Kobane: Global Solidarity, Domestic Blind Eye

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International support for Kurds, especially the beleaguered people of Kobane, is at an all-time high.

Across Turkey, the plight of Kobane — a Syrian border town — is on everyone’s mind. On October 7, thousands hit the streets to protest the Turkish government’s lack of action against the looming threat of the Islamic State (IS). Protests raged in 22 Turkish cities, including Istanbul, and at least 15 people died during vicious clashes with Turkey’s notorious riot police.

In Istanbul, the usual hotspots were affected. The busy areas of Taksim Square, Besiktas and Kadikoy were filled with clouds of smoke and tear gas, as armies of police fought to keep protesters under control. As always in these protests, tourists and innocent bystanders were fair game too. No one in the vicinity was spared a gassing.

Turkish media barely mentioned the protests, therefore, social media was the only way to find out what was happening. On Facebook and Twitter, Turkish and expat residents alike kept each other constantly updated on the latest developments involving armed police, gas and flames. Many cancelled or rerouted their evening plans. But overall, despite the inconvenience, everyone was full of sympathy and support for the beleaguered people of Kobane, and many were incensed by the Turkish government’s continued failure to act.

People within and outside of Turkey were especially outraged when the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a public speech in which he likened IS to the Kurdish separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), claiming they were both “terrorist organizations.” This attitude hints strongly at the reasoning that may drive Turkey’s reluctance to take military action, or indeed to allow Kobane’s Kurds across the border to safety.

In short, it seems the government’s tensions with the PKK run deep — so deep they may even outweigh basic humanitarian concerns. Thousands of lives are at risk, yet Turkey still hesitates because of a long-running feud over the Kurdish desire for independence.

After these protests, the morning dawned with the choking odor of tear gas still lingering in Istanbul’s streets. But there was a glimmer of hope in some news reports, which have indicated that US airstrikes have been effective in driving IS fighters away from Kobane, killing some of them. But nevertheless, if Turkey does not lift a finger to assist, Kurds will not forget in a hurry.

International support for the Kurds, especially the beleaguered people of Kobane, is at an all-time high. Solidarity protests have been springing up around the world, from Berlin to Washington DC. Unexpected audiences, such as average people from English villages, who have hardly traveled in their lives, have heard about the situation and are cheering for the Kurds against IS.

Indeed, when the next elections in 2015 arrive, this may end up as a misjudgment for the ruling party. Kurdish voters make up a large chunk of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) voter base. Kurds are fiercely loyal to their brethren, so surely they will have long memories about Kobane when election day rolls around again.

There’s a lot of anger in Turkey right now. Violent clashes continue to rear up across the country, with as many as 22 people already reported dead. Social media is buzzing with discussion, with commentators in Istanbul saying the peace process between Turkey and the PKK could be at risk. One observer even claimed that the “entire future of Turkey could hang on the tone Erdogan takes in his next speech” — depending on whether the president chooses to be conciliatory toward the Kurds, or defiantly provocative.

People have even expressed fears that civil war could break out in Turkey, if the Kurds in Kobane do not receive some measure of support from the Turkish government. It is highly concerning to imagine the reaction in Turkey if IS militants actually get inside Kobane and carry out their infamous brutalities.

International support for the Kurds, especially the beleaguered people of Kobane, is at an all-time high. Solidarity protests have been springing up around the world, from Berlin to Washington DC. Unexpected audiences, such as average people from English villages, who have hardly traveled in their lives, have heard about the situation and are cheering for the Kurds against IS. Kobane has become famous for all the wrong reasons.

This level of reach clearly demonstrates how much Kobane has stirred people’s emotions. The bravery shown by the Kurds living there, especially by the famous female fighters, has also helped burnish the Kurdish image around the world. Sadly, none of this will matter much if Kobane falls.

All that remains now is perhaps the most difficult task of all: For Turkey to choose a wise path as it navigates this most perilous tightrope.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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One Reply to “Kobane: Global Solidarity, Domestic Blind Eye”

  1. A very interesting article. I hadn't previously considered how Turkish inaction might affect the 2015 elections.
    Turkey's hesitancy is a bit confusing, considering it already recognizes IS as a threat, it only makes sense to take action as soon as possible. I wonder if the plan here is to use the Kobane issue as leverage to force the US and other allies to commit ground forces to the cause.

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