Turks And Syrians Living Along Border Say They Are Tired Of Being In The Line Of Fire

Oct 11, 2019
Originally published on October 11, 2019 7:24 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Turkey intensified its campaign against Kurdish positions in northeast Syria for a third consecutive day. The assault on forces allied with the U.S. only began after President Trump pulled some American forces back earlier this week. In a counterstrike, deadly mortar attacks from Syria struck in Turkish towns along the border, killing and wounding a number of people. NPR's Peter Kenyon visited a town on the Turkish side of the border where people are tired of being in the line of fire.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: As the Turkish military operation goes on, the border town of Akcakale continues to thin out. Street after street resembles a ghost town - stores locked, homes shuttered. And some of the people who stayed have stories.

(CROSSTALK)

KENYON: Hussein (ph) is a stocky Syrian man with short black hair and at least a three-day stubble. He happens to live next door to the house where rockets struck Thursday afternoon. He brings a reporter to his rooftop, where he often sleeps during the summer. A habitual late sleeper, Hussein points to where he was lying when the rockets hit next door. He barely pauses in his story when the first of two Turkish mortars is launched from a position somewhere behind us.

HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

KENYON: "The rocket came between those two buildings and slammed into the wall there," he says, as the mortars land somewhere over the border in Syria. At a time when Turkey's leaders are talking about sending refugees back to Syria, Hussein declines to give his family name. He says the people living next door had just left their home five minutes before the rocket hit. Pieces of shrapnel litter the yard. Such events have become part of the landscape for residents of Akcakale and other border towns in the past three days. I ask Hussein who's left in the neighborhood. Have people decided to leave besides the ones right here? Are other people in the neighborhood moving out?

HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: "When this happens," Hussein says, "the Turks run away. This is the first time it's happened to them. But for Syrians, this is normal." Like other Syrians who fled the violence at home to come to Turkey, Hussein takes a kind of pride in how he's learned to take these things in stride. Back home in Raqqa, he says he was employed as an aircraft technician, but here he makes a living painting walls.

HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Someone tries to start his car, and a shopkeeper, one of the few still open, looks our way as we head back down to the street. The reports are starting to come in from other border towns - two dead after a mortar hit Suruc. An amateur video posted to the Internet shows several bodies lying in a street in Nusaybin after a mortar attack there killed eight people. Most of the nearly three dozen wounded were taken to hospitals.

Nothing deadly has landed in dark Akcakale today. But those living in town after town along the border in both Turkey and Syria have either fled for safer ground or are living under the threat of attack at any time.

Peter Kenyon, Akcakale, Turkey, near the Syrian border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.