Oct 28, 2014 8:24 AM
Turkish villages give Syrian Kurds shelter, hope
The Associated Press
ALANYURT, Turkey (AP) Just eight families used to inhabit this small hamlet jutting into no-man's land on the Turkish-Syrian border, eking out a living from the land, living in mud-brick houses yards away from Turkish army lookout posts.
Now, as thick black smoke rises from the besieged Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani in the distance, the village's population has more than doubled.
In mid-September, up to 80 terrified refugees streamed into Alanyurt which locals call by its Kurdish name of Zahwan fleeing an onslaught by extremists from the Islamic State group on Kobani and surrounding villages. Most left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Bader Uzgar, head of the village, took them in.
Nearly 200,000 people have fled into Turkey from Kobani, which sits right on the border. While many have found refuge in camps set up by authorities around the nearby Turkish town of Suruc, the vast majority have been taken in by relatives, friends or even total strangers. They live in people's homes, in empty storehouses or in construction sites.
At a conference Tuesday in Berlin, Syria's neighbors urged European countries to open their doors to more refugees from the 3 year civil war, and asked for immediate financial and technological help as their infrastructures buckle under the massive refugee influx. More than 3 million people have fled Syria because of the conflict, and another 6 million are displaced within Syria.
For one young couple, Suruc resident Bozan Sudun came up with a novel idea. With no room at home, he built a tent on his roof for a newlywed couple and three of their relatives.
"They were just sitting there, the two of them," looking for an empty house, he explained. "I told them there was no house, but I could build a tent for them and they could eat with us every day."
Now the makeshift tent, lined with rugs and a few cushions, is home for 20-year-old Mays Osman, a nurse from Kobani, and her carpenter husband. Their three relatives work in the cotton fields and return every few days.
Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, or AFAD, provides three hot meals per day for 60,000 people in the Suruc area, said agency spokesman Dogan Eskinat. But there are so many refugees scattered across the region's towns and villages that many rely on locals.
"I will help the Syrian people until I die," said Uzgar, whose village now houses and feeds 10 refugee families, all distant relatives. "We don't know how long we can continue like this, but they are our relatives. Whatever we have, we will give them."
He and his wife gave up their own one-room home and moved into a smaller house behind it.
On the other side of the border, the land and villages are controlled by IS close enough for stray shots and mortars to hit Alanyurt as the Kurdish People's Protection Units battle with Islamic extremists for control of Kobani. The minaret of Alanyurt's mosque bears the scars of fighting and a nearby house was hit by a mortar.
But while villagers and refugees alike in Alanyurt fled to Suruc for a week during heavy fighting earlier this month, they soon returned.
"If we are all to die, let us die here," said Uzgar's wife Alia Uzgar. "We were born here and we will die here."
For Fatima Kurdi, apart from housing her eight children, the village holds another big benefit.
"From here, we can see Kobani all the time," said the 42-year-old, gazing across the brown rocky fields to pillars of thick smoke rising from her town.
Mahan Kasari fears she may never see her home again. At 87 and no longer able to walk, Kasari had to be carried on a thin mattress as she and her extended family fled the shelling of Sheran, a village five kilometers (3 miles) southeast of Kobani.
For two nights, they slept in Alanyurt's mosque. But there were too many people to stay for long, and now she and her relatives 46 people from 11 families, including more than a dozen young children live in an empty storeroom in Suruc.
"I wish I were home and they had buried me in the cemetery there," said Kasari, who is renowned for fixing broken bones and strained muscles. "We are dying 100 times a day. Every night we hear the bombing."
Airstrikes carried out by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic extremists in Kobani reverberate across Suruc at night, making windows in the town rattle.
Rugs cover the bare concrete floor of the storeroom. Piles of mattresses are stacked up, ready to be laid out side by side at night. In the back, newly laid concrete bricks have closed off a small space for washing. The toilet is a nearby field.
Muhammad Rammo, who heads the extended family and left behind three shops, said a man living in Suruc offered them this store room. Muhammad Ali Qadri Karro provided electricity and water for free, brought blankets and food, a gas bottle and stove for cooking.
"He is helping us as much as he can," Rammo said. But the days ahead look bleak.
"We don't have much money and winter is coming," he said. "The future is very bad for us."