Anger as wounded Syria Kurds die stranded at Turkish border

Anger as wounded Syria Kurds die stranded at Turkish border
Syrian Kurds use binoculars as they stand on a hill looking down on clashes between jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish fighters, close to the Turkish-Syrian border in Sanlinurfa province, on September 28, 2014.

SURUC, Turkey - With medical supplies depleted in the war-ravaged north Syrian town of Kobani, Kurdish activist Blesa Omar rushed three comrades wounded in battle against Islamic State fighters straight to the border to dispatch them to a Turkish hospital.

He spent the next four hours watching them die, one by one, from what he believes were treatable shrapnel wounds, while Turkish border guards refused to let them through the frontier. "To me it is clear they died because they waited so long.

If they had received help, even up to one hour before their deaths, they could have lived," said Omar, 34, an ethnic Kurd originally from Iraq who holds Swedish nationality.

"Once the soldiers realised they were dead, they said, 'Now you can cross with the bodies.' I cannot forget that. It was total chaos, it was a catastrophe," he said, choking back tears.

Deaths of wounded fighters held up at the border have become another emotive charge in a litany of Kurdish grievances against Ankara, which Kurds accuse of turning its back on their kin fighting across the frontier against Islamic State.

The anger has brought violence to Turkey itself: Turkey's 15 million-strong Kurdish minority rose up last week in riots in which at least 35 people were killed. On Tuesday, there were reports that Turkish war planes had bombed Kurdish militants for the first time in two years.

Turkey says it has been generous to Kurds, taking in 200,000 refugees from the Kobani area since Islamic State fighters launched their offensive four weeks ago.

But as the United Nations warns of a potential massacre in Kobani in full view of Turkish tanks that have done nothing to help protect the town, Kurdish anger threatens to unravel a peace process to end a decades-long insurgency in Turkey itself.

Kurds who have fled Islamic State attacks for shelter in Turkey say they have faced intimidation, including arbitrary detentions last week.

Doctors, parliamentarians, ambulance drivers, security guards, lawyers and activists say between seven and 13 wounded Kurdish fighters died after being kept for hours at the Mursitpinar border gate last week during the worst fighting.

Several bled to death, including from bullet wounds to limbs that would have been survivable with treatment, doctors said. "We have had trouble at the border gate and several people were not brought to the hospital in time, due to avoidable obstacles. Due to these delays, 12 people lost their lives, all in the last week to 10 days," Ibrahim Ayhan, a lawmaker in Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, said on Oct. 12.

Authorities cited a variety of reasons for delays lasting five or more hours, like security risks or a lack of permission, Ayhan said. He helped negotiate new procedures with the governor; no one has died waiting at Mursitpinar since Oct. 11.

A spokesman for the governor did not respond to phone calls. The Health Ministry did not respond to written questions.

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