ASHMA, Nov 8, (AFP): Chimo Osman’s children stopped going to school after Turkish shelling struck his home in northeastern Syria, where Kurdish residents fear another military onslaught is imminent. In recent days, cross-border Turkish artillery fire has targeted positions held by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish militia in Syria.
Ankara sees the de-facto autonomous rule set up by Syrian Kurds as an encouragement to the separatists of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has close ties to the YPG. The village of Ashma is nestled in olive groves in the region of Kobane and directly looks out onto the Turkish flags and wire fencing that mark the demarcation line. The streets of this village and others along the border are empty: “We can’t even venture on the roof anymore,” said Osman. “We don’t leave the house, the kids are scared,” said the 38-yearold, standing on the steps leading to his front door, with his five children huddled around him.
Nobody can predict when the Turkish forces stationed on the other side of the border will open fire, he said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Oct 30 that plans for an assault were complete and vowed to “destroy” the YPG, which he considers a terrorist organisation.
One salvo punched a large hole in the second floor of Osman’s house and several other homes in the village were damaged by Turkish fire. Five YPG fighters and a child have been killed in Turkish shelling that has in recent days mostly targeted Kurdish positions in the Kobane and Tal Abyad areas, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor. The YPG is the backbone of an outfit known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is the US-led coalition’s main local ally in its battle against the Islamic State group.
To protest against the Turkish attacks, SDF forces late last month announced they were suspending their involvement in military operations against one of the very last jihadist pockets in eastern Syria. The move was aimed at obtaining guarantees from their US sponsors that Turkey would not seek to move in across the border as they did in the Kurdish-dominated enclave of Afrin earlier this year.
According to the Britain-based Observatory, more than 330 Kurdish fighters have already perished in the course of the latest offensive against IS. Many fighters waging this deadly battle on jihadists in their remote desert hideouts feel they would rather die protecting their ancestral land from Turkey.
In Kobane cemetery, hundreds of people attended the funeral Tuesday of an SDF fighter who became the latest casualty of the jihadists’ bloody last stand in the Hajin region. Women wept over the coffin as patriotic songs were blared on speakers and local officials gave speeches condemning the Turkish bombardment. “The Turkish state is hostile to the Kurds and we have to right to respond to any attack,” Esmat Sheikh Hassan, a Kobane military official, told AFP at the funeral. “They don’t differentiate between soldiers and civilians. They strike inhabited villages,” he said, replying to Ankara’s claims its forces only strike military targets.
Hamo Masibkeradi, one of the residents who came to attend the funeral, points to the rows of marble tombstones that mark the graves of fighters who died fighting against IS. “These martyrs fell for humanity. The international community should help us,” he said. “Erdogan wants to wipe us out. The US cannot allow this injustice.”