Akçakale locals seek more protection amid tension

Akçakale locals seek more protection amid tension

AKÇAKALE - Hürriyet Daily News
Akçakale locals seek more protection amid tension

Akçakale residents look to the Syrian side of the border as troops stand by. Residents are still anxious though nearly one week passed over the deadly shelling. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Four men chitchat under an awning in front of a closed shop seeking shelter from the drizzling rain in the dusty and humid air.

They seem to be indifferent to the journalists and TV cameras strolling around, continuing their conversation about what happened last Wednesday, when a mortar from Syria hit a house on a backstreet and killed a mother, her three daughters and a neighboring woman, in Akçakale on the Syrian border.

One of them, İsa Toktimur, leaves the conversation to tend to business at his grocery store next door. His cousin, Ömer Timuçin, was the one who lost his wife and three daughters in last week’s shellfire.

They had been hearing shots and blasts during the past month when the conflict between Syrian rebels and Syrian government forces intensified in Tell Abyad, a Syrian town just over the border from Akçakale. “The opposition members made announcements from mosque minarets calling on people not to resist when they take control of the town, we heard those announcements from here,” Toktimur said.

After rebels seized control of the Tel Abyad military post, the border gate and the intelligence building, Syrian government forces started firing mortars in an effort to dislodge the militants. One bomb fell behind the Akçakale District Governor’s Office on Sept. 28. “When a bomb fell behind the governorate building, the incident did not stir a sensation although it was a serious [breach]. The severity of the situation was understood after those people died,” Toktimur said.

On the day of deadly incident last week, a grain elevator near the border fence was hit by a shell, while another one dropped near a dwelling in the morning, he said.

A piece of shrapnel hit his leg and slightly wounded him in the garden of his house, which is few dozens of meters away from the grain elevator. “At first, I didn’t notice; my leg suddenly started to bleed. My wound is nothing. But what I saw in front of my cousin’s house was terrible,” he said.

Akçakale Municipality made announcements, calling on people living close to the border to evacuate their houses before last week’s deadly incident, but some of them did not leave their residences.

Radar shield

Despite expressing his fear, Toktimur has stayed at his house, which is less than a hundred meters away from the Akçakale border gate.

“I’m staying in my home, but of course I am afraid. We don’t know what will happen hour by hour. But look; I have my grocery shop here. How can I leave it?” he said. “The Turkish government should look after my safety. They lent their support to the Syrian opposition; they took the side of those who are oppressed and suffering, I admit it. But they should do what is necessary [for us].”

Turkey should protect the area using high-technology facilities, Toktimur suggests. “Maybe a [radar] shield could be established. Any bomb or shell can be detected with this shield. Did those people have to die? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a case of once burnt, twice shy. I hope our government will take the necessary precautions.”

School will restart in the Turkish border town of Akçakale today.

Like elsewhere, the school year began Sept. 19 in Akçakale, but students were only able to attend three days of classes before education was stopped in the town following the first mortar to hit the town, wounding several people.

Meanwhile, the Family and Social Affairs Ministry announced that 50 psychological rehabilitation specialists would be sent to the town in an effort to provide psychological support to residents of Akçakale, especially children. Separately, a tank with several soldiers has been positioned near the closed Akçakale border gate, tightening the crossings from Turkey to Syria under the ripped border fence.