WASHINGTON / ISTANBUL-- Carnage may soon befall the people of Kobani, a Syrian enclave hosting Christian, Kurdish and Turkmen refugees of the Syrian civil war, as Islamic State fighters pincered the city limits on Tuesday with the stated intention of killing its inhabitants.
Up to 45,000 civilians are reportedly besieged there without an escape route, raising fears in Western capitals of a massacre should Islamic State take the city in the coming hours.
Just over the border, Turkish security forces have looked on passively for a week as Islamic State forces coalesced. Local Kurdish groups claim up to 9,000 Islamic State terrorists have come from as far as Iraq to take the city and to impose the group’s law and order – the demand that all of its residents convert to a strict Sunni interpretation of Shari’a law, or die.
Kobani’s tallest tower is already crowned with the black flag of Islamic State, whose fighters began infiltrating the city districts on Tuesday.
Officials in Ankara have said in recent days that it will do what it must to protect the people of Turkey. But Kurds in Kobani, and elsewhere in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region spanning northern Syria and northern Iraq, fear Turkey’s position on Kurdish separatism will prevent it from aiding the embattled population.
US Vice President Joe Biden criticized Turkey this week for its tepid response to the crisis, which he called disproportionate to the threat Islamic State poses to Turkey itself. But Turkey’s deputy prime minister said on Tuesday that it was Washington, not Ankara, that was responding inadequately.
Ankara “emphasized to US officials the necessity of immediately ramping up air bombardment in a more active and efficient way,” Deputy Prime Minister Yalcın Akdogan said.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his country’s requests of the West for the establishment of a no-fly zone in Turkey and a secure training zone for Syrian rebels, were warnings gone unanswered.
“The problem of ISIS [Islamic State],” Erdogan said, “cannot be solved via air bombardment. Right now Kobani is about to fall.”
Erdogan wants US efforts to expand beyond Islamic State to Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, who is also fighting the Sunni Islamist group.
New US-led strikes against Islamic State fighters on Tuesday did not seem to inhibit the advance. Three strikes were recorded against heavy arms of the terrorist network, including a tank that had been shelling the city.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told his parliament that a tragedy would soon befall Kobani, and that the situation required quick action from the US-led coalition.
“A lot is at stake in Kobani, and everything must be done so that the Daesh [Islamic State] terrorists are stopped and pushed back,” Fabius said.
France is operating over Iraq with its air force, but has not yet joined coalition forces operating over Syria.
US President Barack Obama originally began the US air campaign against Islamic State to prevent a genocide against the Yazidi people of Iraq, who were stranded on a mountaintop without resources and surrounded by Islamic State fighters. At that time, he also vowed to protect Erbil, a larger Kurdish city in Iraq’s north, host to thousands of American contractors and government workers.
Already 400 have died in the three-week fight for Kobani, one monitoring group reported on Tuesday. Local military leaders believe Islamic State can take the city within 24 hours.
And in Istanbul, what began as a downtown rally of about 50 seated protesters chanting, “Kobani everywhere, resistance everywhere!” erupted shortly after 11 p.m. into violent clashes with police across the city.
In recent weeks, as Turkey has worked to define its role in the American-led coalition, the jihadist group has moved on the Kurdish-controlled pockets of Syria, along its border with Turkey. Since the middle of September, over 150,000 Kurdish refugees have fled across the border into Turkey. Surrounded by Islamic State on three sides and by the Turkish border on the fourth, the Kurdish enclave of Kobani, known officially as Ayn al-Arab, has been the epicenter of the struggle.
At 11:15 p.m. Monday, a crowd of protesters swept through the Tarlabasi district of downtown Istanbul – a poor neighborhood of Kurds, Syrian refugees and Romanis – chanting and banging on doors along Kalyoncu Kulluk, the neighborhood’s narrow main thoroughfare. Their actions drew a police response of tear gas and rubber bullets. The protesters proceeded to shut down Tarlabasi Avenue, which separates the neighborhood from Istanbul’s chief downtown district.
At 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, a major sit-in closed off foot traffic on Istiklal Avenue, and tear gas and rubber bullets were reportedly fired on a thousand protesters crowding Taksim Square, the center of downtown Istanbul, as police helicopters flew overhead. At the same time, the Besiktas neighborhood’s main avenue, Barbaros Avenue, was also shut down by crowds of protesters.
Amid several blasts, a city bus was set afire in the Gazi neighborhood, according to footage from Dogan News Agency, a Turkish bureau.
A Russia Today video shows an exchange on an Istanbul side street between protesters and Turkish military police – the former lobbing fire bombs, the latter decamping from blue vans and firing tear gas canisters.
Similarly the image of an overturned police car has circulated on Twitter, along with the claim that two Turkish policemen have been seriously wounded in an attack on a municipal police station in the Istanbul neighborhood of Bagcilar. Hundreds of photos available online show the streets of several Istanbul neighborhoods lined with flames.
Reports have surfaced of protests across the Kurdish-inhabited regions of eastern Turkey. In the de facto capital city of Turkey’s Kurdish regions, violent clashes were reported “on every street.” In Mardin, a large public bust of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was torn down, and six police cars were set afire. In Van, where large signs calling for awareness of Kobani’s desperate situation appeared in the past week, protesters clashed with Turkish police.
Solidarity protests have been reported in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, as well as outside the Dutch parliament in Amsterdam and the Austrian parliament in Vienna, where Kurdish diaspora populations are rallying behind the Kurdish military stand in Kobani.