Syrian Kurds give women grenades in last-ditch defense against Islamic State

Islamic State forces are trying to oust the Kurdish defenders of Kobane, a Syrian town on the border with Turkey. News agencies have posted photographs showing the militants apparently raising their flag in the town, which Turkey had vowed to defend. 

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Smoke rises after a shell lands in Kobane in Syria as fighting intensifies between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. Kobane, also known as Ayn Arab and its surrounding areas have been under attack since mid-September, with militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages.

Fighting around Kobane is turning increasingly desperate, as the forces of the self-declared Islamic State threaten to overrun the Syrian border town's Kurdish defenders.

Syrian Kurdish official Idris Nahsen told Agence France-Presse that IS forces are within a kilometer of the town to the south, but their latest attempt to advance had been repulsed by Kurdish forces. Although airstrikes by US-led coalition forces had helped slow the IS advance on Saturday, Mr. Nahsen said airstrikes alone would not be enough to break the siege on Kobane.

NBC News reports that the situation is becoming desperate in Kobane, where civilians of all ages are being recruited to help with the town's defense.

"Everybody is fighting in Kobani. There are women my age who have been given hand grenades to throw," said 63-year-old Alife Ali, as she waited in the hospital, a small child in her arms. "Our people dug a [16 feet] deep and wide ditch around the town to protect it. We will fight to the last person." Hassan waited anxiously outside a room for a 20-year-old female relative, wounded in the fighting. "She took up arms," he said. "They gave her a gun though she had no experience." His mother, sitting next to him, said of ISIS: "God curse them. They are worse than monsters. Look at what they did to our people."

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a female suicide bomber was among those who engaged IS forces, killing herself at an IS post on Sunday. The Observatory told AFP that is was the first time that such a tactic has been used by Kurdish fighters against the Islamic militants. Nahsen confirmed to AFP that the bombing had taken place, though he did not say whether it would be repeated. "I don't know. It is related to the situation. We don't have this strategy," he said.

The BBC reports that the Kurds in Kobane are angry that they have yet to receive help from Turkey, which promised last week that it would prevent the town from falling to the IS advance. Turkey has yet to act beyond patrolling the border, however. Turkish forces did deploy tear gas Monday against crowds of observers and reporters who had gathered along the border. The BBC's Paul Adams reports that one of the gas canisters shattered their vehicle's rear windshield and set the van on fire briefly.

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that Turkey's apparent reluctance to act may stem from fears of fueling a resurgence of Kurdish separatism, which it has long tried to suppress. The Monitor notes that the Turkish government has been negotiating a peace deal with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed Kurdish militant group, but that deal is now in jeopardy. 

In return for expanded freedoms, the government wants the PKK to lay down its arms. But the strife in Kobane could put those talks at risk. Last week Murat Karayilan, a high-ranking commander in the PKK, told a Kurdish TV station that peace negotiations with the Turkish government were "finished."

“The cease-fire and the peace process is in a very fragile situation,” Ertugrul Kurkcu, a member of Parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, the political affiliate of the PKK, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

“The state of the cease-fire is not only determined by the situation in Turkey, but the situation in the entire Kurdish nation,” Mr. Kurkcu says, alluding to the Kurdish-populated region of Syria, referred to by Kurds as Rojava.

Cenk Sidar, CEO of Sidar Global Partners, a Turkey-focused political and strategic risk consultancy firm, told the Monitor that “The perception that the Turks weren’t quickly willing to help the Kurds in Kobane has created a trauma in Kurdish minds and it will be very hard to restore trust.” If Kobane falls to IS forces, Mr. Sidar said, "The peace process will be over."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.