Suruc, Turkey – As ISIL made progress towards the tomb of the Ottoman Empire founder’s grandfather, Turkey this week deployed troops along its border with Syria. But locals say: “They are there just to watch.”
The Turkish military is now scattered throughout Suruc, with heightened security, including new checkpoints along roads entering villages bordering Syria. In Mursitpinar alone, a village bordering the battleground town of Kobane, about 50 tanks have been deployed, while police have stocked up on weapons and artillery. Lawmakers in Turkey, a NATO member with a large and modern military, said this week, they would allow action to “defeat attacks directed towards our country from all terrorist groups”.
But while Turkey gears up to play a more robust role in the US-led coalition against ISIL, it has not specifically defined what that role might be – and residents in the area say it is thus far “idle”.
“Firstly the Turkish government took a long time to take any action, and now that they are taking action, it is not sufficient. They have just deployed their military to protect their own land here, but are in no way helping the Kurds in this fight,” Aslan Mehmoud – a 54-year-old Syrian Kurd from Kobane, who is now living in Mursitpinar while his brothers help fight ISIL – told Al Jazeera.
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Tensions have intensified as Kurds in Kobane fought this week to keep ISIL at bay, with stray shells and bullets landing in Turkish territory and clouds of smoke rising into the sky.
Ismet Sheikh Hasan, defence chief of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Kobane, told Al Jazeera on Friday: “The fight has been the toughest today. Daesh [ISIL] wants to conquer the mosque on Eid.” He said ISIL has brought in additional forces from Raqqa, Aleppo and other cities where they have more experienced fighters.
At least 50 injured Kurds have been brought to hospitals inside Suruc over the past two days, a local nurse told Al Jazeera. Ambulances remain on standby near the border.
We expect the government to help our Kurdish fighters with military assistance, not words.
In Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan, hundreds of Kurds took to the streets on Thursday to urge the Turkish government to do more.
“We expect the government to help our Kurdish fighters with military assistance, not words,” local resident Umit Mercan, 29, told Al Jazeera. Turkish Kurds have closed all shops in the town as a sign of protest. “So many are getting injured, because they are running short of weapons to fight.”
Meanwhile, Turkish Kurds from Ankara, Istanbul and other cites across the country have been arriving at the border to help the refugees and install independent security in Kurdish towns and villages. In Alizar, another small border village with a checkpoint guarded by Kurdish men and women, grievances abound.
“We are one land and now because of Daesh, our families on the Syrian side had to leave their homes,” one local resident told Al Jazeera. Before ISIL moved in several weeks ago, the town was effectively borderless, with families living near each other between Syria and Turkey. Now, almost all of the residents of Alizar on the Syrian side have fled to the Turkish side, where locals have given them shelter. The Syrian part of this town is now under ISIL control, with black-clad fighters frequently seen riding bikes across the border.
Hasan Zeren, 25, told Al Jazeera that he left university in Istanbul to help fight ISIL on the border. “The government’s intentions to help in the fight are not useful on the ground if they can’t help the people in the field. Instead, the Turkish government has been helping Daesh … by letting them defeat the Kurdish fighters.”
Kurds on the Syrian side “don’t think the Turkish government will protect our people if Daesh attacks us on this side,” he noted. “They [ISIL] have already started stealing our cars, while the Turkish military is watching it happen. If they cross this side, we would have to protect ourselves.”
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Many refugees in Mursitpinar and Yumurtalik who arrived at the border by car were not allowed to bring their vehicles inside. Turkish authorities have been digging trenches to prevent any Syrians from driving into Turkey, although in Yumurtalik, they have allowed many to park their cars on the Turkish side of border. But Zohair Omar, 30, a refugee from Kobane who is now living in Alizar, told Al Jazeera: “The Daesh took about 700 of our cars and they [Turkish military] didn’t stop them.”
The Turkish government did not respond to Al Jazeera’s questions on the claims made against the state by the Kurds.
Earlier this week, Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Turkish HDP (People’s Democratic Party), told Al Jazeera: “The Kurds need support from the Turkish government to fight against the Daesh… The Daesh cannot be fought over without a strong action by the Turkish government and international community.”
Demirtas added: “If Daesh takes over our land, of course we will not accept their victory and [we will] fight back.”