Special for the Armenian Weekly
Some stories are here to stay, and I suspect the story of the 3,000 fighters defending Kobani will be retold for generations to come. Shamefully, the world’s indifference will also be remembered, as will Turkey’s complicity.
Three-thousand Kurdish men and women—members of the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—are fighting a bloody battle against 10,000 Islamic State fighters bent on establishing a caliphate that expands from Syria to Iraq, and possibly beyond. Neither the Kurdish YPG fighters’ manpower nor weaponry is a match to those of the Islamist militants. In fact, the Kurds are slowly running out of ammunition and options. Reinforcements are unable to reach them from the tightly controlled Turkish border. On the other hand, truckloads of crude oil are reportedly making their way to the black markets of Turkey to fund the jihadi efforts. Reports of ISIS fighters transiting through Turkey’s borders aren’t infrequent either.
“The world has turned its back on Kobani,” lamented one resident, named Mahmoud, to The Guardian. But has the world ever really faced Kobani?
Around 160,000 residents have reportedly evacuated Kobani and its surrounding area, and have crossed the border into Turkey. The town is said to be almost entirely empty of civilians—though the line between civilian and fighter are blurred in this life and death fight for survival, so perhaps we should say the town is almost entirely empty of unarmed civilians. Those who have crossed the border now have front row seats to the destruction of their town.
The coalition of the willing—the cartoonish band of unwilling parties under the leadership of the United States—has failed to take any meaningful action. Team U.S.A. includes Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, France, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and others.
Oh, and Turkey—in name so far.
Some critics are left scratching their heads over the involvement of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey because of their alleged moral, financial, and logistical support of ISIS. Others have criticized the continued efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, pointing out that such efforts will only strengthen ISIS and other terrorist groups who will thrive in the vacuum created by a further weakened or ousted Assad.
Turkey, on the other hand, begs to disagree. In fact, Assad’s removal from power is Erdogan’s top priority.
Turkey is refusing to budge in the face of the Kobani offensive, despite the fact that the town is a rock’s throw away from the Turkish border. What’s more, Turkish security forces are even preventing Syrian and local Kurds from crossing the border into Syria to rush to the aid of their compatriots in Kobani. According to reports security forces are using teargas and water cannon to hold back crowds that have flocked to the border. On Oct. 6, over 1,000 residents of the town of Suruc reportedly tried to march to Kobani to join the Kurdish fighters, but were stopped by Turkish security forces.
Any justification given—none that I even care to regurgitate—reveal the simple fact that sinister calculations trump the safety of an entire town. The bottom line is that in no shape, way, or form will Turkey aid in the reinforcement—or in this case, survival—of a Kurdish autonomous enclave close to the PKK on its borders. This policy has been confirmed by recent statements made by Erdogan likening the threat of ISIS to a threat from the existence of such an enclave. Simply put, there is nothing more worrisome to Turkey’s ruling elite than Kurdish self-determination.
But haven’t we seen this before? All across the world, and throughout history, politics outweighing human lives—some would even call that “good diplomacy.”
A handful of haphazard U.S. airstrikes later, ISIS is still advancing into Kobani. Reports claim IS fighters are confidently strolling through streets, without much care or caution, giving rise to rumors that the fighters might be using hard drugs. A couple of black ISIS flags are already waving above buildings.
The fate of the Kurds has once again turned out to be nothing more than a bargaining chip, and Erdogan is the first to demonstrate that.
Kobani is about to fall, he said on Oct. 7. A matter of fact statement—too matter of fact, coming from the president of a country whose largest minority are the Kurds. Erdogan then coolly listed his conditions for involvement: the establishment of no-fly zones over parts of northern Syria (a condition that pundits fear will only pave the way to increased anti-Kurdish activity by Turkey); deployment of ground troops; and training and arming the moderate opposition in Syria. In essence, Erdogan’s priority is ousting President Assad—to be replaced by an Islamist and Turkey-friendly opposition, they would hope.
So much for the great peace process with the Kurds.
But tensions are rising on the Turkish front as well, with demonstrations and riots taking place across the country in nearly 30 cities and towns against Turkey’s policy vis-à-vis Kobani and the ISIS threat. Some protests have ended in deaths. Kurds have also held protests across European cities, as well as in front of the White House.
Kobani will mark a turning point in the emerging Middle East. It will predetermine the course of Turkish-Kurdish relations, the fate of Syria, and the future of ISIS in the region. It will also reveal Turkey’s weight in regional and international politics. All while Kobani is engulfed in flames.
So I’ll come back to you, Mr. Mahmoud. You said “The world has turned its back on Kobani.”
Unfortunately, the world never really faced Kobani, Mr. Mahmoud. Despite your numbers, you have never really commanded much empathy in the international arena. Your enemies have been too powerful, too valuable.
The world knows how to talk a good talk—democracy, human rights, and the right to self-determination. But frankly, your life is expendable, Mr. Mahmoud. Think of Zilan. Think of Dersim. Think of Halabja. And I’ll think of Der Zor.
But you know all this too well, Mr. Mahmoud.