'We're literally just watching people die': Montreal Kurdish community demands government action

More than 200 demonstrators gathered in Phillips Square in downtown Montreal Saturday, asking the Canadian government to take action as Turkish forces continue to attack northern Syria. The rally was one of several held across North America this week. 

"We are really mad," said Mehmet Kocahal, one of the protestors. "There is a war and we, as a Kurdish community, we don't want war, we want peace."

Most of the demonstrators were members of Montreal's Kurdish community, several of which said they feared for the safety of their friends and family in Syria.

"Not knowing what's going to happen next is very frustrating because we're literally just watching people die and it's televised," said Beritan Oerde, a 22-year-old organiser with the Kurdish Foundation of Quebec. 

The rally was held nearly one week after U.S. President Donald Trump made the controversial decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the border region, leaving Kurdish allies behind. The move received widespread criticism internationally, with many calling it an abandonment of the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been America's allies in fighting ISIS troops in the area. 

On Thursday, aid agencies warned that nearly half a million people near the Syrian border were at risk.

Sudha Krishnan/CBC

Oerde said she wasn't surprised that the U.S. withdrew its forces, but was frustrated nonetheless.  

"It's really outrageous," said Oerde. "The U.S. yesterday sent 2,000 extraditional  troops to Saudi Arabia to protect oil reserves, in addition to the troops that are already there."

"So they're clearly saying to the world, 'We care more about oil reserves than people.'"

Zaynê Akyol, a documentary filmmaker who was at the rally Saturday, spent nearly four months in the Rojava region for her latest project. She believes Trump's decision to remove the troops will lead to major issues. 

"It's going to be a humanitarian crisis," she said. "It's going to be a refugee crisis because a lot of people are trying to escape from Syria and north of Syria. 

"What is going to happen is another war," she said.

Freeland denounces incursion 

Earlier this week, Canada's foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland took to Twitter to denounce the incursion. 

"Canada firmly condemns Turkey's military incursion into Syria today," she tweeted Wednesday. 

"We commend the important role that Turkey has played in hosting Syrian refugees and stress that legitimate security concerns should be addressed diplomatically and in full respect of international law," she wrote. 

Oerde and other protesters said the minister's words were not enough. They would like to see the Canadian government take action in the situation. 

"Sanctions would be welcome the way Denmark and Finland did, they immediately paused their arms sales to Turkey," Oerde said.

She added that she would like to see a reformation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in order to make that possible. 

"NATO is based on world wars but we live in a very different world today," said Oerde. "Globalization is very different and the consequences of it are very different."

"It's not a system that works anymore."

Fouad Oveisy, a member of the Kurdish community who was at the protest Saturday, said he believes the sanctions should be strictly on arms sales. 

"We have nothing against Turkish people," said Oveisy. "They are people from our region and we would not want sanctions on Turkish people."

"But companies that provide arms, and banks that bankroll arms sales, we would like sanctions on those," he said.  

Rallies are expected to continue in other parts of Quebec in the coming days.