Ferman cries when he tells me how he has left his eight children and his wife behind in Germany to come here and fight against ISIS. The 38-year-old Kurd left Turkey twenty-five years ago; he had built up a new life in Stuttgart, Germany, and was working a good job with a great salary. Now he has left everything behind in order to support his Kurdish brothers and sisters in Kobanê.
His shoes are still new and shiny — I could see he bought them just for the occasion. He only arrived three days ago and was still looking for a way to cross the border into Syria to join the People’s Protection Units (YPG). After witnessing the horrors his people went through from the comfort of his home, while the entire world stands by and watches, he decided he needed to act: “I also have daughters, a wife and sisters, and to see how ISIS treats women, rapes them, cuts off their breasts and sells them as slaves. This is more than I can bear.”
He gathered his family in the living room and told them he would travel to Turkey in order to join the resistance against ISIS in Kobanê. He got a kiss from his wife and blessings from his children, and now he’s ready to die to protect the lives and honor of people he will never meet in his life, strangers who are more valuable to him than his own family. Ferman stresses that this is not merely a fight of the Kurdish people: “ISIS is the enemy of humanity, of Kurds, Christians, of all mankind.”
He simply cannot understand why there is no international support for the Kurdish struggle. “The PKK protects everyone, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Forty million Kurds can’t all be terrorists. My wish is that the PKK is taken off the terror list. Give us our weapons and we’ll build a second Europe here in the Middle East.”
With the border hermetically sealed off, the problem is not only how to get in to Syria, but in some cases more importantly how to get out. A good friend of mine here in Urfa told me the story of a young YPG fighter who was hit by a bullet in his leg. His comrades rushed him to the border with the intention of bringing him to a hospital in Suruç, the Turkish border town. However, at the border Turkish soldiers made him wait for four hours before allowing him in. During this time he continued bleeding and eventually died of blood loss.
After having opened the border for over 140.000 Kurdish refugees that fled before ISIS’ advance, the Turkish state now treats everyone entering the country from Rojava as a potential terrorist. A Turkish official to Agence France-Presse: “From now on, whoever comes from the other side of the border will be either from the PKK or the YPG. We are talking about the country’s security.”
In this context, hundreds of Kurdish refugees have been detained by Turkey. They are being held without charge at two schools in Suruç, where conditions are so dire that a number of them reportedly started a hunger strike. When in the bus from Urfa to Suruç, one of my fellow passengers pointed out a school complex on the outskirts of town and crossed his arms at the wrists, the international sign for “arrested”.
The next day, a friend of mine who is originally from Kobanê contacted me on Facebook to tell me that his father was one of the people who were detained. When he asked his father if there was anything he could do for him, his father merely replied that “the media should talk about the people here.” He added: “We are with 156 people, 41 of them are women and children. There are also some freelance journalists among us.”
After protest and legal action from human rights organizations and the local branch of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), the state was forced to undertake action with regards to these illegally detained refugees. The government’s excuse was that they had to check by means of finger prints whether any of the detainees belonged to the outlawed PKK or its Syrian sister-organization PYD (the political wing of the YPG/YPJ). Where initially 260 people had been detained, 156 were moved from the schools to a sports hall and their release is expected soon. But very little is known about the remaining 104 detained refugees.
Human shields at the border
In Suruç I take a taxi to bring me to the village of Boydê, which lies right at the border. Several comrades of the Revolutionary Anarchist Action (DAF) are based here to act as a “human chain” to prevent ISIS supporters from crossing the border into Syria. In order to prevent any unwanted inquiries by overly-suspicious security forces, the taxi driver takes me to my destination via some dirt tracks through the fields and small, unguarded roads connecting the rural villages to one another.
Hundreds of people have come from all over Turkey to guard the border and show their solidarity with the Kurdish people. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the show of solidarity has a powerful impact, ISIS supporters and aspiring jihadists still manage to enter Syria, often with suspected help of the Turkish state which either turns a blind eye or simply provides the transport, as some of the people I have spoken to claim to have seen.
The situation at Boydê is surprisingly relaxed. A member of the Van solidarity group walks me along a dirt track to the next cluster of houses, where the DAF is based together with the solidarity group from Erzurum. People are sitting in small groups of three or four people under the trees along the road. A few men are preparing food, another makes cay. On the roofs of the buildings several people are watching the border through binoculars, keeping an eye on the movements of ISIS at the outskirts of Kobanê.
From the roof I can actually see four ISIS fighters with my own eyes, little black figures crouching on a small hill just over one kilometer away. Occasionally we hear the rattling sound of a Kalashnikov being fired, but this doesn’t seem to bother the soldiers in the APCs and tanks patrolling the border. The Turkish military moves up and down the border non-stop, but they leave the ISIS fighters — who can’t be more than a few hundred meters away from the border — alone.
Every now and then we are startled by a loud boom, when another coalition jet drops a bomb on ISIS positions in the outskirts of Kobanê. Usually we can see the smoke rising before the sound reaches us, and the local Kurds and civil border guards seem to approve of every single one of them. Until a few days ago, the local people and YPG sources alike accused the US-led coalition of just bombing empty buildings and oil installations outside of Kobanê, but lately the airstrikes seem to have have been a little more effective, and locals on a hill overlooking the city told me today that the situation had slightly improved since yesterday.
The comrades from the DAF are eager to share their experiences and observations with me: “In the past few days we have seen that the people are trying to remove artificial borders and create a real revolution. We also see that the people here did not give up the fight, even while many freedom fighters have been killed. On the contrary, the death of their comrades only entrenched their belief in the revolution.”
Boydê under attack
That same evening, only a few hours after I left the village to return to Suruç, the local people and solidarity groups at Boydê were attacked by the gendarmes. In an attack that appeared to be aimed at breaking the people’s determination to support their brothers and sisters on the other side of the heavily guarded fence, the gendarmes fired tear gas and beat the people. They also confiscated several thousand Turkish liras (about €1,000) and a number of cell phones. I have checked and double-checked this story and it has been confirmed by several different sources.
The border and the main roads leading to the crossing at Mursitpinar, as well as the town of Suruç, are under firm control of the security forces, but the approximately eight kilometers of farmland, dotted with local farms and criss-crossed by dirt tracks and patikas (“goat-trails”) between the town and the frontier are the realm of the people’s resistance.
Especially after dark, when the security is tightened and improvised checkpoints are manned by people from the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), it would be unsafe for any ill-willing figures (whether in uniform or sporting a big beard) to roam around these areas. While driving around these unlit roads, and after being stopped at yet another checkpoint, my friends point out that without them I would not have been able to make it for a single kilometer out of town.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/kobane-human-shields-turke/