North Africa, West Asia

What does Kobane mean for the international community?

There is still time to quell IS in Syria but the world must be prepared to act immediately, before it is too late.

Kanar Talabani
17 October 2014
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Hundreds rallied in Istanbul after the news that ISIS militants had entered the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane, at the lack of response from the Turkish government. Görkem Keser/Demotix. All rights reserved.

For local groups of Kurdish fighters keeping IS at bay, the numbers of IS fighters flooding into the town has created a significant drain on resources. Whilst accepting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees escaping the Syrian civil war, thousands of Arab refugees fleeing IS clashes in Iraq, and thousands of Yezidi Kurds fleeing IS capture, Iraqi Kurdistan now faces the prospect of accepting refugees from Kobani. Despite maintaining a stronghold within Northern Iraq and steadily progressing against IS’ attempts to take Mosul, so far the only international support given to the Iraqi Kurds has been a series of airstrikes. Kurdish Pershmerga fighters are insistent that without the aid of better arms to help them to combat forces armed with advanced equipment which originated from the US military, strategic cities such as Rabia may be captured by IS.

“Kurds are fighting ISIS tooth and nail with Turkey standing by. That’s the image abroad, and that’s the image for Kurds.” – Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist at the daily Milliyet newspaper commented, as reported by Alexander Christie-Miller in Newsweek.

Despite western assurances that the prevention of an IS takeover has become a priority, Kurdish fighters have become one of the only constant forces tackling IS encroachment. This has become particularly clear following the US’s reluctance to accept that the events of Kobane are more than a minor civil disturbance. The US claim of focusing on the IS threat in Iraq is increasingly losing credibility, as Kurdish Pershmerga fighters are forced to beg for more arms aid without success.

Past the localised significance of the events of Kobane, the region as a whole has become increasingly unstable. The events in Kobane sparked an eruption of protest from Kurds across Turkey, bringing decades of civil strife back to the surface. This came as Turkish forces refused entry to the thousands of refugees attempting to flee the fighting in Kobane. The Turkish government has come under attack by pro-PKK protestors across Turkey.

Protests were also sparked by the refusal to allow Turkish Kurdish fighters to cross the border in order to provide military aid to Kurds fighting IS soldiers. Most embarrassingly for western powers, reports have focused on the lack of aid by NATO’s second largest army within Turkey, witnessing the events of Kobane. These events have all culminated in the gradual decline of the peace talks that were being conducted between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a process which was crucial for the future of stability and peace in Turkey after decades of internal conflict.

Turkey has now suffered a series of protests, spanning not only across its Kurdish dominated region, but also into Istanbul and Ankara. Reports so far claim that more than 30 people have died, and the Turkish government has made over 1000 arrests in order to quell the demonstrations and rioting. Whilst soldiers patrol the streets of the Kurdish cities of Dyarbakir, Mardin, Van, and Batman, the violence is escalating, suggesting that Turkey may undergo a devastating civil war between Turkish nationalists and Kurdish separatists.

Beyond the region, the so-called ‘Islamic State’ and its aims to dominate a vast area under an extremist Muslim ideology has major repercussions for world security. Once Kobane falls to IS, the threat of further encroachment across the unstable political plain of Syria may become a reality. Although Kurdish fighters are currently maintaining their front against IS in Iraq, they will be faced with an almost impossible challenge of fighting off IS on two separate plains if the conflict in Kobane is not contained.

The acts of terrorism conducted by IS during their rampage across the region have sparked worldwide disbelief at the levels of brutality shown. This includes the extent to which IS has targeted alternative Muslim ideologies, alongside their horrific actions towards Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups. A United Nations Human Rights investigation has concluded that IS had ‘carried out attacks deliberately… with the intention of killing and wounding civilians.’ So far, western deaths have been limited in comparison to localised and regional deaths. However, if aid and arms are not provided to the Kurdish army, and Kobane is left to burn unaided, an Islamic State may become a reality in Southern Syria and Central Iraq. Could we then see a repeat of devastating events such as the 7/7 bombings in London and the 9/11 fall of the Twin Towers in New York? 

Decisions made by western powers in response to this crisis will play a major role in preventing the nightmare of a large IS-controlled region from becoming a reality. It is only a matter of time before we hear about the fates of the 10,000 to 13,000 people currently trapped at the border awaiting IS advance. This, and all we have seen to date, will only be the precursor to the levels of terrorism we may face if IS is not stopped now. There is still time to quell IS in southern Syria but the world must be prepared to act immediately, before it is too late.

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