Isis in Syria: Turkish hospitals open their doors to the Kurdish casualties they once regarded as terrorists


Frederike Geerdink
Sunday 28 September 2014 05:34 BST
A Syrian Kurdish girl is rescued by a Red Crescent worker
A Syrian Kurdish girl is rescued by a Red Crescent worker

The broken pieces of Ronahi El Hamu's shoulder are held together by metal. She was hit a week ago by a bullet fired by Islamic State (Isis).

Now Ms El Hamu is recovering in a state hospital in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa, close to the Syrian border. "I want to get out of here," she said. "I want to go back to Kobane and fight, even with this metal in my shoulder."

She is a fighter for the People's Protection Units, known by its Kurdish acronym YPG. The group has been resisting heavy Isis attacks for two weeks on several fronts around Kobane, on the Turkish border.

Wounded YPG fighters are being brought to Turkish state hospitals, a development widely viewed as remarkable since the YPG is affiliated with the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been at war with Turkey for 30 years and is branded a terror group in the West.

Heavily wounded fighters are taken to hospitals in Sanliurfa, the lightly wounded to doctors in Suruc, some six miles from the Syrian border. All fighters wear civilian clothes when they arrive.

Ethem Sahin, an experienced physician who volunteers at the Suruc hospital, said: "There is an understanding with the border police: don't come to Turkey wearing your YPG uniform. All wounded are first taken to a clinic in Kobane, for first aid such as pain killers and bandages. There, their combat outfit is changed for civilian clothes."

In the hospital system, the fighters are registered as "guests from Syria". Some give their real names, others use an alias. None of the fighters stay in the hospital one minute longer than absolutely necessary, said Ethem Sahin. "They are taken to private homes for further recovery. Then they disappear."

Disappear they might, but it is widely known they return to Kobane to resume fighting against Isis.

One of the fighters being treated in Suruc state hospital is Zelal, (not her real name), 19. Underneath the bandage on her arm is a deep wound, caused by shrapnel. She does not like being in a Turkish state hospital.

"Turkey suppresses Kurds," she said. "And now I receive their care. I hate it. But the physicians gave me no choice, I need treatment and this is the only place we can go."

In the Sanliurfa hospital, Ronahi El Hamu does not feel particularly comfortable in a Turkish state hospital bed either. "The Turkish authorities don't do much to stop Turks from joining Islamic State," she said. "So it's partly thanks to Turkey that we fight this war in the first place." Then she cleared her throat and started singing a Kurdish battle song.

The state appointed governor of Suruc, Adbullah Ciftci, admits that YPG fighters are coming to state hospitals. He estimates that in the past two months, some 300 YPG fighters were treated in Turkey. "In wartime the normal law doesn't apply," he explained. "We help people regardless of who they are."

Does that include wounded Isis fighters too, he was asked. It is claimed that the Islamists go to hospitals in the Akcakale area, around 45 miles to the east, where the border crossing is in the hands of Isis.

"I can't comment on that," Mr Ciftci said. "I am only responsible for this area."

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