Turkey Backtracks, Allows Remains of Kurdish Anti-ISIS YPG Fighters to Return Home


The bodies of 13 Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) soldiers will finally be allowed to return to their families after 10 days held up at the Syrian/Turkish border, Turkish media reports. Despite having died fighting the Islamic State, their alliance with the YPG stains them with ties to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)– Turkey’s number one enemy.

Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reports that the bodies, being preserved in a refrigerated vehicle waiting for clearance to pass through the Turkish border, will be allowed through, after days of protests led largely by legislators of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a Kurd-friendly, minority-friendly center-left party that experienced significant gains during this summer’s legislative elections, at great expense to the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party.

HDP legislator Faysal Sariyildiz posted the news on Twitter of the soldiers’ return:

“10 days at the border pending the funeral of our 13 martyrs, [they] will be delivered to their families tonight,” the tweet reads in part.

Twelve of the 13 fighters were Turkish nations of Kurdish background who traveled to Syria to fight the Islamic State terrorist group. The 13th, Kevin Jochim, was a German citizen who had left his home country to do the same. Jochim was transferred to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to be flown back the Germany, while the rest will be transported back to Turkey.

Protesters and supporters condemned the government’s stalling actions as anti-Islamic and disrespectful to the families, as well as particularly difficult to explain given Turkey’s push for a military campaign to stop the Islamic State. “The bodies have been kept waiting in a truck for 11 days. How is this in accordance with Islam?” Emine Alkış, a woman who traveled to the border to support the soldiers’ families, told Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper. “[President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan: You talk about Islam, but where is this practice in Islam?”

Sariyildiz was one of a number of HDP representatives participating in rallies and sit-in protests on behalf of the fallen Kurdish soldiers; their return to Turkey may well be the first major political victory for the reinvigorated political party. Protests in the southeastern province of Mardin featured the presence of a number of other HDP representatives, including Gülser Yıldırım, who protested that keeping the bodies in a refrigerated truck would not do enough to preserve them in upwards of 120-degree weather. 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 protested.

In the province of Şırnak, four HDP representatives took the helmFaysal Sarıyıldız, Ferhat Encü, Aycan İrmez and Leyla Birlik, who joined a crowd demanding the soldiers’ return in front of the governors’ office. Zaman notes that the HDP organized many, if not all, of the protests in the soldiers’ name throughout Turkey.

Turkey has received international criticism following its announcement of an anti-Islamic State initiative in late July, as much of Turkey’s military attention appears to be focused not on ISIS, but on the PKK. The YPG has also alleged that Turkish airstrikes have targeted them, despite their success as one of the few militias to keep ISIS from fully controlling the Turkish border.

Turkish officials have, however, vowed to focus extensively on diminishing the strength of the Islamic State, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu promising the nation will engage in a “comprehensive battle” against ISIS with the United States’ help. “We’re seeing that manned and unmanned American planes are arriving and soon we will launch a comprehensive battle against Islamic State all together,” he said Tuesday. The United States has begun flying unmanned armed drones out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base, and it is expected that manned missions will begin soon.