Syria conflict: Syrian and Turkish Kurds unite to battle Isis threat - ‘We shoot them like sheep, but next day double the number return’
Syrian Kurds are struggling to fight off Islamist militants, flushed with their Iraqi success – but Turkish Kurds, veterans of guerrilla conflict, are joining forces with them. Isabel Hunter reports from Suruc on the Turkish-Syrian border
Monday 28 July 2014
On the border between, Turkey and Syria, Muhammed Ahmad, a 23-year-old Syrian Kurd is waiting to return to the fight against Isis.
He described Isis as formidable opponents. “It’s like they’re on drugs,” he said, “they charge at you in groups of 300 and, even though we shoot them like sheep, you know the next day there will be double.”
But despite their dedication, Isis jihadists are human. He pulls out his phone and scrolls through grotesque pictures of Isis fighters he and his comrades have killed. Their faces are sunken, bloody and in some cases pummelled beyond recognition – a ritual performed by their fellow fighters, according to Mr Ahmad, to stop the identification of the dead.
Following its success in Iraq, Isis has directed its forces towards Kobani, a Kurdish town close to the Turkish border and the Kurds are struggling to hold them off.
At night, the battle for the Syrian Kurdish stronghold of Kobani, which is under attack from three sides, can be heard in Turkey. Rockets screech and there are regular explosions and the popping of rifle fire.
Last week, the Turkish Kurdish Workers’ Party, (PKK) said 1,000 fighters had gone to help their brethren fight Isis.
“We announced the number of fighters to make people pay attention to what is happening in Kobani,” says Ismail Kaplan, a local Kurdish leader. “Since Isis came back from Mosul with US weapons, they are much more powerful so we need to give the Kurds a hand – if Isis becomes stronger, we will attack to help the Kurds in Syria.”
Gaining Kobani, known as Ain al-Arab in Arabic, would be a huge strategic victory for Isis, allowing it to control a large section of the Turkish border.
At the border, the Kurds have established, a camp-cum-lookout post complete with speakers and a stage adorned with flags for evening entertainment. When the Kurds are not peering through binoculars across the border they sing patriotic songs and raise morale. Their purpose is to alert Syrian Kurdish forces of Isis activity below and to protect Turkish Kurds from the invasion they fear could be imminent. The line between Syria and Turkey is blurring as the Kurds rise together to defend the Syrian Kurds’ autonomous region which was declared for the first time a year ago.
At the camp, Sadet Kooran, 49, described how her two brothers died fighting the Turkish army and she was herself imprisoned for five years in the 1980s. Her 27-year old daughter is now a PKK fighter. “I haven’t heard from her for five years – but she is the daughter of our people and she is fighting for our rights,” she said. Kooran doesn’t know if her daughter is fighting in Syria or is at a PKK base elsewhere.
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In Suruc, Ismail Kaplan said the PKK is ready to fight Isis if it continues onto Turkish soil.
“We have lots of weapons hidden in the mountains – with one phone call, the PKK guerrillas will be there in minutes to defend the people,” he said.
There are no Turkish border guards near the camp. Just a couple of miles along the border Turkish soldiers are inspecting a section of the barbed-wire fence which divides Turkey and Syria.
Turkish Kurds have begun conscripting everyone aged 18 to 30 to fight Isis across the border. By the border, a group of 10 youths sitting under the shade of the tree in the fierce summer sun was waiting for the border to open to cross the train tracks to Kobani and pick up their weapons once again.
But the traffic is not all one way. Not more than a mile from the official Murşitpinar crossing on the Turkish side, Lami Cicek is mourning the death of his 18-year-old brother at his home. Muzlem was fighting for the Kurds for nine months until he was hit by a bullet just below his left armpit last week. He later died. “He was so bright and educated – a musician! He used to play for the fighters,” Mr Cicek said, “But as soon as he signed up, we knew he would die there.”
From the hills overlooking the Euphrates a white truck has been spotted abandoned in a field below – an Isis vehicle, for sure we’re told, as binoculars are handed around.
At the same time, young women arrive in a fleet of minibuses, ululating defiantly as they join their comrades at the border camp.
Muhammad Ahmad is motivated by more than nationalistic feeling. His father has been detained by Isis and his uncle was killed by its fighters – beheaded for answering back to an Isis soldier who reprimanded his female companions for not being properly dressed.
He stops at one of the pictures of dead men, a picture of a young man with a straggly beard staring coldly at the camera.
“Him”, he says. “He was the one that killed my uncle – we saw the videos online.”
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