Slide Show

Crossing Over

Kurdish Syrians flee an Islamic State offensive on the town of Kobani.

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Kurdish Syrian families wait to be collected from an area on the Turkish side of its border with Syria after coming across the border in trucks. Kobani continues to come under attack from Jihadists from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). The IS fighters have besieged Korbani from the east, south and west now, leaving only the northern edge - which abuts Turkey - passable. Photo: Andrew Quilty / Oculi for Foreign Policy

Fifty-six-year-old Mustafa Sheik limped along — a hand-made timber crutch under one arm and a plastic bag full of blankets under the other. His family flanked him on all sides, each of them with sacks and suitcases loaded with the essentials they’d managed to salvage in their hasty departure.

 

They had just crossed the border into Turkey. In Kobani, back on the Syrian side, their food and water had run out and now it was simply too dangerous as shells began falling closer and closer. Jihadists from the so-called Islamic State (IS) were attacking from the east, south, and west. Their only refuge was Turkey, the border of which marks the northern edge of Kobani itself.

 

From a hilltop less than a mile inside Turkey this afternoon, photojournalist Andrew Quilty, on assignment for Foreign Policy, sat with a dozen Kurdish Syrian men as they watched from a lone rooftop columns of smoke from mortars and tank shells rise in a wide arc around the white box-like buildings in the center of Kobani. With thousands of families being pushed from their homes and into Kobani as village after village fell to IS forces, the men knew that IS forces were closing in, but it wasn’t until now, with explosions erupting all around, that their presence was so real.

 

Mustafa’s family were just one of hundreds more that had been allowed through a makeshift, razor-wire border crossing — a narrow bottleneck, tightly guarded by Turkish police and military. Each person and their belongings were searched and their identification papers scrutinized. Waiting to cross the border, some had spent days in the swarm of people, vehicles and even farm animals. Women wept as they rested on piles of belongings after passing through the final gateway into Turkey.

 

Large groups of displaced people were conspicuously absent of young men. Women had left husbands and sons behind to defend the city from IS with the YPG — the Kurdish PKK’s armed wing that has maintained a relatively safe zone in the north eastern region of the war-ravaged country and who are the last bastion of hope for the people of Kobani.

 

They, like Mustafa and his family, would soon pile on to the back of one of the countless trucks that rolled in and out of the area throughout the day. Many had no idea where they would be taken while others had friends and relatives who would take them in.

 

Above, Kurdish Syrian families wait to be collected from an area on the Turkish side of the border with Syria.

 

Andrew Quilty

Trucks like this one would carry thousands of Kurdish Syrians across the border.

Andrew Quilty

A Kurdish Syrian woman and her daughters arrive at a checkpoint near Suruc, on the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border.

Andrew Quilty

A Kurdish Syrian family on their way to Turkey’s border with Syria.

Andrew Quilty

The daughter of an elderly Syrian man nurses him after he collapsed as the two attempted to return to Kobani. The pair later decided to return to Turkey, where medical treatment was more readily available.

Andrew Quilty

Kurdish Syrians from Kobani arrive at a collection point on the Turkish side of the border.

Andrew Quilty

Men watched and listened from a rooftop near the border as artillery fired by the Islamic State landed on Kobani.

Andrew Quilty

Women from a Kurdish Syrian family carry belongings toward the Turkish border with Syria, near Suruc.

Andrew Quilty

Syrian Kurdish families gather on the Turkish side of the border.

Andrew Quilty

A Kurdish Syrian family near the border.

Andrew Quilty

A man waits to collect family or friends on the Turkish side of the border.

Andrew Quilty

A truck carries Kurdish Syrians into Turkey.

Andrew Quilty

A family of Syrian Kurds carry their belongings from Kobani, which they fled after running out of food and water.

Andrew Quilty

Syrian Kurds on the Turkish side of the border.

Andrew Quilty

Women from Kobani wait with their children on the Turkish side of the border.

Andrew Quilty

Hundreds of Syrian Kurds from the city of Kobani and its surrounding villages wait on the Turkish side of the border.

Andrew Quilty

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