human rights watch

söndag 28 september 2014

Besieged Kurds of Kobani plead 'don't send us food or aid. Send us weapons'

Besieged Kurds of Kobani plead 'don't send us food or aid. Send us weapons' 
KOBANI, Syrian Kurdistan,— The Syrian town of Kobani lies a mere 100 yards or so from Turkey, across a railway track that marks the border between the two countries.

The small crossing from Suruc on the Turkish side into Kobani used to be a gateway for trucks transporting goods in and out of Syria. These days, the only passage allowed out is for Syrian Kurds fleeing the advance of Islamic State (Isis) militants.

Employees at the Suruc customs and weigh station now sit idle, their compound a base for the Turkish Red Crescent, which is desperately trying to meet the needs of tens of thousands of refugees from Kobani and the surrounding villages.

On the other side of the border, guerrilla fighters belonging to the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, are holding off an onslaught by Isis militants who have besieged the small town for over a week.

Guarding one of the pedestrian gates into Kobani were two female guerrilla fighters belonging to the YPG, which has been in control of Kobani since 2012.

In stark contrast to the army uniforms worn by the Turkish soldiers on the other side of the border, the guerrillas wear traditional loose Kurdish trousers, topped with flack jackets and AK47s, with colourful embroidered scarves holding back their hair. The main entrance to the town is kept closed and guards cautiously peer through a small window in the heavy metal gate before opening it to cars that need to come through.

Ambulances bringing injured fighters back from the front-lines blare their sirens in warning, and the gate is quickly pulled back to allow them through. A convoy of small trucks taking fighters to the battlefield also signals its arrival with a blaze of horns as it speeds down the main street leading out of the town.

One fighter wearing a camouflage jacket and scarf tied around his head stands in the back of a pick-up truck, his gun already poised and at the ready.

More than 140,000 Kobani residents fled the town last week but many people have started to come back – some driven home by the miserable conditions in Suruc, others wanting to join the fight against Isis.

"I didn't want to leave my home," said Sabah, who fled to Turkey with her four young children. "But my children were frightened and they were crying all the time."

Their situation in Turkey was so bad, she said, that they after five days they decided to come home. "I'd rather be in my home. I'm scared, but I don't have a choice."

Like many of Kobani's residents, she is haunted by the memory of the recent massacres of Yazidi at the hands of Isis militants in the Sinjar region of Iraq. "We don't know what could happen to us."

Turkey has been intermittently preventing people from returning to Syria, worried about members of its own Kurdish guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, trying to join the YPG in the fight against Isis.

Kobani has been cut off for months; residents survive using small petrol-fuelled generators and the basic supplies they can smuggle in from Turkey.

Shops in the town sit empty and shuttered, with nothing to sell, while dozens of half-built buildings line the main road, their construction halted when the supply of materials was stopped.

On Thursday, the first humanitarian aid reached the town, when 12 trucks were allowed to cross the border into Kobani. Sent by the Barzani Charity Foundation, an NGO based in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the trucks brought rice, beans, baby formula, blankets and other supplies, both to the refugees in Suruc and to Kobani's besieged residents. 

"We are the first NGO to enter Kobani," Musa Ahmed, deputy director of the foundation, told the handful of journalists allowed to accompany the convoy. "It is our duty to help Kurds everywhere; we want to serve outside the borders of the Kurdistan Region." 

During a walk through the town, residents said that they really needed solders, not aid supplies.

"Don't send us food, we don't need food," one man screamed. "We will eat mud if we have to. Send us weapons, send us Peshmerga," he continued, and then fell on his knees in front of Musa Ahmed and started kissing his shoes. Another man in the crowd watched the scene silently, tears pouring down his face.

Both tears and desperate appeals for weapons are ubiquitous in Kobani. While the IS militants have weapons and armoured vehicles captured from the Iraqi army, the YPG has nothing but AK47s, rockets and a few revamped armoured vehicles. But equally prevalent is the residents' determination to fight.

"This is my uncle's gun," one young girl of about 12 told members of a Kurdish parliamentary delegation who visited Kobani last week. Holding up a rifle, she said: "But I want my own gun. If I had a gun, I could go and fight."

On Thursday, Maher Khalil returned to Kobani after taking his sister to Suruc to get her out of harm's way. "We saw what Isis did to women in Sinjar. They kidnapped them and now they're being sold in the market. But I'm going to defend my land," he said. "Now [the US] has started bombing, we can fight again. I don't care if I lose my life. If I die, I'll die fighting for my homeland."

Yesterday, explosions were heard again in and around the Kobani enclave, with US air strikes reported in the region. Speaking from Kobani, another resident said: "The situation is better now after the bombing, people have more hope. But we need more bombs, more bombs." 

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