Members of the Kurdish diaspora have been staging protests and hunger strikes around the world in support of calls by Kurdish leaders in Syria for weapons to help their forces fighting Islamic State (Isis) in the besieged border town of Kobani, where they fear a massacre if support does not arrive soon.
While Kurds have taken to the streets of European cities, those in Britain have initiated a hunger strike close to the gates of Downing Street as part of a campaign calling for the UK to provide Kurdish forces with advanced weapons.
Volkan Celebi, a 22-year-old who travelled from Liverpool to take part in the hunger strike along with 29 others, said: “We are demanding heavy weapons and antitank missiles from the UK government and other European governments, not just the UK.
We are just here and we will continue our hunger strike until we take it.” Those taking part in the London protest include sympathisers of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organisation in many western states including the UK and has close links to the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD), a group representing Kurds in Syria.
It says that its calls for arms have been rebuffed by the United States and European nations and blames Turkey for obstructing his efforts. Turkey, a Nato member that shares a long border with Syria, has so far declined to take a frontline role, fearful that the military action will strengthen President Bashar al-Assad and bolster the Syrian Kurdish militants allied to the outlawed PKK in Turkey.
This is despite an advance in the past 10 days by Isis fighters against the Kurdish YPG forces, the armed wing of the PYD, at Kobani, near the frontier that has caused the fastest refugee exodus of the three-year civil war. Saleh Muslim, head of the PYD, told Reuters during a diplomatic mission to Europe:
“We are asking everybody who can help us to provide weapons to the people fighting against tanks and artillery, but nobody is doing anything. There will be many who are martyred.” Isis has laid siege from three sides to Kobani, where a steady stream of people, mostly men, have been crossing the border back into Syria, apparently to help defend the town.
Muslim said most of them were originally from the area and had returned to defend the city after earlier fleeing to Turkey. He said that Turkey was preventing some fighters from entering Syria. Evrim Yilmaz, 36, a politics student at the University of London’s Soas and a member of Roj Women, a Kurdish grassroots women’s rights movement based in London, said:
“Up to 2,000 women [have been] kidnapped and raped by Isis. We want our women back. All countries have a responsibility to find them and bring our women to us.” The UK began providing heavy machine guns and ammunition last month to forces from the Kurdish regional government who are fighting Isil in Iraq.
by Aaron Walawalkar and Ben Quinn