SURUC, Turkey – Hundreds of supporters chanting slogans turned out to accompany three Kurdish fighters — two men and a woman barely out of her teens — to their final resting place in a dusty cemetery on the edge of the Turkish town of Suruc, within view of the Syrian border and the besieged town of Kobani. But there was one notable absence: their families.
The flag-draped coffin bearing the body of 20-year-old Hanim Dabaan was carried to her grave Tuesday by women who didn't know her but wanted to show their support for those killed fighting the Islamic State group extremists. Thirty-year-old Idris Ahmad and 25-year-old Mohammed Mustafa were laid to rest beside her, also carried by volunteers.
The three fighters of the People's Protection Units, or YPG, died in fierce clashes in Kobani, which has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. IS still surrounds the town and holds parts of it despite Kurdish resistance and repeated U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
In the chaos of Syria's multifaceted war, with a multitude of groups fighting each other as well as President Bashar al-Assad's forces, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and it is not always possible to locate the families of those killed in fighting. Turkey alone has seen an estimated 1.6 million refugees cross its borders in the four years of the Syrian war, according to UN officials.
"Our house has been demolished in Kobani and we are living in tents. ... At least we can support our martyrs and we will accompany them to their graves," said Fatma Muslim, one of dozens of women who turned up at the Suruc hospital morgue for the funeral procession to the nearby cemetery.
It was volunteers — rather than family members, as is the Islamic tradition — who helped wash and shroud the fighters' bodies in preparation for burial.
"There is nobody to wash them," said Akeed Hamad, 21, who came to the morgue with a friend and offered to help. "There is only one doctor who can wash them, and the rest are volunteers."
It wasn't immediately clear where the families of Dabaan, Ahmad and Mustafa were — or even whether they knew their loved ones were dead. At one point a rumor rippled through the crowd that the young woman's parents were on their way. But if they were, they never made it.
Yet in Suruc's cemetery, in a part set aside for Syrian Kurds killed across the border, they are not the only ones buried without their relatives.
Out of about 30 graves there so far, only five of them have known families, said Wahida Kushta, one of the volunteers who helped prepare Dabaan's body for burial.
"I do it to help. Let's support them now at least."
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