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In Photos: The Kurdish Guerrillas Fighting the Turkish State in Nusaybin

VICE News gained access to Nusaybin, a besieged city on Turkey's southeast border, and met the young Kurds taking up arms to fight for independence — as well as the civilians caught in the crossfire.
Foto di Uygur Onder Simsek/MOKU/VICE News

Cities across Turkey's southeast region, which borders northern Syria and Iraq, have been devastated by fierce fighting since a ceasefire between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) broke down last July.

Troops and Kurdish militants have clashed violently on the streets, Turkish army shelling has destroyed urban infrastructure, and round-the-clock curfews have been imposed on entire towns and cities. At least 100 civilians, including women, children, and the elderly have been killed as Turkish troops opened fire on people on the streets, according to Human Rights Watch, and conducted an intimidation campaign against Kurdish activists or anyone suspected of being one.


The government-imposed curfews have also left people trapped without food and medical supplies, sometimes for weeks at a time, putting more than 200,000 lives at risk in what human rights groups say amounts to collective punishment. Independent human rights observers and bar associations have been denied access to the region.

The Kurds have been fighting the Turkish state for decades, demanding better rights for their people and culture inside Turkey, where they face systemic discrimination. Multiple Kurdish groups have taken up arms — including the PKK, the Civil Protection Units (YPS), which also has a female battalion the YPS-JIN, and the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks, which claimed responsibility for a bombing in Ankara over the weekend that killed at least 30 people.

The conflict has become complicated by the wars in Syria and Iraq, where the PKK, Syrian Kurdish rebel group People's Protection Units (YPG), and Iraqi Kurdish militia known as peshmerga are fighting the Islamic State. Turkey believes their ulterior motive is establishing a Kurdish state in the vacuum created by the Syrian war — fears heightened on Thursday as Syria's three Kurdish-controlled autonomous regions voted to approve the establishment of a federal system in the north of the country.

VICE News gained access to Nusyabin, a Turkish city of around 90,000 people on the border of northeast Syria, where a 24-hour curfew has recently been reimposed. We met members of the YPS and YPS-JIN, many of them still teenagers, who said they are ready to die for their cause, as well as the civilians caught in the crossfire. Their last names have been withheld to protect their security.


Serfiraz, 25, said in recent years he had hoped the "Kurdish problem" in Turkey could be solved through talks between the government and the PKK — but after the ceasefire broke down the attacks by the army on Kurdish militants and civil society had become such that, he said, the only option was war.

Bakur, 27, said after being arrested during a protest he was set to be sent to jail for 15 years — so he joined the YPS before his final court date.

The fighters have created barricades to impede the Turkish army's movement through the city. Sometimes they use trucks; others are made from bricks taken from municipal sidewalks and roads. Many of the brick barricades have handmade explosives underneath, triggered by pressure or remote control.

Zenda, 27, a member of the YPS-JIN, the female brigade of the YPS, which was set up in January 2016. As well as fighting the Turkish state, they say the also fight the dominant patriarchal culture in Turkey.

Guerrillas sometimes head to a highway running alongside the city, hijack trucks, and move them to neighborhoods to use as barricades, giving away whatever they were transporting to civilians. VICE News saw one truck full of oranges, one with flour, and one with medicines.

Xebat, 22, said he had difficulties walking due to injury but he was determined to keep fighting in Nusaybin.

A Kurdish civilian points out damage caused by clashes as his daughter stands in the foreground. Rights groups say hundreds of civilians have been killed during the fighting and tens of thousands have been forced from their homes.

Agir, an 18-year-old fighter. The YPS is estimated to have more than 1,000 fighters. It emerged out of the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), the youth wing of the PKK, which was founded in 2013. Civilians refer to them as 'the youngsters."

Nusaybin has a long history of radical politics. Most of the families living in the city have at least one member who joined the PKK and either died or is still fighting or in jail. Many mothers have decided to stay in Nusaybin to help guerrillas rather than flee the city. They had sewn together these blankets to hide the street view from Turkish army snipers.

Canfeda, 21, described himself as a Turkish Communist who had come from the west of the country to join the resistance in Nusaybin.

Rohat, 18, said he didn't mind if he died fighting as he had already lost some family members who were fighting with the PKK against Turkey, and he has many young people in his family who would join after him.

Bagok, 24 said he had previously had a comfortable life studying psychology in a university in west Turkey, but felt compelled to join the YPS after seeing the amount of civilians killed by Turkish forces in recent months.

All photos by Uygar Onder Simsek/MOKU