This piece originally broadcast on PRI’s The World.
This week in Turkey has seen a surge in violent activity culminating in the first ever direct fight with the Islamic State across Turkey’s border with Syria. After a firefight that reportedly left one Turkish soldier killed and others wounded, and one ISIS militant killed, Turkey launched air strikes against the group killing several dozen of its fighters, officials say. But all this came after tragedy on Monday morning, when a group of young activists on its way to help rebuild the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane was bombed, killing 31 members of the 350-person delegation.
The group was rounded up by the Federation of Youth Socialist Associations – or SGDF – a youth movement of a socialist militant party with strong leftist ideals.
Ozgur Bedeli has been involved in the group for several years, and he says while no one could have seen anything like this coming, it’s not the first time they’ve faced violence.
“We are always struggling against attacks,” he says from the SGDF office in central Istanbul. It’s a small, cramped space with Marxist books on the shelves. There’s a poster for May Day protest for workers’ rights in the main room, and next to that, the series of flyers encouraging people to join the mission to help build a playground, library and school in Kobane.
SGDF is highly involved in staging demonstrations, and the “attacks” Ozgur mentions are what he and other activists describe as “excessive” police force — water cannons, rubber bullets and shooting teargas canisters as projectiles.
The 22-year-old is skinny, with a scruffy beard and moustache. He says he joined SGDF because of his passion for equality, especially the Kurdish cause for autonomy and rights.
“Our main goal is bringing out the youth masses to the street,” Ozgur explains. But the group’s mission to Kobane was unusual, says another member, Derya Baris, because they weren’t protesting – they were going to help rebuild. So the bombing – which occurred on the Turkish side of the border – came as an absolute shock.
Derya says they still can’t make sense of it. “Actually, there is no word to say anything,” he says. “I think there is something in my throat… and it prevents my breath.”
On Wednesday, a Turkish court order banned media coverage of the bombings and shut down any website with video and photos from attacks. The remaining members of SGDF are trying to collect any images they can find. While many in Turkey blame ISIS for the bombings, no one has claimed responsibility. SGDF members don’t trust the government, or its gag order.
“Their main aim is that they want to prevent mass demonstrations, mass protests,” Derya says. “They want to cover it up to the truth under the massacre, for example the real suicide bomber,” he adds.
But for now, Ozgur says, they need to focus on healing.
“Our first mission right now is to care for our wounded,” he says. “But after that, we’re not going to abandon Kobane. We’re going to continue this work.”