Kurds shield their eyes as they gaze up into the sky at jets streaking overhead. It’s Oct. 14. We’re in southern Turkey just two kilometers from the Syrian border town of Kobani, where U.S. and allied warplanes are bombing Islamic State forces that have surrounded a small group of Syrian-Kurdish YPG fighters struggling to defend the town.
Mahmood Gawro, 41, goes to the border every day with his wife and two children to watch the battle for Kobani unfold. Gawro and his family are from Kobani. They fled on Oct. 2 and took shelter in the Turkish town of Suruc.
Gawro says he’s waiting for the YPG to drive back the militants so he and his family can go home. Hundreds of cars lying abandoned on the Syrian side of the border mutely testify to potentially thousands of refugees sharing Gawro’s plight. “I had two cars in Kobani, but when we fled at the border, the Turkish army did not let us bring them to Turkey,” Gawro explains.
“I saw jets yesterday, but today I cannot see them,” he continues. “But I hear their sounds,” he adds as he looks at the sky, trying to catch a glimpse of the warplanes. “We feel very happy when we hear jets’ sounds, [but] it would be much better if they bombed ISIS before they entered the town.”
Five men sit on the ground a few meters away. “Our sheikh came,” they say jokingly as jets fly overhead, using the local term for a powerful leader. “Sheikh Obama came.”
Farther down the border there’s a detachment of Turkish troops and tanks. Nearby, around 200 Kurds from Kobani and Turkey stand on a hill, watching the battle. Whenever there’s an air strike, they all point and shout.
There are a number of younger men. Some are from Turkey. Others are fighters from the Kurdish YPG militia, who say they want to go back to Kobani to fight. But the Turkish military won’t let them cross the border into Syria.
Rakan Qandili, a 19-year-old Kurdish fighter, says this is his fourth day in Suruc. He came to Turkey with three of his friends who had been wounded in the fighting. They’re now in a Turkish hospital.
“Islamic State attacked us with tanks and other heavy weapons,” Qandili says. “We fought them back. Three of my friends got wounded. We pulled back and I came to Turkey. I tried many times to go back to Kobani, but the Turkish army never allowed me to go.”
A young man interrupts our interview. “Let’s go to Kobani now,” he tells Qandili. He suggests going in groups of three in order to avoid Turkish troops. “We will go first and when we are some meters away, then the others should join us,” the young man says, pointing to seven other youths.
All the Kurdish youths walk toward Kobani. But they return an hour later—Turkish troops spotted them and sent them back.
A group of Kurdish journalists from Iraqi Kurdistan, here to cover the battle, also tries to cross the border, hoping to get firsthand stories from the front line in Kobani. The Turkish military sends them back, as well. A Turkish army vehicle drives 200 meters behind them, watching them carefully as they walk back.
Two of Qandili’s friends—both Kurds from Turkey—hide their faces with scarves when they see Turkish tanks approaching.
“The Turkish army sends back the Kurds from Syria when they try to enter Kobani from Turkey, but they capture the Kurds from Turkey when they want to go to Kobani,” one man explains, adding that the Turks have captured around 300 Kurds from Turkey who tried to go to Kobani.
He adds that Kurds from Turkey go to the border every day to prevent Islamic State fighters from sneaking into Kobani from Turkey. The man says they’ve caught three militant fighters in the act.
Dilsoz Barazi, another friend of Rakan, came to Turkey with his family. He says he’s a YPG fighter, too. “When Islamic State shelled Kobani with tanks, we had been told by the YPG to take the civilians out of the country, so I brought my family to Turkey,” Barazi says. “And now the Turkish army does not let me go back to Kobani.”
Mohamad Tahir and his wife are here from Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish city in Turkey. They say their son joined YPG fighters in Syria four months ago. After Islamic State entered Kobani, he called. Earlier on Oct. 14, he calls again and tells his parents to go to the border to meet him.
But the Turkish army prevents Tahir and his wife from approaching the border. Their son stays in Syria as bombs fall, refugees wait … and Kobani’s fate hangs in the balance.