Friday, November 21, 2014

This one is for Kobane: Kader will not return home, will the refugees be able to?

I wonder what is here (in Kobane)? Petrol? Gold? Diamonds? 
(Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, October 31, 2014)

Earlier this week, I took part in audience at City College in New York to hear Salih Muslim Muhammad (often referred only by the first two names) , the c0-chairman of the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party), based in Northern Syria. Beaming live via Skype, he shared with the audience that victory was near in Kobane (Arabic-Ayn al-Arab). For the last 68 days, the PYD's main fighting force the YPG (People's Protection Units) has been holding ground to the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Muslim provided the audience with an upbeat assessment, cautiously predicting that the city would be freed from the last snipers in a matter of days; however, he stressed that this was only the beginning and there was still much work to be done in clearing ISIS in the surround villages. He also clarified that US strikes played a crucial role, and remarked that it was disappointing that some regional powers were still making operations difficult, even when it came to assisting humanitarian aid. It seemed quite obvious he was referring to Turkey.

The news that Kobane's Kurdish forces have gained major ground is good news indeed, and will be welcomed by a coalition of regional and international voices. However, for Turkey, it marks a major miscalculation by its policy makers who even if trying to portray the country as leading a non-interventionist policy, could not cover up the fact that it appeared to most as a concerted demoralization campaign against the Kurds. Even with Turkey's legitimate concerns on how this would play out among their own Kurdish community, it was a short sighted strategy that left Turkey portrayed in world opinion as if it was hoping for an ISIS controlled Kobane. 

In fact, Erdogan numerous times stated that he was not at all sure why so many were supporting Kobane, when so many other cities in Syria did not receive half as much attention, as if this was some conspiracy against Turkey, to strengthen the Kurds vis-a-vis Turkey. Perhaps, Turkey should have placed it in the following terms: once Kobane is back in the hands of the PYD, it is highly likely that the recent 300,000+ Syrian Kurdish refugees will be able to return to their homes. With refugees placing a huge weight on Turkey, what could be better than this. 

Recent picture of Kader Ortakaya 
It was in fact the sheer simplicity of understanding that the people of Kobane were fighting for their homes, that caused so many Turkish citizens to cross the border to fight. Sadly, the fate of many of them was that they will not return, killed in street battles with ISIS. However, the tragic killing of Kader Ortakaya, which took place on November 6, was much different. She was not killed by ISIS, but as the result of a clash with the Turkish army that opened fire on protesters who were creating a human chain at the border. 

A declared revolutionary, and a graduate student at Marmara University, who was overtaken by the call to act, the 28-yr old Kader remained weeks at the border, with the a group called the Initiative of Free Art. Just days before her death in fact she was interviewed by Norwegian television, where she seemed full of hope (which was posted on her facebook). In her last letter home, she explained her convictions to her family, of why she had made her way down to Kobane, with her last sentence making sure her scholarship money went to buying medicine for her sick mother.  

The funeral of Kader Ortakaya
While Kader never made her way back home, let us hope that the refugees from Kobane will be able to in the near future. Even if Kobane does not have gold, the oil of Iraqi Kurdistan, or even diamonds, for hundreds of thousands of people it is their home. What more could one ask for than to be able to return home, rather than being subjected to the humiliating and poor lives as refugees. It seems that it is this part, the simple human side of the story, so many Turkish politicians clearly overlooked, without even taking into consideration the massacre that would have happened in Kobane had ISIS succeeded in taking the city.


  1. Last paragraph, should be 'their home', not 'there home.'

  2. Thanks! I wrote this late at night! Doing too many things at once! Best wishes. Louis

  3. See the article on Huffington post; Turkey is doing a lot more than just obstructing the Kurds, there is huge amounts of evidence to show they are actively supporting ISIS.

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