Leaders of the besieged Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane held talks this week with the Turkish government to press their plea for arms to counter Islamic State militants surrounding the town, but Turkey has not responded to the request, a spokesman for the Kobane leadership said Friday.
Islamic State shelling of Kobane intensified Friday, with at least 20 shells landing in the city. But a spokesman for the canton said Friday evening that Islamic State forces remained about 1 1/2 miles from the city and had not advanced in the previous 24 hours.
The Syrian Kurds’ approach for assistance from Turkey was unusual, given that Turkey considers the group that governs Kobane a terrorist organization. Idriss Nassan, the deputy foreign affairs representative for the Kobane government, said his boss, Omar Alloush, had met with officials in Ankara at the beginning of the week. Nassan called the talks “positive.”
But there was no sign of a decision to act Friday, one day after Parliament authorized the Turkish military to deploy forces to counter the Islamic State.
“We do not want Kobane to fall. We will do all that we can to ensure it does not,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview Thursday night. But he said Turkey is not in a “state of war” and added that if the town falls, it would not be Turkey’s responsibility, but that of the PYD, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party.
The PYD is the Syrian affiliate of the banned Kurdish Workers Party, known as the PKK by its Kurdish initials, which Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union have designated a terrorist group. The PYD also has been accused of allying itself with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, thereby alienating itself from Turkey and from most of the Syrian rebel forces.
“The PYD is responsible for developments in Kobane,” Davutoglu said.
What role Turkey might play in the anti-Islamic State coalition has been the subject of speculation since the country declined to sign a joint statement with other coalition members last month. Turkey and the United States are at odds over the goals of the intervention, with Turkey seeking the imposition of a no-fly zone in parts of Syria and greater emphasis on toppling Assad’s government, while the United States has said its effort is focused on “degrading and destroying” the Islamic State.
On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden talked by phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said in a brief statement, but there was no indication they had reached an agreement.
Meanwhile, Nassan said he expects Islamic State forces to enter Kobane soon. “They have announced they intend to pray in Kobane during the Eid,” Idriss said, referring to the Muslim religious holiday that begins Saturday. But he predicted that if they do, fighters of the People’s Protective Unit, or the YPG militia, are waiting, and the extremists “will find their grave in Kobane.”
The Kobane leadership made its plea for heavy weapons and ammunition from Turkey around Sept. 22, he said. “Until now, we haven’t had a response,” he said.
How Turkey responds to the Islamic State advance in Kobane also could affect the peace process Turkey began last year with separatist Kurds of the PKK, which has been waging a war for greater autonomy for three decades. On Thursday, Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader who’s the critical Kurdish player in the negotiations, warned that if Kobane falls in a massacre, the peace process would end.
Davutoglu rejected linking the fate of Kobane to the peace talks. “The peace process is our national project. It concerns our citizens,” he said. “We would still have the peace process even if it were not for these incidents.”
McClatchy special correspondent Mousab Alhamadee contributed to this report.