130 000 Syrian Kurds flee to Turkey as IS nears border
More than 130,000 refugees have flooded into Turkey from Syria in the past few days, as the jihadist group Islamic State bears down on the Syrian border town of Kobane. Turkish authorities clashed with hundreds of Kurdish protesters, many of whom want to cross into Syria to defend fellow Kurds from the onslaught. The militant group, also known as ISIS, released a statement Monday urging Muslims to kill Westerners whose countries have joined the campaign against it.
Kurdish fighters in northern Syria struggle to halt the advance of well-armed Islamic State militants. 19-year-old Dalil Boras recorded the battle on his cell phone. On Sunday, he led his family over the Turkish border to safety. He now plans to return to Syria.
“The battle has been so brutal, because ISIS has 50 tanks,” he says. “They captured around 50 villages and they are still advancing and killing everyone, children, women, anyone Kurdish, saying they are infidels,” said Boras.
The flow of refugees – 130,000 in just a few days – has prompted Ankara to close some border crossings. In the opposite direction, hundreds of Kurdish fighters – many from the outlawed PKK separatist group – have travelled into Syria to fight ISIS.
Authorities have tried to stem the flow, firing tear gas and water cannon to push back protesters. Zeynep Kaya is from the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
“PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and by Turkey. So logically, it doesn’t want to strengthen the PKK. And helping Kurdish militants in Syria, even though they are fighting against ISIS, will directly or indirectly help PKK as well,” said Kaya.
But if Islamic State militants carried out an assault on Kobane, the Kurds could blame Turkey for failing to let them defend Kurdish lands, said Kaya.
“Right now, Turkey and PKK are talking, are negotiating. And that has decreased the resentment towards Turkey in the last couple of years. But now, if Turkey indirectly leads to ISIS’s violent actions, the Kurds will feel this resentment against Turkey in the long run,” said Kaya.
That resentment is fueled by accusations that Turkey has tolerated – or even aided – foreign jihadists.
“It has been claimed from many sources – international sources, but also regional sources – that fighters that fight for ISIS and other violent terrorist groups have gone to the region via Turkish borders,” said Kaya.
But the risks for Ankara of supporting Islamist groups in Syria would be too high, says Afzal Ashraf, Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
“Turkey doesn’t have really any interest in supporting Islamist militants because Islamist militants have caused Turkey a lot of problems. Turkey is a NATO member, it’s been targeted, so I don’t see any reason for Turkey to be doing that,” he said.
If there is an impending massacre in Kobane, the United States and its allies might be forced to carry out airstrikes on Syrian soil – ideally with the agreement of the Syrian government, said Ashraf.
“Which are of benefit both to the West, and the attacks are of benefit to the Assad regime. And in the meantime the Assad regime can prevent these forces from gaining more ground. Because it’s ungoverned space which is the oxygen, if you like, of their existence,” said Ashraf.
The Islamic State group meanwhile has called for jihadists in the West to launch attacks on the United States and France – the two countries which have so far carried out airstrikes on ISIS positions. Security analysts say there is no indication of a specific terror plot.