As the battle for Kobani intensifies and the world takes notice, the people of Kobani can only wait. Many gather on a hilltop in a Turkish border town, their hometown’s fate out of their hands but still within sight.
SURUC, Turkey — Ali watches smoke rise up out of his hometown in Kobani, Syria, from a hilltop on the Turkish border, a little over a mile away. Explosion after explosion pops off in succession, followed by the quick “tick-tick-tick” of AK-47 assault rifles. Ali, a Muslim man who asked to be referred to only by his first name, is anxious: He’s been fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Kobani as a member of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) since the beginning of the battle.
He arrived in Turkey the day before on “business,” a topic on which he refused to elaborate, but it is obvious he feels the pull of the fight tugging him back to join his comrades as soon as possible. Instead, he waits for his time to return from a hilltop with around 75 other people, mostly Kurds, watching the battle rage as plumes of black smoke rise above the besieged town.
“I have been fighting in the Syrian war for the YPG for three years. I fight to defend our lands, while my family stay here, safe in Turkey. But I want to go back and fight,” Ali told MintPress News. “I’m not scared of ISIS, they are not people. They are animals – dogs. I am not scared to die. I am a normal person, unlike them. I have never been scared of them.”
Another explosion demands the attention of the crowd of people on the hilltop. Conversations stop for a moment, as heads turn toward Kobani. There is a moment of silence, then another piercing boom rocks the air. Some people question whether it was an airstrike, but the consensus is that it has come from the southern part of the town – an area ISIS has advanced toward.
A few individuals seem on edge about being so close to the mortar fire. Yet they appear to be emotionally drawn to seeing the fate of their city up close and personal, rather than on television screens in local cafes and shisha bars a few miles away from the border in the Turkish town of Suruc.
A town under siege
Kobani has been under siege by ISIS since Sept. 16, as the Sunni militants have concentrated their efforts on capturing the strategic border town. While ISIS can call on extra fighters and weaponry from supply lines that run to their self-proclaimed capital Raqqah and all the way to Mosul in neighboring Iraq, the YPG have been effectively hemmed into the town as Turkey has secured its border in an attempt to stop arms and extra YPG fighters from reaching the surrounded Kurdish fighters.
Ali says most of the men on the hill are not fighters with YPG, but he has faith that if needed, they would all join the fight against ISIS and defend the important Kurdish town.
“When we have a feeling that the YPG is surrounded by ISIS, the people from Kobani in Turkey and other Kurds will break through the border and the Turkish army, and attack ISIS and save Kobani. Right now they are watching, but if we needed them they would be with us,” Ali said, turning away from Kobani to look back at the mass of people behind him. “We don’t need that now, but if we do, the border will be broken easily. All the Kurds in the border towns of Turkey will run to Kobani to save it. We have a strong will to fight.”
The hilltop sits in a plain, surrounded by nothing but fields and other rolling hills. The Turkish Army surrounds the position, with two checkpoints on the nearby roads, and a battalion of tanks and soldiers waiting in trenches around the area.
A larger hilltop sits west of the observers, behind it Turkish tanks sit and wait, 20 tents form neat lines behind the heavy machinery, signalling that these positions are likely manned day and night. While the Turkish Army camps out in tents, Kurds gather to watch the battle light up the night horizon around bonfires.
Rafat Aureen has been on the hilltop, watching day and night, since he arrived in Turkey about a week ago.
“You can see my house there, next to the top of that white mosque,” Aureen told MintPress, leaning in and pointing across the small distance that keeps him a world away from his home. “I come here to see what is happening to my city because there’s nothing else I can do, there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”
Aureen’s feelings are shared by many on the hilltop, who have come to watch because they feel they can do little else. The atmosphere, however, is unlike many refugee communities. There is an air of waiting amongst the people who keep watch as the fight for their home rages on. Most feel anguish for their hometown but believe they will be home soon.
“My body is burning as I watch my city right now, in war,” Aureen told MintPress before quickly turning his back to the town and walking away to be by himself for a few minutes. “But the fighters [YPG] are strong and they will win.”
Turkish efforts to suppress protests, YPG reinforcements
Many of the Kobani residents-turned refugees living within viewing distance of their hometown, now live in tents, schools and abandoned buildings in the Turkish border town of Suruc, just a few miles from Kobani. Along with Kobani refugees, the town is heavily occupied by the Turkish Army and police forces – but they are not geared up for a battle against any advancing ISIS battalion. Rather, water cannons and tear gas-loaded jeeps are situated around the Turkish town, an effort by the Turkish government to suppress the ever growing protests by Kurds, who are demanding an end to the government’s inaction on Kobani, and the Turkish Army’s attempts to stop reinforcement fighters, ammunition and aid from reaching the YPG.
However, Ali is confident that against the odds, and despite Turkey’s efforts, the YPG will withhold the continuing onslaught from ISIS and defeat the militants.
As another mortar hit the eastern side of the city and a small plume of smoke began to rise into the air, Ali appeared particularly defiant in the face of his city’s continued destruction.
“I don’t care for the Turkish Army, they can’t stop me, I will protect my land, anyone who wants to protect his country and land will never be scared. They can’t stop me, they can’t stop us from fighting back against them [ISIS].”