It’s not easy to be Salih Muslim these days. The leader of [the Syrian Kurdish] Democratic Union Party (PYD) is shuttling restlessly between European capitals, seeking support for Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish city besieged by the Islamic State (IS).
His job is not easy at all. True, the West is firmly opposed to IS, but Washington is yet to turn its attention to Kobani as it scrambles to stop IS on multiple fronts [threatening] Erbil, Mosul, Baghdad and hostages. More important, the United States does not want to be seen as a PYD supporter to avoid angering Turkey.
“This week I’ll join a gathering in Washington via Skype. There is a certain interest [in us], but the visa problem continues,” Muslim said, referring to his failure to obtain a US visa for the past three years, something in which Turkish pressure [on Washington] has also been instrumental. “If I could go there, I would explain our position, but I guess some people are hindering this.”
“And what is the latest situation in Kobani?” I asked him.
As is well known, the PYD — and, in fact, the PKK [Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party] — have turned Kobani, or Ayn al-Arab, the city facing Suruc [on the Turkish side of the border], into a “democratic autonomy” lab in the three years since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising. The region, called “Rojava,” is today under IS attacks from all sides. Moreover, Kobani is physically cut off from Qamishlo and other regions controlled by the Syrian Kurds. And in the north, Kobani borders Turkey, whose ties with the PYD have been acrimonious recently.
“The situation has improved a bit. The clashes continue mostly on the eastern front,” Muslim said. “Yesterday, our forces pushed IS 12 kilometers [7.5 miles] back. They are now 25 kilometers [15.5 miles] away from Kobani. We are holding out.”
The IS militants are using tanks and US-made Humvees they seized in Iraq as well as missiles with a 20-kilometer [12.5 mile] range, Muslim said, stressing that the YPG [PYD’s armed wing] was fighting only with Kalashnikov rifles and outdated anti-tank weapons.
Is any help coming from outside? “No. Turkey has not allowed this so far. Kurdish forces from Serekaniye [Ras al-Ayn] are trying to break IS lines to come to help,” Muslim said.
Asked about claims that the PKK sent help to Kobani from Turkey, he said: “That’s not true. I wish it were. We would like this to happen. We have asked for that, but Turkey is turning a deaf ear. Our previous requests were equally ignored.”
Over the past several days, young Kurdish men from all corners of Turkey’s southeast have been rushing in big numbers to Kobani to fight.
“If all sorts of odd people are coming here to attack us from all over the world, we are not in a position to question who’s coming to help us. Moreover, these borders cut through families and villages. People are coming to defend relatives in Kobani,” Muslim commented.
“But our guys are not driving untrained people to the battlefield. Those who are not fighters are kept behind the front lines. We have no interest in letting young people die. We protect them,” he added.
Muslim is irked by Ankara’s silence on IS. He recounts reports in the Turkish media about wounded IS militants being treated in Turkey and other similar stories [of links between Turkey and the group].
“If they are not intervening [to curb IS], they should at least not obstruct others from helping us. There is a community being killed before everybody’s eyes here. How about it? God forbid, if Kobani falls, who will be responsible for that? Turkey. How are we going to speak of friendship and fraternity afterward? The peace process [between Ankara and the PKK] would be negatively affected as well,” Muslim said.
He called for support from anyone to stop the IS advance: “Turkey is not targeting them [but] the United States, France and even the Syrian regime could step in. It doesn’t matter who hits them. But we should not be left alone against IS.”
It’s obvious that the situation in Kobani is not a transitory one and will have far-reaching repercussions on both sides of the border. Some 120,000 Kurdish refugees crossed to Turkey this week, and when they go back is anyone’s guess.
“No one can ask us to respect borders anymore. The borders have disappeared. IS has already removed them. If IS does not recognize any borders, why should we? They bring in tanks from Iraq to attack the Kurdish people here. No one cares about these borders anymore,” Muslim said.
“Of course, we wish this had never happened. We wish the borders had been rendered meaningless through friendship and fraternity. But this did not happen,” he added.
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