470 Kms, Wounded Fighters And Behind The Scenes On 'Journalists Hill'
Kobani has been under siege from fighters belonging to the extremist group, the Islamic State, since mid-September. NIQASH took the long road there to try and visit the town that has become something of an
A cameraman in Turkey watches the destruction of Kobani, over the border in Syria.
Our first stop on the way from Dohuk toward the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani is at the Ibrahim al-Khalil border crossing, one of the main points for crossing from Iraqi Kurdistan into Turkey. To get to Kobani, which has been under siege by fighters from the extremist group, the Islamic State, or IS, for weeks now, you can no longer cross at Fish Khabour or Rabia. Instead you must travel a twisting road that runs for 470 kilometres along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Our journey takes us so close to the border that at times we are travelling alongside to the barbed wire that separates the two countries. It is striking how close the larger towns sit – basically opposite one another on different sides of the fence.
Finally we reached Suruc, the border town on the Turkish side. There are large numbers of internally displaced people here who were originally from the besieged Syrian city of Kobani – Suruc is only about 10 kilometres away from Kobani. Suruc has only become more important now because of its location. Its not a very developed place. Wherever one looks, one sees tired and miserable faces, eyes full of sadness, ravaged by the cruelty they've seen.
We saw five small refugee camps in Suruc but were not allowed to take any pictures in any of them. In one of the tents I remember seeing a mother surrounded by nine small children, frying eggplant on an electric frier in the corner of a small tent, not more than 12 meters square. Her husband sat in the corner watching.
In order to try and get into Kobani, on the Syrian side of the border, we have to go to an institution known as the “House of the People” in Suruc. These offices are run by the Kurdish political party, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, of Syria – because of the civil war in Syria, the local Kurds have taken control of the area and it has become a de-facto autonomous zone. The PYD's military wing - named the Popular Protection Units, or YPG, are the ones who are fighting to defend Kobani inside Syria. The PYD is headed by Salih Muslim Mohammed, who has already lost one son in the latest battles in Kobani and who has another son fighting there.
We waited in the offices there for an hour and we were finally able to meet with Faiza Abdi, a member of Kobani's municipal council, who is regulating traffic in and out of Kobani. Abdi explains to us that entry into Kobani has become very difficult. Last week a young woman trying to enter the city at night, illegally, was killed by the Turkish army and things are even more difficult now, Abdi says.
Kobani has been under siege by the IS group for some time and has become somewhat of a cause celebre as local Kurdish fighters have held the extremist group off for some time. Eastern and southern parts of the city are controlled by the IS group, the northern side is controlled by the Turkish military and the rest of the interior of Kobani is run by YPG fighters as well as around 250 Iraqi Kurdish military who entered the city to help the Syrian Kurds, as well as around 45 members of the Free Syrian Army.
Later on we would meet Javchen, a fighter from the YPG who had been injured and whose shoulder wound had not yet healed. He told us there were more than 700 YPG fighters inside Kobani and that a lot of them were women, led by a fighter called Aliyah Ahmad. We heard a lot of contradictory reports about how many had been killed – one source said there were 130 YPG fighters killed and 800 from the IS group.
Abdi says that it is only possible to enter Kobani via the Murshid Pinar border crossing on the Turkish side at the moment. Waiting along with us were a number of journalists from international organisations, from countries as varied as the US, Russia, France, Italy and Poland. They all wanted to get into Kobani but Abdi was negative about their chances.
Nonetheless the next day we went to a special office that had been set up for international correspondents. From there we were able to make our way to the border. But 700 meters before we got to the border crossing at Murshad Pinar, which connects Suruc and Kobani, we were directed to “the journalist's hill” by Turkish military at a checkpoint.
On this hill, which is inside Turkey but which overlooks the city of Kobani, less than a kilometre away from the border, there was a fenced off area for media.
International media organisations are broadcasting events going on inside Kobani live.
After only a few minutes we hear loud explosions from inside Kobani and we see columns of smoke rising from the eastern side of the city. Somebody told us that the Iraqi Kurdish military were shelling positions held by the IS group's fighters. A few minutes later we hear mortars exploding on the western side of the city. We also hear Kalashnikovs inside the obviously damaged city. Apart from these sounds there are are no signs of life inside Kobani.
We stayed on the “journalists' hill” until around 3.15 in the afternoon. At this stage planes started to appear overhead and they bombed eastern parts of the city further – dust was thick and the sky was filled with thick, black smoke.
The following day we travelled to a small village called Musalia on the Turkish side of the border, but near Kobani's eastern side. Here life seemed totally normal. Farmers were tending their land, women were milking cows and children were playing.
The village was also currently home to some of the families of the Kurdish fighters inside Kobani – they're here to support the fighters as well as to send a message to the international community to support those battling the IS group inside Kobani. It seemed strange to think that only around 800 meters away a city was being bombed and destroyed.