Geopolitics

Kurds Who Fled Kobani Recount The Terror, Plead For Arms

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.

Seeking refuge in Suruc
Düzen Tekkal

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."

Child fighter

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?"

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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