A tweet by American woman fleeing Eastern Ghouta causes controversy in Afrin

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

Deana Lynn set off a storm of controversy on Twitter on April 25 when she tweeted a photo of herself “renting” a house in Afrin. Afrin is a mostly Kurdish area of northwest Syria that was the center of a Turkish and Syrian-rebel backed offensive between January and March. Turkey said it was aiming to clear “terrorists” from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the border.

However since the offensive has ended many rumors have circulated that Turkey intends to transfer Syrian refugees, mostly Sunni Arabs, into Afrin. Turkish officials have openly said they might move refugees into Afrin and this has led to concerns of demographic change, especially since 150,000 were displaced from Afrin in March.

Now the strange case of an American woman who claims to have been displaced from Ghouta is causing controversy on social media after she tweeted “Cloudy with a slight chance of depression. Rented a house in Efrin Still looking for a place to call home after being displaced from #Douma #Syria in #Eastern_Ghouta. Meanwhile in Douma things don’t look well as residents accept the fact that they are living under #Assad’s mafia.”

Others responded: “Renting? You mean stealing from original inhabitants that were ethnically cleansed by Turkish army and their proxies?” A lively debate has taken place as some noted that she is a victim and powerless and ended up in Afrin. Others asked “I guess you won’t mind if we settle the poor powerless people of Fua and Kafraya in Ghouta then.”

The Twitter account in her name began tweeting on February 27 and had 257 tweets by April 26. She had 1,397 followers as well. She has posted photos of her family and destruction in Syria as well as shared and re-tweeted from other accounts critical of the regime.

Who is Deana Lynn?

Lynn appeared on BBC on April 18. She wrote on April 14 that she was on the way to a “temporary home” and traveling through Aleppo countryside. “ love Aleppo! Blue skies! Green grass! I’m on my way to my new temporary home…hope things go well! In the north of #Syria.” She was in Al-Bab on April 12 she tweeted. “We arrive to Albab exhausted. Lost and alone, unnamed heroes find us and take us into their home. Thank God for do-gooders. The rest of our caravan went to a camp or masjids. We are now waiting for our unknown future.” It had been a 50 hour trip from Douma.

On March 29 she tweeted “Mass deportations of residents from eastern #Ghouta#Syria to #Idlib. I wonder, has the world seen something like this before? They asked for freedom only to be slapped in the face by the world! SUNNI MUSLIMS KICKED OUT OF HOMELAND TO BE REPLACED BY IRANIAN MILITIA AND HEZBOLLAH!”

She gained attention as a US citizen living in Ghouta. She appeared on CBC in mid-March and on CNN as well as on FoxNews via an AP report on March 12. According to the AP report “Lynn met her husband in the 1990s while she was studying English literature at the University of Michigan and he was on a visit to the United States. Five of their eight children were born in the U.S., while their four grandchildren were all born in Syria.” According to the report Lynn was from Detroit. “Lynn moved to eastern Ghouta with her Syrian husband in 2000, to be close to his elderly parents. The mother of eight — seven daughters and one son — has been working as an English-language teacher in a town in eastern Ghouta that she prefers not to disclose for safety reasons. But since Feb. 18, when government forces began their latest assault, Lynn and her family have been mostly staying in the basement, rarely emerging for fear they might be struck by shelling or airstrikes.”

A symbolic tweet

The controversial tweet on April 25 is symbolic of a larger anger in Syria between Kurds who see Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies as carrying out potential abuses in Afrin, and Syrian rebels and their families who have been victims of the Assad regime. In this case two group that have been victimized are now pitted against each other. Each group also does not often acknowledge or care about the other’s suffering. When Kurds were facing the brunt of the ISIS assault many supporters of the Syrian rebels were silent. They then critiqued the Kurdish YPG for taking over “Arab areas” in eastern Syria in 2015–2017. The battles in Afrin therefore were seen by some as payback. In this respect supporters of the YPG, SDF and Kurds were blamed for remaining silent during the battles for Aleppo and displacement of hundreds of thousands under Assad’s barrel bombs.

The battle for Afrin in 2018 was therefore one of the few successes of the Syrian rebels in a string of defeats.

That an American woman has now found herself at the center of this is symbolic of larger discussions about the US and foreign role in Syria. But the question is whether she was tone deaf in tweeting about Afrin? Having been on major media she was conscious of speaking as a symbol of those displaced from Eastern Ghouta. Her tweet is seen as evidence that those who fled are being re-settled in Afrin. In the absence of reliable reporting on the ground that leaves people seeing the tweet to assume either the best or the worst.