Turkey’s wall on Syrian border divides Kurds
Övgü Pınar - 26/11/2013
Nusaybin and Qamishli. Two towns that were once parts of the ancient city of Nisibis. After the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, the city was divided in two: Nusaybin in Turkey and Qamishli in Syria. Since then, although there was the physical frontier between the two towns, the residents could come and go between each other to see their relatives living on the other side of the border. But now Turkey has started building a wall between the towns, creating an outrage in the mostly Kurdish population.
The Turkish authorities sent construction crews in October to Nusaybin to start building the wall with barbed wires. The Turkish Interior Ministry said the aim was to provide security in the region, to stop illegal crossings and smuggling from and to the war torn Syria.
But this argument is not very credible to the Kurdish community. They underline that the Turkish-Syrian border runs a total of 910 km, but the wall is being built on a tiny part of that border: On a 7 km stretch between Nusaybin and Qamishli. The wall will be 1.5 m high and 50 cm thick, and on top there will be a further 1.5 meters of barbed wire.
The habitants of Nusaybin and Qamishli claim that the real aim is to divide the Kurdish population.
Ayşe Gökkan, the mayor of Nusaybin from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP), started a hunger strike against the wall on October 30. She said she was not informed by the government about the plans to build the wall and learnt it from newspapers. She was joined by around 50 other people on hunger strike.
One of the hunger strikers, member of the Mardin Provincial Council, Salih Tekin says “Building a wall on a tiny segment means nothing. Also, there are four or five parallel rows of barbed wire. People have been crossing the minefield and barbed wire since the 1950s. Despite all the fatalities and injuries, the mines and barbed wire could not stop people from crossing, because Nusaybin-Qamishli is one of many towns divided between Turkey and Syria. The border split families. Two towns were divided only by a railway track. That is why the people still describe the area as serhat (above the track) and binhat (below the track). People will still continue to cross the border to visit their relatives.”
Thousands of people gathered on the border to protest the building of the wall on November 7, and they were fiercely dispersed by the Turkish police using tear gas.
The same day, a temporary stop to the construction was announced and Ayşe Gökkan, the mayor, stopped the hunger strike. However some media reports stated the construction was restarted two days later.
Gökkan made a statement before ending the hunger strike saying “The borders are a shame. There’s no need for the borders. Building of walls inside the borders is even a bigger shame.”
Gökkan also dismissed the government’s claim that the wall is being built for security reasons. She mentioned that “There have never been fire fights across this border. The terrain is completely flat and can be easily monitored. There are landmines. This is probably the safest bit of our border with Syria” and asked “Why do they not build walls further west, where rebel fighters and Al-Qaeda are allowed to cross the border freely?"
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on the other hand, denied this claim and said “It is out of the question that groups like al Nusra and al Qaeda can take shelter in our country."
Out of the 2 million people who have fled Syria, around 600 thousand took shelter in Turkey. The Turkish government, strongly opposed to Bashar Assad, is continuously accused of supporting rebel fighters close to Al-Qaeda.
Although the government denies supporting rebel groups associated with Al-Qaeda, the residents of Qamishli and Nusaybin claim that the building of the wall is an evidence of this support, as Islamist groups such as “Jabhat al-Nusra” and “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” have been attacking Kurdish villages in Syria.
They insist that the Turkish government was disturbed by the taking over of some Kurdish towns in Syria by the Kurds.
At a period when Turkey is involved in peace talks with PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) after tens of years of war, it is assumed that the government could see a strong Kurdish rule just across its borders as a problem. A problem that could make it lose its high hand in the peace negotiations.