1 November marks the anniversary of a call in Turkey by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) for international solidarity with Syria’s north-eastern city of Kobanê, a day known as ‘World Kobanê Day’ that marks the historical struggle put up against the brutal siege of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Autumn of 2014.
On 1 November 2014, thousands of people took to the streets all over Turkey upon the call of the HDP and demonstrations took place in various cities with the largest ones happening in Diyarbakır (Amed) and Suruç (Pirsûs), a town adjacent to Kobanê.
Ankara had long resisted all demands for supporting the fighters in Kobanê, arguing that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) leading the resistance against ISIS was linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), labelled a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the European Union.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç had claimed only two weeks earlier in a disparaging tone that the ‘PKK was avoiding fighting in Kobanê because it did not have such a capability’.
“They can only fight in the mountains and against soldiers, police, teachers and judges… It’s easy to kidnap people, but they could not and cannot fight in Kobanê,” Arınç had said.
The deputy chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Yasin Aktan had said to the BBC that ISIS was an ‘outcome of the Assad regime’, and upon a question whether Turkey was unwilling to help the Kurds in Kobanê he replied, asking, “You mean we should help and favour one terrorist organisation over the other?”
President Tayyip Erdoğan, on the last day of October, condemned the international focus on Kobanê.
“Why Kobanê? Why not Idlib, why not Hama, why not Homs, why not Iraq, which is 40 percent occupied by ISIS?” he asked at a press conference. “There are now no people in Kobanê except for 2,000 fighters. Is this why this area is continually being bombed? It is not possible to comprehend this.”
Turkey’s hostile attitude towards the Kurdish resistance and any solidarity with it remained intact although it didn’t choose to prevent the peshmerga from uniting with the fighters of the People’s Defence Forces (YPG) at that particular phase in the battle of Kobanê.
Only five days later, a young woman who was trying to cross with a group of others into Kobanê, now partially under ISIS control, was reportedly shot and killed by Turkish soldiers.
Although the commander of the soldiers claimed they fired only gas canisters at the group, the Forensic Medicine Institution later concluded that there was no evidence that Kader Ortakaya, a graduate student at Marmara University, was killed by ‘any other traumatic effect other than a cartridge bullet’.
The battle of Kobanê concluded with the victory of the resistance and the city was liberated from ISIS only by mid March 2015, after having claimed the lives of over 700 YPG/YPJ fighters, hundreds of civilians, and led to the displacement of more than 400,000 people.
As imprisoned HDP co chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ alongside many other senior party officials have been facing court trials for their calls for solidarity with Kobanê in the autumn of 2014 on allegations that they incited violence resulting in multiple deaths, the Kurdish-majority city is still facing the threat of war and occupation, this time by Turkish armed forces.
The Turkish pro government daily Türkiye reported on 25 October that a meeting had recently been held in Ankara with the attendance of senior Turkish military officers and heads of Turkey’s proxy groups in Syria. The article revealed that a new military operation by Turkey in northern Syria with a force of 35,000 was in the planning stages.
“Ayn al-Arab (Kobane) is among the priority objectives in the comprehensive cleansing operation that Turkey is preparing for” the article said. “It’s been stated that Ayn al-Arab should be liberated in order to disrupt PKK’s Qamislo-Minbic-Kobane line and to establish a direct link between the regions covered by the Operation Euphrates Shield and the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tel Abyad.”
A recent court ruling has been another indication of the significance of Kobanê for Ankara, not only in the geopolitical sense but also in the ideological and psychological.
Veysi Altay, a journalist and the director of the documentary ‘Nû Jîn’ telling the story of the female fighters in Kobanê was sentenced to two years and six months in prison on 8 October 2021 for allegedly ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’.