Is anyone left in Kobani?

Ankara has sought to mislead the Turkish public that no civilians are trapped in Kobani as part of a strategy to undermine Kurdish self-rule in Syria and weaken the Kurds in settlement talks in Turkey.

al-monitor A Turkish Kurd watches the Syrian town of Kobani from near the Mursitpinar border crossing, on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Oct. 15, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach.

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turkey, syria, kurds, islamic state

Oct 15, 2014

They are power holders and manipulators.

They have simply equated the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and then the PKK to the Islamic State (IS). With a simple move of social engineering, they have alienated the [Turkish] public from Kobani and estranged it from the tragedy there.

While treating the one who has extended a hand like an enemy, they still say that we are all friends and neighbors — never mind the railroad running between us [on the border] – and that it was Sykes-Picot that tore us apart. And all this to undermine Rojava’s self-rule venture and weaken the Kurdish hand in the peace process in Turkey.

Then, to suppress the ensuing fury, they have sought to create the impression that a corridor has been opened to help Kobani.

According to Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Chairman Besir Atalay, “No one remains in Kobani but PYD militants. All [civilians] have come to Turkey.”

That is, we have been told there is no reason for an outcry since there are no civilians to be killed there! So, it was us who wrongly assumed there were people in Kobani — men and women, young and old — holding out to defend their land, homes, lives and honor. But we were mistaken.

Yasin Aktay, the AKP’s deputy chair in charge of foreign relations, and a professor, spoke to the BBC, outstripping Atalay in straightforwardness. “What is really happening in Kobani? All civilians are currently in Turkey. All civilians have been saved by Turkey. What is going on in Kobani now is a war between two terrorist organizations. There is no tragedy in Kobani as some PKK members in Turkey and elsewhere claim,” Aktay said. “The real tragedy is in [the rest of] Syria. Less than a thousand people were killed in Kobani, but 300,000 were killed in [other parts of] Syria. Which is more important?”

The state should be held [accountable]. So, lend an ear to the power holder who equates the occupier to the man defending his home, and don’t burden yourself with a heavy conscience for nothing. Moreover, if you have not grieved for those who died for the “Syrian revolution,” don’t mourn the Kurds either. Don’t misbehave!

But if you disagree, then here you go. The first thing you need to do is to ask this question: “Who is really fighting whom in Kobani? Who is defending what?” One side is guarding its home. The other has already answered your questions with its own videos displaying its deeds. So, no need to drip blood in these lines.

Life goes on

Though I already knew the answer, I called Idris Nassan, the Kobani canton’s deputy foreign relations minister, to ask how many civilians remain in Kobani. “Don’t ask me for a number because it could be misleading,” he said frankly. Then he went on: “There are many civilians who have not fled the city. Thousands of other people are waiting in the area between the Turkish border and Kobani. Some families who have sons and daughters fighting in the People’s Protection Units (YPG) ranks have stayed in their homes. Others are [physically] unable to leave. Some people, on the other hand, stay along the border but return home periodically to feed their livestock. IS controls 25% of the city, but life is still going on in a way. The administrative units remain largely operational. Only the Asaish [security forces] building has been seized by IS, while all other public buildings remain open.”

According to the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, about 500-700 mostly elderly people remain in Kobani, while 10,000-13,000 are stuck in a nearby area close to the Syrian-Turkish border.

YPG’s allies

Is the YPG alone? Is there any other group fighting alongside them? Has the Euphrates volcano, the joint operation room the YPG set up with the Free Syrian Army and some elements of the Islamic Front, broken up? Isn’t there anyone backing the YPG?

According to Nassan, the following groups side with the YPG: Suwar al-Raqqa (Raqqa Revolutionaries), Suwar Umnaa al-Raqqa, Jabhat al-Akrad (Kurdish Front), Shams al-Shimal (Northern Sun), Ahrar al-Suriya and Shukr al-Sefira. He did not provide any figures for [the fighters of] those groups.

Nassan was critical that only the PYD was being fingered and publicized. “The PYD is not everything here. It may be the region’s strongest party but it’s only one of the parties in the Kobani administration. One should keep in mind that other parties exist here, too. I, for instance, belong to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party,” he said.

‘Take me as an example’

I also called Barzan Iso, a journalist from Kobani, and asked him the same questions. He answered sometimes as a journalist, sometimes as the brother of the Kobani canton’s deputy defense minister, Ocalan Iso, and sometimes as an ordinary Kobani resident.

“Let’s forget the claim that no civilians have stayed behind, for a genocide is under way here. In the 396 villages around Kobani, only elderly and disabled people who couldn’t leave their homes stayed behind. We don’t even know what happened to them. Isn’t that a genocide by itself?” Iso said.

He has a point since the situation matches the UN’s definition of genocide.

Iso further said: “About 2,000-3,000 civilians remain in Kobani. When the people fled to Suruc [on the Turkish side] after IS’ first Grad rocket attack, they were faced with very bad conditions. I personally saw 40 people staying in an empty shop. Their nearest toilet was 500 meters away. People slept in parks, streets and mosques. Some said ‘I’d better die rather than live like this’ and returned to Kobani. I know of a doctor who went back after he had to sleep in a barn. Take my family for instance. I forced my mom and dad [to cross to Turkey], but I couldn’t persuade my brother. He went back when he saw a girl being torn apart after stepping on a land mine [at the border]. You know how things stand with my elder brother, he is in the battlefield. Both my paternal uncles are there as well. My maternal uncle, a father of eight, sent his family out, but he stays there. All those people are civilians. Families who have sons and daughters in YPG ranks have also stayed, refusing to abandon their children. Most of the civilian administrators remain in Kobani, too.”

I asked Iso about the groups that support the YPG, which is fighting with a few thousand fighters. Speaking in estimates, he said, “Some 200 fighters from Jabhat al-Akrad, about a hundred fighters from Suwar al-Raqqa and smaller numbers of fighters from other groups are fighting against IS in Kobani.”

Abu Saif, the commander of Suwar al-Raqqa, which moved to Kobani after Raqqa fell, said in a recent interview with NOW that he initially had 1,250 men fighting alongside the YPG, but only 300 remained after the others had to cross to Turkey due to lack of money and ammunition. Abu Saif explained that they had earlier fought against the YPG but changed sides to confront the common enemy IS, stressing that defending Kobani meant defending Syrian soil. In comments on Turkey preventing aid, he said, “At the end of the day, any weapons that came to us would benefit the PYD, and the Turks don't want that. When we were in Raqqa, we used to receive assistance from Turkey. These Kurds are also Syrians, and they are fighting for their land, their women, their children. It’s not as if we are committing a crime here.”

Weapons corridor or pure propaganda?

And what about the corridor the PYD demands to be opened via Turkey? Did any weapons arrive from Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani?

In my conversation with Nassan, I mentioned Turkish media reports that a convoy organized by the Barzani Foundation that crossed recently from [Turkey’s] Mursitpinar border crossing [to Kobani] included four trucks carrying humanitarian supplies and that three others, which were not searched, could have been laden with weapons.

Nassan replied they received humanitarian assistance only: “True, an aid convoy came via Turkey 10 days ago. I was among those responsible for the distribution of the aid. It contained humanitarian supplies only. There were absolutely no weapons. The claim that Barzani has sent weapons is a pure propaganda. We do appeal to the international community to help us with weapons, but we have received not a single gun so far.”

So, that’s how things stand.

Let’s give the final word to the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in the hope that cynics may have a second thought, “You remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot and probably we’ll never forgive ourselves.”

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More from  Fehim Tastekin