Bodies of Anti-ISIS Kurdish Fighters Decompose in Syria as Turkey Bans Homecoming


Relatives of fallen Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters in Turkey say the Turkish government is denying permission for the bodies to return to Turkish soil to be buried. A group of 12 bodies, including that of a German national fighting in Syria, have been waiting in a refrigerated truck on the Syrian border for more than one week for permission to enter Turkey.

Relatives, Kurdish supporters, and legislators from Turkey’s Kurd-friendly People’s Democratic Party (HDP) staged numerous protests over the weekend calling for the Turkish government to allow Turkish Kurd families to bury their dead. At a sit-in protest in the southeastern province of Mardin, HDP legislator Gülser Yıldırım noted that the soldiers’ bodies were, despite the refrigeration, decomposing due to the intense heat in Syria, and that the families deserved the opportunity to bury their dead even if the Turkish government disapproved of the YPG’s support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “The bodies waiting at the border must be allowed to enter Turkey immediately. Nowhere in the world, not even during wars, are funerals treated this way. The bodies have been waiting in this hot weather for eight days. This is disrespectful, unlawful and unjust,” he said.

The YPG and its female equivalent, the YPJ, are armed militias currently fighting the Islamic State in Syria. They are widely considered among the most successful units fighting ISIS, most prominently liberating the Syrian Turkish border town of Kobani earlier this year, preventing the Islamic State from controlling miles of Turkish border and thus replenishing its jihadi population freely. The YPG have strong ties to the PKK, however, a Marxist terrorist group the Turkish government has declared war on following a terrorist attack killing mostly Kurds in the Turkish border town of Suruç. Despite the Turkish government claiming its military actions would focus on creating an “ISIL-free zone” in Syria, they have instead almost entirely focused on attacking PKK targets. The YPG have also complained of having some strategic areas targeted by Turkish airstrikes, making it more difficult for them to attack the Islamic State.

Preventing the bodies of those killed by the Islamic State to return home, while claiming to be waging a war against the Islamic State, for many Kurds in Turkey, crosses a new line. “It is disrespectful to the deceased, to their families and to the state to keep the bodies waiting for days in a truck,” Nuşirevan Elçi, the head of the Şırnak Bar Association, told Turkey’s Zaman. “It is not humane to not allow a person’s body into the country and to prevent the burial proceedings.” Zaman notes that police clashed with protesters all weekend demanding the return of these bodies, blocking roads and being attacked with tear gas for the transgression.

Leyla Imret, the mayor of the town of Cizre, tells Vice News that she, too, experienced the tear gas attacks, as well as the use of water cannons and rubber bullets to subdue the mostly Kurdish protesters. Vice spoke to relatives of those being held on the border, who say they have prepared everything to bury their relatives and are in shock that they are being denied this basic right. “It’s been eight or nine days. We have dug his grave, everything is ready, we need only his body,” said Ali Coskun, uncle of Ferit Coskun, who died fighting the Islamic State.

Salih Gulenc, a Kurdish representative, tells Vice this is unprecedented. When asked why the bodies could not pass, he said, “authorities at the border told them the decision not to allow the 13 to pass came from the prime minister’s office in Ankara, and that Sirnak governor Ali Ihsan Su would not acknowledge their repeated attempts to make contact.” Berlin is reportedly in contact with Ankara to discuss the transfer of the German citizen, but the fate of his remains is as unclear as those of the Turkish nationals.

The situation has united PKK-supporting Turks with the leadership of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, which is significantly friendlier towards Turkey and opposes a PKK presence in Iraq. KRG President Masoud Barzani has met with the relatives of the 12 fighters killed and vowed to urge the Turkish government to allow the fallen warriors to return home.

Barzani promised:

They sacrificed their lives for the free world and for the Kurdish cause, which [is] why we are concerned that their bodies are being held at the border. …  We will continue to try to get permission to get the bodies back in to their land. If Turkey won’t let them in, here is your home as well and if you let us, we will proudly bury them with honor.