On the Turkish border, at a refugee camp where Kurds from the Syrian town of Kobani are taking refuge, the displaced wonder why Turkey and the West aren't arming them against ISIS.
YUMURTALIK — In Turkey's Yumurtalik refugee camp on the border with Syria, the reigning mood is one of desperation. Among the dust and dirt and plastic bags flying around are people, refugees from Syria in the middle of no-man's land.
All arrivals are registered and vaccinated. Then they're sent on to other camps, hospitals or makeshift shelters.
Eyup has just crossed the border. This may not be much to look at, but at least it's safe, he says. He fled his Syrian hometown of Kobani, where people have been dying every day since the terrorist ISIS militia attacked the Kurdish city on the border and captured several parts of it. Right now fighting is concentrated in the eastern part of the city.
Eyup didn't want to come here. It was with great reluctance that he crossed onto Turkish soil. But he didn't have a choice if he wanted to stay alive.
Most civilians have fled Kobani. Kurdish fighters are defending every house, every street against the angry attacks of the Islamists. But the Kurds stand alone against a technologically far more advanced militia and can't do much more against the American weapons and tanks ISIS captured from the Iraqis than use their knowledge of the location and their courage. They feel betrayed by the world in general and the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular. "When Erdogan claims to be helping the Kurds, then I can only say he's lying!" Eyup says bitterly.
Eyup has experienced and seen a great deal these past few days. His brother lost both legs in a mine field. Mines claim three victims here per day. "We had to leave our cars, animals and houses," Eyup says with disgust. "But what's much worse is that I had to leave part of my family behind. Some people can get in here and some can't. My mother is 80 and had to hold out for six days on the Syrian side before she was admitted. If our fellow Kurds in Turkey hadn't thrown water over the border fence for her, she would have died of thirst. And the Turkish military just looks on without doing anything."
An ISIS militia hoists their flag on a mountain near Kobani — Photo: Boracan/Depo Photos/ZUMA
But not all soldiers stay uninvolved. There are Kurds in the Turkish army who have so far been loyal to Erdogan. But some of them are beginning to have doubts. "I'm of two minds," says one soldier who did not wish to give his name out of fear of reprisals. "I'm a Kurd, and I see how Kurds are suffering. But there are of course also Kurdish provocateurs who sow unrest and want to divide us. So what should I do?"
From wealth to nothing
Aziz is the father of five children and has also just crossed the border. In Kobani, he was a respected man with a lot of land and cattle, but now he's "just a refugee." He was never particularly religious, he says, but did believe in Islam. But since the barbaric attacks by the terrorist militias on his hometown, he is no longer a believer. Aziz lost his faith completely, or at least the one the ISIS terrorists propagate.
"I don't understand that Islam," he says. "They say "in the name of Allah" and that Mohammed is God's messenger just like we do, but then they slaughter and behead crying "Allahu akbar," God is great. So I'm no Muslim."
The Kurds of Kobani feel let down by the Europeans, by the Americans, and particularly by their Muslim neighbors. They are forced to organize for themselves. What that looks like can be seen at the headquarters of the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and their People's Protection Units (YPG) military wing in Suruc, a Turkish town barely eight kilometers from the Syrian-Turkish border. The atmosphere is gloomy, the air thick with the smell of sweat and sweet Turkish tea.
Up to 1,000 people crowd into the corridors and rooms of the two-story building. There has just been some heavy fighting in Kobani, and the news is making its way around quickly that some YPG soldiers were killed by ISIS fanatics.
Majid Hassan is angry. "Why isn't anybody helping us? How many more of us have to die?" the 18-year-old asks. "Why are we the only ones not receiving weapons even though we're the only ones in hand-to-hand combat with ISIS fighters? I've never had a weapon, but I have to fight. If you don't dare come here, at least give us some heavy weaponry because otherwise we'll never get anywhere against the ISIS mortar shells and tanks."
They would take up arms if they could
Everybody here is ready to fight ISIS: old men, pubescent children, young women. They're all waiting in line in front of the YPG recruiting station. It looks as if they are waiting to vote, but actually it is to register for the war. What fighters back from the front relate doesn't scare them off. "The situation is worse than people think," says one YPG fighter who just came over the border from Kobani to Suruc. "Many of the severely injured are still in Kobani. It wasn't possible to get them out. And ISIS has gotten closer."
Twenty-one-year-old Alisar studies politics in Diyarbakir, the second largest city in southeastern Anatolia, some three hours away from Suruc. She is by no means untouched by what's happening in Kobani. As a matter of fact, she wants to fight the terrorists "that have robbed us of our honor and our pride. I am fighting for the Yazidi women sold and raped in Shingal. We may be Muslim Kurdish women, but if we don't defend ourselves Kobani will become a second Shingal."
Sihar is 13 years old and has just returned from the front in Kobani. His father is still fighting there. With pride he says that "a fighter knows no fear. I'm proud to be able to defend my city." Then his tone becomes sadder and perhaps more honest. "I saw my friends die, so many bodies, so many decapitated heads. My father sent me away after four days. I'm still too young to fight ISIS."
His mother Nevroz also bears witness to the inhumanity and brutality of ISIS fighters. "I saw how they put women on pillories and cut off their heads and arms." And then she says something else that doesn't cast Turkish policy in a very good light. "We all know that injured ISIS fighters get hospital care in Turkey, in Urfa and Gaziantep. Those are Turkish government hospitals, so who's paying for ISIS fighters to get patched up? The Turkish tax payers! And we don't even get weapons to defend our land. Erdogan helps ISIS more than he does the Kurds."
The mission of those defending Kobani is a little like a suicide mission. They are Kurdish cannon fodder. At the Suruc municipal hospital, those injured by ISIS are brought in every few minutes. Hasso and his son Ahmed were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The first ISIS mortar shells to hit Turkish soil severely injured the 12-year-old boy's leg, and it is still unclear if it will have to be amputated.
His father despairs. "My son can't help this, and why doesn't the Turkish government react? The shells hit Turkish soil, after all," he says sobbing. "Or are we second-class people to Erdogan because we're Kurds?"