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Kobani becomes battle for Kurds' future

With the Islamic State siege of Kobani endangering the peace process and the cease-fire between the PKK and the Turkish state, Kurds could soon be facing a host of new challenges.
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, October 3, 2014. Turkey will do what it can to prevent the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani, near its border with Syria, falling to Islamic State insurgents, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said late on Thursday, but stopped short of committing to military action. Hours before Davutoglu's comments, parliament gave the government pow

SURUC, Turkey — Rojava was a hope. A land that Jehan and her husband, Hamo, believed they could safely settle with their family in Ayn al-Arab, or Kobani, as Kurds name the city. They believed that Rojava, the Kurdish autonomous region that arose during the Syrian civil war, could provide their children with a better future.

Yet, the brutality of war has followed them to Kobani. She found her family uprooted for a second time, escaping fierce clashes. “I do not understand this war. Why is the whole world watching us being massacred? Why is Turkey not doing anything?” Jehan cries.

“We are armed and organized solely to protect Rojava. We will fight when and only if our regions and people are under threat,” Salih Muslim, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), said when we met at the BBC building in London in January 2013.

That time seems to have arrived. For the past 17 days, the Islamic State (IS) has tightened its siege on Kobani, and targeted the city with mortars and bombs. Jehan’s daughter, who has joined her family in Turkey, had been fighting against IS for the past three months.

The stories she has brought with her from Kobani reveal how meager the People's Protection Units' (YPG) supplies and support are when compared to those of IS. She also believes that the Syrian Kurds and YPG fighters are left alone and that Turkey is the nearest witness yet prefers to remain silent. “IS has all sorts of heavy weapons. We heard that recently IS got many supplies that arrived by trains from Turkey,” she said.

The trains she mentions are the ones that shuttle on a track that belongs to Turkey and forms the Turkey-Syria border. The rumors of military supplies delivered to IS groups by these trains are all around town.

The idea that the aid and supplies for IS is conveyed through Turkey is so strong among Kurds that we once watched YPG guerrillas place a truck on the railway, supposedly to stop any aid to the radical Islamist group. It was not only YPG fighters trying to stop IS getting any help. Hundreds of Kurds were in Suruc, trying to assist Rojava to get back on its feet.

Meanwhile, IS bombings have reached the Turkish border and even crossed it. At least 10 artillery and mortar shells have fallen onto Turkish soil, apart from sporadic stray bullets. One even fell only 100 meters (328 feet) from a media hub, where live broadcasting vehicles were parked.

Many in the area questioned why the Turkish government and the armed forces have not applied the rules of engagement imposed after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane two years ago. “When it comes to Kurds, any laws or rules become null and void,” said Izoli, who described himself as a former Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighter.

Visiting a Suruc public hospital two nights ago, I learned that a stray bullet coming from the other side had wounded a Turkish soldier.

Once, during an interview with Kurdish activists at the Mert Ismail village outpost, we could hear chanting of “God is Great,” which was followed by artillery fire that landed on the outskirts of Kobani. “They [Turkish authorities] want Kobani to be emptied. They watch how IS attacks Kurds. You all see how they do not respond,” a Kurdish man in traditional Kurdish guerrilla garb said.

On our first day in Suruc, a mortar hit a vehicle in Alizer, another Kurdish border village that neighbors Kobani. Two people were wounded. After we arrived at the village, we met hundreds of Kurds from around the abandoned lands of the village along the border.

The discussion was whether it was the Turkish soldiers or IS militants who had fired the mortars. “Why do you think Turkish soldiers would fire at their own people on their own soil?” I asked. The people around me answered almost as a chorus. “Because they do not want Kurds to stay here and protect our people, our lands. Turkey wants this area to be evacuated so they can act freely.”

Another one said, “[Recep Tayyip] Erdogan prefers IS as his neighbor, rather than the Kurds.”

While our conversation continued, we heard a loud buzzing sound coming toward us. We suddenly found ourselves on the yellow dust of the ground. A faint explosion took place only 50 meters (164 feet) away from us. It was a mortar flying right past our heads.

Following the short shockwave, some of the villagers started saying that it was Turkish soldiers who fired it. It was impossible to know who fired the mortar. Later, we learned that the area was under IS control.

Kurdish youth from around Turkey have come to Alizer to guard the borders and show solidarity with the YPG.

Turkey’s Kurds have organized the Kurdish Border Guards to watch the border and cut the alleged supply lines to IS forces. Throughout the border area, the group said that at least 1,500 Kurdish men and women were assigned to observe both sides of the border

Day and night, these guards were visible in and around the villages. On the roads, there were checkpoints controlling every vehicle driving in and out. Even ambulances were checked.

This was an obvious sign that Kurds do not trust the Turkish authorities.

Osman Baydemir, a popular Kurdish politician, said in a speech in Suruc, “We do not want to think that the Kurds’ only friends are Kurds. But Turkey and the West act in a way as to force us to believe it.” Among the Kurds, this idea prevails.

“Kobani is Kurdistan. These borders that the Turkish state had drawn were meaningless for Kurds. If Kobani falls, the peace process will cease. If the peace process ends, the Kurds will not fight against the Turkish state only in Kurdistan. We will carry the guerrilla war to the hearts of cities like Istanbul. This is the last chance,” said Mesut, the leader of the Hakkari guards.

Everyone from the youngest to the oldest, from activists, politicians to the villagers, believes the Kurds’ fate is tied to the war in Rojava.

The leaders, starting with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, have all warned Turkey that if the government does not act against IS attacks, the cease-fire the PKK has agreed to would come to an end.

In the meantime, the US alliance’s air attacks are harshly criticized by both Kobani and Turkey’s Kurds for being of no help to Kurds.

Another major frustration is that Turkish soldiers are not responding to any IS fire that hits Turkish soil. And it is clear that if Kobani falls, Turkey will be the first that Kurds hold responsible.

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