CEYLANPINAR, Turkey — Kurds in the north of Syria say they have taken control of most of the region’s major towns and cities from government forces. Turkey fears the twin threats of the Syrian civil conflict spilling over the frontier along with a potential escalation of its internal war against Kurdish separatists.
Climbing up to his fourth-floor balcony, Mehmet Bervan, a Kurd from Ceylanpinar in southeast Turkey, has a frontline view of the conflict playing out in Syria. His house lies close enough to the border fence to shout at family members on the other side.
Bervan hoped this large villa would provide somewhere to live out a peaceful retirement. Week by week, he has watched the Syrian uprising descend into civil war.
“Often we would see explosions, bombs going off, smoke rising into the air. It was very scary for us here, terrible,” he said.
Bervan echoes the feelings of Kurds across the Middle East.
“Of course people would like to live together. These fences were not here before. We were all one family. Then they put up the fence and it separated us all… some families are divided, we have uncles over there, brothers over there on the Syrian side,” he said.
The Syrian side of this town, known as Serekanye in Kurdish or Ras al-Ayn in Arabic, is now under the full control of Kurdish forces.
With government forces stretched as they fight the Free Syria Army rebels for control of the Syrian heartlands around Aleppo and Damascus, the Kurds now control vast swathes of the northeast adjacent to Turkey.
Turkey’s fear is that the Kurds in Syria will give sanctuary to Kurdish separatist fighters, known as the PKK.
In recent days Turkey has launched assaults on PKK strongholds, killing at least 11 militants and six soldiers. Tanks and heavy weapons also have been deployed along the border in the Kurdish region.
Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan has warned Turkey will strike PKK fighters in Syria.
“While the Assad regime commits cruel massacres in Syria, activities in northern Syria should be watched carefully,” he said. “We can never overlook such developments threatening our security.”
While Syrian Kurds have not fully joined the uprising, Kurdish political factions recently agreed to unite. Hafiz Abdurahman is a Syrian Kurdish human rights activist who fled to Turkey last year. He says Turkish fears are misplaced.
“Kurds are not demanding their own state in Syria, they want a free Syria, and for a free Kurdish people to have their own rights after being under this totalitarian regime for such a long time,” said Abdurahman.
In Syria, the Kurds are celebrating newfound freedoms. For Turkey, the Syrian crisis brings new complexities to a long-standing conflict.