All photos by Aviram Valdman
Originally published in The Tower Magazine, November 2014
FOR WEEKS, the eyes of the world have turned to the small Syrian border town of Kobani, where Kurdish fighters are making a desperate stand against the barbaric terrorist army of the Islamic State, known to the world as ISIS. Despite the well-known savagery of ISIS, its repeated attempts at breaking through the town’s defenses, and limited aid from Western powers, Kobani has not fallen. Fearing mass slaughter if they are defeated, Kurdish forces have kept up a relentless defense, and just last week Kurdish reinforcements were finally allowed across the nearby Turkish border to join the battle. Many believe that the tide is turning, and ISIS is slowly being pushed back from the beleaguered town.
But this has come at a terrible price. Casualties have been enormous, with Kurdish fighters and civilians killed in battle, slaughtered en masse by their murderous enemy, beheaded by barbaric captors, or forced into exile in order to escape the fighting.
Photographer Aviram Valdman recently saw the horror of the situation firsthand. Refused entrance into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, he found himself in the Turkish town of Suruç. Barely 200 meters from the Syrian border and besieged Kobani, Suruç is now inundated with refugees—somewhere between 150-250,000 men, women, and children who have left everything behind, including loved ones both living and dead.
In Suruç, Valdman witnessed a scene of desperation. The streets are awash with people, living and sleeping wherever they can. Many of them stand on the border, nearly hysterical as they watch and listen to the ongoing battle for their town, wondering if those they left behind will survive.
And the city is in the grip of near-inconceivable fear. Many refugees refused Valdman’s requests for photographs, afraid that, if they are published, they or their loved ones will be murdered by ISIS in retaliation. Many of them have good reason to be afraid, with friends and relatives who have been captured, tortured, or killed by the Islamist terror group.
On the border, Valdman also caught a glimpse of the battle itself. Only a short distance away, bombs explode, gunfire erupts, and clouds of smoke spiral into the not-so distant sky. The meaning of such images is clear: This is not the movies. This is not television. This war is real. ISIS is slaughtering, the Kurds are fighting, refugees are fleeing, and the world is watching.
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Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower