Violence in Ain al-Arab has prompted many Kurdish Syrians to flee to Turkey, but others are returning to battle ISIL.
Mursitpinar, Turkey – Dangling a thick plastic bag that carries many 250ml water bottles, eight-year-old Ali, a Syrian refugee who is now on the Turkish border, looks around to offer water to worried-looking men.
“Take it,” he insists, as hundreds of Kurdish men, women and children – some sitting on the ground and others standing – watch a battle unfold mere kilometres away between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Kurdish fighters in Ain al-Arab, called Kobane by the Kurds.
Ali’s father and older cousins are among the Kurdish group across the border. “They are not trained and have never picked up a gun, but they are helping the [Kurdish] fighters in whatever way they can,” said Ali’s 34-year-old mother, who crossed to the Turkish side of the border for her own protection.
As ISIL fighters rampaged towards the town of Ain al-Arab after taking more than 100 surrounding small villages in the past week, People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters have resisted them. The YPG is a Kurdish rebel group operating on Syrian territory; it is primarily the only Kurdish group fighting ISIL, although some sources say Syrian rebels who fought against Assad are aiding them.
Echoes of gunfire frequently ring through the sky, while Kurds in the Turkish district of Suruc cheer on their brethren. “Kobane! Kobane!” they cry as the Kurds fire on ISIL. Passing pairs of binoculars around, they all take turns to spot black-clad ISIL fighters on one side and Kurds on the other – although in some areas, the battle is so close they do not need binoculars.
Daesh [ISIL] is not just our enemy; it is the enemy of the world, and the Kurds need help in this fight. ~ Ayla Akat, member of the Turkish BDP party
Earlier on Monday, activists told Al Jazeera that ISIL fighters were within five kilometres of Ain al-Arab. Intensified shelling in and around Ain al-Arab has angered Kurds on the Turkish side of the border, who said the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not doing enough to stop the assault. Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking Ain al-Arab, while a US-led coalition intensified its bombing of ISIL in northern and eastern Syria. At least 15 tanks were positioned, some with their guns pointing towards Syrian territory.
Both Turkish and Syrian-Kurdish fighters have been defending Ain al-Arab against ISIL, while around 160,000 civilians have fled the town and surrounding area for Turkey. “The Turkish government has not helped us. I ask them why,” said Adem Mehmoud, a Turkish Kurd who has family in Ain al-Arab.
Kurdish fighters do not have enough weapons to match ISIL’s heavy artillery, but they say they are determined. Some YPG fighters say that, without support from the Turkish government to fight ISIL, they have produced their own weapons. There is a long history of tension between Kurds and the Turkish government, with Turkey resisting the creation of an independent Kurdistan. But with mass killings on the Syrian side of the border and an exodus of Kurdish refugees, there are high hopes that the Turkish government will ultimately cooperate with Kurds in the fight.
“We want the Turkish government to help us save innocent Kurds, and the US and international community to help our fighters,” said Ayla Akat Ata, a member of the Turkish BDP party. “Daesh [ISIL] is not just our enemy; it is the enemy of the world, and the Kurds need help in this fight.”
The Turkish government, however, did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.
Meanwhile, thousands of Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter Turkey, with the UN refugee agency suggesting it is possible the entire town of Ain al-Arab, population 400,000, could flee to Turkey.
“This is an existential battle for both Syrian and Turkish Kurds, who have in the past fought many battles for Kurdistan,” Ismat Sheikh Hassan, defence chief of Ain al-Arab, told Al Jazeera. “ISIL is a new but harsher enemy in their fight, and like in most occasions, we are fighting alone.”
From the Turkish border, ISIL fighters are easily visible on the eastern and western borders of Ain al-Arab. “The fight has been hard throughout the week,” and often continues after sunset, Sheikh Hassan said. Syrian refugees who escaped to the Turkish side tell tales of heavy clashes at night; while they can re-enter Ain al-Arab any time, Turkey’s military controls the influx on the Turkish side. One journalist who tried crossing the border told Al Jazeera, on condition of anonymity: “We want to go in and be able to cover the war from inside, but the Turkish military will deport us immediately on our way back. We will not be able to enter the country for at least two years.”
On Saturday, US-led air strikes also hit ISIL targets in Ain al-Arab. Ashraf Ali, a YPG fighter who crossed the border to Suruc after getting injured in a fight in Ain al-Arab on Friday, noted: “There is not a single help by the US or any other external party. The air strikes are in the area where Daesh is headquartered and no one is fighting them. Who will help us in this fight?”
US Central Command said an ISIL building and two “armed vehicles” were destroyed at the Ain al-Arab border crossing, while other strikes were also carried out in other parts of Syria and northern Iraq, hitting ISIL targets.
Last week, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), called for a mass conscription against ISIL. “I call on all Kurdish people to start an all-out resistance against this high-intensity war,” he said from prison on September 22, via his lawyer.
Within days, more than 200 Kurdish youth from Turkey and Syria in Mursitpinar had sworn allegiance to Ocalan, who has led many fights against Turkey for an independent Kurdistan.
“We want freedom for the Kurds,” hundreds of youth chanted after pledging their allegiance. “We will fight the Daesh.”
Later on Friday, fences lining the border of Turkey and Syria in Ain al-Arab were taken down by vigorous youth, and about 1,500 Kurdish men, women and children crossed into Ain al-Arab. They were received by YPG fighters. Some told Al Jazeera they had come to Turkey as refugees, but had now decided to return and join the fight against ISIL.
A Kurdish commander who fought ISIL when it approached Ain al-Arab last week, was helping to facilitate the flow of Syrians back into their hometown. “The Daesh had progressed within 15km of our city, and then we fought hard and sent them back. I will go again to fight,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Ali Cubuci, a 29-year-old Turkish Kurd who helped break the fences, added: “It’s better to die fighting ISIL to protect our land, than to die in a country that has never recognised us.”
Those re-entering Ain al-Arab to fight ISIL include women, elderly men and untrained fighters. “I will help in the logistics, whatever I can do to aid the fighters to protect us from Daesh,” Burhan Abdullah, a 34-year-old schoolteacher who has never picked up a gun, told Al Jazeera.
More than a dozen Kurdish parliamentarians also arrived at the Ain al-Arab border crossing to show support. “Most of these fighters are not trained, but the fighters in Ain al-Arab will train whomever they deem fit,” said BDP member Mehmet Emin Aman. “We are here to support them.”
Source: Al Jazeera