing Kurdish rebels in Turkey.
Dozens of non-Syrian Kurds also attended the rally outside the White House.
“Who’s going to trust the United States now?” asked Pavel Khoshnaw, 22, a university student from Harrisonburg, Virginia, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Iraqi Kurdistan before he was born.
“You just lost the friendship of the people who defeated ISIS on the ground. We could have closed our borders and let them go to Europe, but we fought and died to end them.”
Also among the protesters was Joshua Bailey, 31, of Baltimore.
He said he had never left the United States before 2017, when he traveled to northeast Syria and spent ten months fighting against Islamic State alongside the YPG, a group that he said “shared so many American values.”
Bailey said he felt shocked and disgusted by Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops, and was compelled to come protest outside the White House.
“I lost too many friends over there not to be here,” he said.
Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Daniel Wallis