Martin Chulov reports from north-east Syria on the deadliest day yet of the Turkish offensive
n a wooden hut at the back of a hospital, a woman cradled the head of a dead man and dabbed away grime and blood with a sponge. A blanket covered the man’s mutilated lower half. His blood-soaked military fatigues were still wrapped around his chest.
On a table behind, another body lay zipped into a large blue bag – a young woman this time, also dressed in green and wearing the patches of Kurdish forces. The medical worker straightened her head and gently swept the dead woman’s hair from her face. “We have five martyrs now,” she said, pointing across the makeshift morgue. “Three military and two civilians. The fighters were trying to rescue the others.”
The war between Kurdish forces and Turkey was well into its third day, the bloodiest yet, and ambulances, both real and makeshift, were arriving regularly. As they pulled up, locals and medics gathered around ready to tend to each new body and tell the story of how they had died. “He was a civilian,” one man said as he uncovered a young boy’s face. “Most of them are,” claimed another. “This is a war against the Kurdish people.”
In war the dead often give up their secrets. It was no different here in this Syrian town 20 miles from the frontline where many of those killed were being brought. So far the majority have been fighters torn apart by Turkish weapons fired into the town of Ras al-Ayn, from which civilians continued to flee on Friday along the only road to safety.
In the sky, fighter planes and vultures circled. The jets picked out targets beneath and the circling birds fed on the aftermath. “There are 10 martyrs in the field, near the blue building,” said a local man, sheltering under a shopfront a mile from Ras al-Ayn. “A plane bombed them this morning.”
Further down the road a second airstrike had hit a checkpoint, all but sealing the town and trapping the few civilians who remained. The thud of artillery rounds sent a mushroom cloud of concrete dust soaring, yet the occasional truck dared to run the gauntlet. Teaming with mattresses, bags and the odd caged parrot, they made their way towards the relative safety of Tal Tamir, a town used as a waypoint by many of those fleeing.
Ambulances sped past them, disgorging the old and young at the hospital entrance or continuing around the back if there was nothing more to do. A woman sat on her haunches singing songs to her dead son inside. Next to her, a Kurdish woman wrapped large pieces of cotton wool in bandages and laid them on the ground.
“What happened to him?” a Kurdish morgue worker asked the mourning Arab mother as she placed a veil over her hair. “We were sitting outside and the bullets came; one hit him in the head,” she replied. “I don’t know where it came from.”
Across the yard, two men had just finished cutting body armour from two corpses and removing ammunition magazines from their webbing. Dripping blood pooled at their feet as they piled the remains into black plastic bags. “They were trying to pull out the civilians and our comrades were cut in half. A three-year-old girl lost her life.”
The narrative has quickly become an essential part of the Kurdish fight with Turkey, and who is dying is central. Halfway between Tal Tamir and Ras al-Ayn, a Turkish Kurd in control of a meeting point repeated a claim made many times in the past three days, in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to sever a four-year alliance: that the world had conspired throughout history against the Kurds, and this time was no different.
On the road back to Qamishli, a foreboding black plume suddenly appeared. War had struck the heart of the largest city in north-east Syria. “There’s been an attack near the airport,” shouted a local over the phone. The smoke came from a car bomb, not a Turkish attack. The chaotic aftermath of steam, grime and scorched steel littered much of a city block as firefighters and rescuers attempted to gain control.
“There was a massive explosion, then all this,” said Razeq Ahmad, a falafel seller who had been standing 20 metres away and somehow emerged unscathed. At least two other people had been killed and another five maimed by an attack that has added yet another dimension to the war for Kurdish lands. Islamic State were the suspects this time.
“Whenever there’s chaos you’ll find them,” said Kawa Maqso. “Who else could have done this?”
Source: The Guardian