North Africa, West Asia

Kobane: long live Obama

It now appears that Kobane will not fall. But Turkey’s apathy towards the plight of the city, coupled with their stealthy support for ISIS, is something the Kurds will never forget.

Yvo Fitzherbert
22 October 2014

Kurdish people enjoy the victory over ISIS in Kobane this Sunday in a small village near Suruç (Turkish-Syrian border). Fermín Grodira/Demotix. All rights reserved.

“Listen listen! Do you hear those planes?” We were sitting around drinking çay in the village of Measêr, which is situated a couple of kilometres from the Syrian border, with Kobane in full view. Muhammad’s whole body shook with excitement at the sound coming from the sky. As it became more audible, we scrambled up onto the roof of the mosque to get a better view in the hope of seeing an airstrike hit eastern Kobane again. But no airstrike came. “Maybe it’s the airdrop!” Muhammad proclaimed with a gleeful smile. Everybody laughed it off as wishful thinking.

That was Sunday night. News reached the world on Monday morning that an airdrop by Coalition forces of 27 bundles of arms, ammunition and medical aid had been delivered successfully to the YPG in Kobane. Finally, the long awaited, much-needed arms had been delivered to the YPG guerrillas, much to the dismay of Turkey. All morning, people in the village received the news with satisfaction, proclaiming “Long live Obama.”

The night before, there had been heavy bombardment of ISIS positions, and the windows of the village had shaken all night from the impact. It was the most fighting in over a week, people claimed. Everyone was worried as news of an ISIS offensive to take Murşitpınar border reached us. “They [ISIS] must have brought reinforcements from Raqqa. Why can’t we [YPG] have some reinforcements”, one villager told me as we stood in a long line watching Kobane from the edge of the village.

The village of Measêr, where I have been staying for the last four days, is no more than a few dozen houses and farmland surrounding it. But for the last few weeks, it has been villages like these which have become networks of solidarity and resistance. Kurds from across Turkish Kurdistan have come to show their support for the YPG. By day, they mingle in different groups, drinking çay and endlessly debating the situation in Kobane. At night, they stand guard to monitor the Turkish military and to prevent ISIS jihadists from crossing into Syria. Just last week, in another border village, the night-watchmen had caught three people trying to go to Syria to join ISIS. They were prevented from crossing. Later that same night, the Turkish police had come and arrested the Kurds who had prevented the free passage of the jihadists into Syria.

“This shows ISIS are working with the Turkish state”, a Kurd who had come from Diyarbakir said, “why else would the police come right after ISIS had been refused to pass through the village.” Here, it is common knowledge that Turkey actively supports the Islamic State’s activities. And the evidence is compelling: a Turkish news channel showed the Turkish military allowing jihadists to cross the border into Syria. Many witnesses saw a train cross the Turkish border into Syria under the supervision of the Turkish army. Some jihadists have openly stated that, “Erdoğan helped us.”

The need for people to congregate, monitor and show solidarity in the villages seems to have been vindicated by the Turkish army’s response. Many villages have been forcibly evicted, with the use of tear gas and water cannons, and are now standing empty. Measêr village itself had a threat of eviction five days ago, where the army stormed in and demanded the village be evacuated within thirty minutes. Tear gas was fired, forcing the villagers to scatter, but as soon as the army left, people once again gathered in the village. The Kobane co-foreign minister and Kobane spokesperson, Idriss Nassan, told me that the “village solidarity groups are so essential for us” in monitoring the border and the army’s movement, “the government is doing everything it can to stop us monitoring them.”

In the town of Suruç, a small dusty town about 15 kilometres north of the border, crowded with Kurdish refugees, the local DBP party (pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party) is the main hub of organising. Downstairs, refugees mingle around the television, reporting on the latest situation in Kobane. Upstairs, Kurdish activists try to manage with the constant stream of refugees coming with their concerns. From martyrs’ families coming to ask about funeral arrangements to refugees complaining about not being allocated a tent for his or her family, the continuous organisational duties appear overwhelming at times.

Just as striking as the determined organisation and solidarity of Kurds from across Turkey, is the noticeable lack of support from the government and NGOs. Apart from a small government-run refugee camp in the village of Aligor, all the camps are run by the DBP party and Kurdish activists. No NGOs have come here out of fear of angering the government. Kurds, and a handful of other activists who have come to help, are left alone to deal with the crisis.

The lack of official support, bar their own party, is something the Kurds are familiar with. The impressive network of solidarity amongst Kurds coming from across Turkey to show support for their brothers and sisters in Kobane is in many ways a product of being let down and abandoned by others throughout their history. When I have questioned Kurds about the lack of support from the government or international NGOs, countless Kurds have just repeated the familiar Kurdish saying, “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” One Kurd who I have been staying with in a mosque said simply that they are used to getting no help. Ocalan (the leader of the PKK) has always told us to “govern ourselves and be our own master.”

Back in Measêr, much of the conversation focuses on the future of the peace process, the ongoing negotiations between the government and Öcalan since 2013. Two weeks ago, when Kurds protested across eastern Turkey, the government clamped down hard on the protests, enforcing a curfew across six Kurdish cities, and over thirty people were killed. Idriss Nassan regards Turkey’s position on Kobane as trying to show it was a fight “between two terrorist groups who don’t deserve help.” To many, they are unsurprised by Turkey’s action, taking their role as state oppressor against their easiest target, the Kurds, for granted.

Today, Öcalan is set to make a statement regarding the future of the peace process. He is highly expected to continue with the negotiations regarding the Kurdish settlement. Turkey announced yesterday that it is allowing Barzani to send his peshmerga force into Kobane via Turkey. Whilst this appears to show growing support for the Kurds, it may be a case of a little too late. His total distrust of any Kurds linked to the PKK, such as the YPG fighting on the ground, seems to show a total lack of faith in the peace process itself. When it was looking increasing likely that Kobane was about to fall into the hands of ISIS, he announced that “Kobane is about to fall.” Such a disregard for the plight of Kobane, at a time when Öcalan had said that the future of Kobane and the peace process are inseparable, has confirmed to many that Turkey is not to be trusted.

It now appears that Kobane will not fall. The one thing the YPG needed, arms, has now arrived and to many people, it is simply a matter of time before Kobane will be liberated. But Turkey’s apathy towards the situation in Kobane, coupled with their stealthy support for ISIS militants, has damaged relations with Kurds. Many fear violence will spark up once again, whilst others are just patiently waiting for Ocalan’s next move. One Kurdish protester simply put it as, “Let one thing be known about Kobane: Turkey failed us once again and we will not forget.”

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