Turkish Kurds uneasily watch fight for besieged Syrian town

Fulya Ozerkan

Mursitpinar (Turkey) (AFP) - Sitting on a hill just a few kilometres from the clashes between Islamic State insurgents and Kurdish militia, a group of Turkish Kurds have found the ideal vantage point to follow the deadly fighting in the distance.

Like spectators watching a sporting event, some munch on sunflower seeds and search for signs of which side has gained the upper hand in the battle raging across the border in Syria.

Occasionally, the sound of mortar fire echoes around and plumes of white smoke rise up.

They are just a few kilometres south of the Syrian border, meaning that Turkish Kurds can watch the clashes at close hand but in relative safety.

But for many, fearing that IS will continue its murderous advance, it is agonising viewing.

Betraying their fear, some of the watchers kneel down to pray for the Kurdish fighters who are battling IS militants around the key town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane in Kurdish.

"We've been taking up position here every day since Islamic State has advanced to Kobane," said Bakir Oz, near Mursitpinar at the border crossing which lies across from Ain al-Arab.

"I have kids there, but we are not only waiting here just because we have relatives across the border. We are one people."

Kurds are known as the largest stateless nation in the world scattered across four countries -- Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria -- and the Turkish Kurds perched on the hill feel inextricably linked to their Syrian brothers battling IS.

"I am a Kurd, and come here to watch closely what is happening in Kobane," 39-year-old Anter Oz said as he gazed at a red flare from a tracer bullet propelled across the sky.

"IS has heavy weaponry. If the Kurds are provided with the same weight of weaponry, balances may change. Resistance is continuing," he said.

"But the fall of Kobane would lead to a catastrophe, and a genocide of Kurds."

- 'Turkey won't let us cross' -

The territorial gains made by IS militants in northern Syria have shaken Turkey's fragile peace process with its Kurdish population.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been observing a truce in its 30-year insurgency in the southeast, has urged Turkey's Kurds to join the ranks of the militia groups to defend Ain al-Arab.

Turkish security forces have occasionally fired tear gas and water cannon to block Turkish Kurds from crossing the frontier and joining the war in Syria.

"Turkey is not allowing us to cross the border. On Monday, security forces chased us back to the town of Suruc," 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the border, said Bozan Guclu bitterly.

"My brother is fighting in Kobane. I also want to go," he said. "We've been waiting here from morning to night and we will yield nothing to IS."

Some young Kurds waiting at the Mursitpinar crossing can be heard chatting to a group of middlemen in the hope of finding a secret passage to Kobane to join the fight.

Some accuse Turkey of supporting IS militants in the fight against their Syrian brethren.

"Turkey supports IS. Why is IS targeting the Kurds, instead of Arabs? What is the fault of the Syrian Kurds?" said 67-year-old Kavas Oz, wearing a traditional turban on his head.

Turkey came under fire from critics for encouraging the rise of IS with its wholehearted support for the Islamist elements within the Syrian rebellion to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

But Ankara has firmly rejected the charges and said IS poses a threat to the world and its actions cannot be associated with Islam. This week, lawmakers are expected to begin talks on how to play a greater role in combatting the jihadists.

"Turkey does not want yellow-green-red flag flying nearby," said Mustafa Tekce, referring to the flag of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the party of Syrian Kurds which is said to control several towns in northern Syria.

Ankara has already been alarmed by Syrian Kurds' steps for autonomy in northern Syria, fearing it could encourage its own Kurds towards separatism.

"Kobane is a reason for our existence. It is the area where our leader Apo sows the seeds of a people with its own flag and language," he said, referring to the nom-de-guerre of the PKK's imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan.