By DUYGU KANVER
Capital News Service
LANSING – The Syrian town of Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish city by the Turkish border, has been under assault by the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since mid-September, leaving about 800 dead and 300,000 displaced from their homes.
While airstrikes led by the U.S. have supported ongoing resistance by Kurdish forces in the region, Kurds say Turkey’s collaboration by opening its borders with Syria and Iraq is central to saving Kobani.
“We ask for nothing from the Turkish government but this,” says Ruken Sengul, a Turkish Kurd postdoctoral fellow in the Armenian Studies program at the University of Michigan.
On Oct. 29, Turkey’s borders were opened to Kobani-bound rebel fighters called the Free Syrian Army and a day later to Iraqi Kurdish fighters called the peshmergas, but those moves by the Turkish government didn’t satisfy the Kurds and Turks in Michigan.
Hisyar Ozsoy, a Turkish Kurd anthropology professor at U of M-Flint, said the government was late in its decision to collaborate.
There is a century-old conflict between the government and the Kurds in Turkey.
Ozsoy said the cause of Turkey’s refusal to help for more than a month is Turkey’s Kurdish problem. “I think Turkish government officials actually want Kobani to fall.”
But Turkish Michiganders agree that the Turkish government should regard the ISIS attacks in Kobani as a humanitarian crisis and ignore the problems with the Kurdish under the circumstances.
“As every person who hopes for permanent peace in the region, stands against reactionary movements, values human lives and human rights, what is happening in Kobani worries me,” said Kaan Tosun, a U of M engineering graduate student.
“We should be worried as we have seen horrible atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, not only against the Kurds but also other communities in the area such as the Alawites, Shiites and Yezidis,” said Ibrahim Gunay, a U of M doctoral student in economics.
Gunay said the Turkish government should work towards a peaceful and diplomatic solution to end what he called “the ISIS tragedy” but doubts it will.
“The Turkish government does not and will not treat this situation as a humanitarian crisis,” Gunay said.
Ozge Savas, another doctoral student at U of M, said she feels angry about what’s happening in Kobani, but feels even angrier about the attitude of the government.
“The government is acting very irresponsibly because they’ve been silent to this atrocity that has been happening by our border,” she said.
Savas and other Turkish doctoral students organized a recent educational forum on Kobani at U of M.
“We had been in an urgent need of figuring out a solidarity with the self-defense of the people of Kobani against the violence and siege by ISIS,” said Savas.
Ozsoy, one of the forum facilitators, called it a fruitful discussion. “We explored the history, the Kurdish conflicts in the region in general. It seems like the scholars focus increasingly on Kobani.”
Co-facilitator Sengul, whose research includes feminism, discussed women’s portrayal in international media as Kurdish fighters.
“There are currently 7,500 women fighters in Kobani alone, constituting 40 percent of the Kurdish forces. This is indeed an exceptional situation in terms of military routines,” she said.
However, both Sengul and Ozsoy said neither the female fighters nor the resistance in Kobani should be overly romanticized. “We shouldn’t forget that what is happening in Kobani is not an epic story but a tragedy,” Ozsoy said.
And Tosun said it’s too early to comment on whether Kobani will fall to ISIS or be saved.
“Those fighting against ISIS in Kobani appear diligent and determined. But unforeseeable developments like the rough conditions of the coming winter may affect them negatively, especially if they don’t get international help,” Tosun said.
Kobani has been under ISIS attack for almost two months. As of Nov. 13, Syrian, Turkish and Iraqi Kurds were still trying to save the city, half of which is reportedly under ISIS control.
Sengul and Ozsoy said whatever happens in the future, the Kurds have already won a victory in Kobani.
Ozsoy said the educational forum showed the sensitivity of younger Turks to the Kurds’ resistance in Kobani, and such developments make him hopeful about the future of Turkish-Kurdish relations.
And Sengul said the portrayal of Kurds in global media has become more favorable as they resist ISIS.
“Kurds have never been this visible before. They have never had an audience this sympathetic to them earlier,” Sengul said. “Of course, I don’t want Kobani to fall, but in this ongoing chaos in the region, this is a good development for us Kurds for a change.”