Amputations ordered by a sharia court. Black-clad police patrolling the streets. Living in a climate of constant fear.
Refugees who escaped clashes in the Syrian town of Tal Abyad to find refuge in Turkey recall nervously what it was like to live under their former Islamic State (IS) rulers.
Kurdish fighters led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) seized the town from IS after a weekend of fighting, in what was seen as one of the biggest setbacks for the jihadists.
Carrying sacks of possessions on their heads, or sometimes simply just their children, thousands flooded into Turkey to find sanctuary from the fighting.
Most are happy to be free of IS. But the mainly ethnic Arab refugees also worry what life will be like under Kurdish rule.
“It’s horrible to live under sharia rule, which bans pretty much everything,” said Halil el-Ahmed, 55, who fled to Turkey with his family of 15 after spending three nights in the open.
“It’s horrible to live with fear, dreading it every time the doorbell rings. I hope this war is over soon, but I don’t want to go back to a country ruled by Kurds,” he said.
“We were not happy with IS, but we at least knew their rules and learnt how to play by their rules,” he said at a park near the Akcakale border point where they crossed over.
The town of Tal Abyad sits just across the border on the Syrian side.
While the refugees were waiting to cross at the weekend, several IS fighters had mysteriously appeared, grinning at media on the other side. But now, they have gone.
– ‘Thank God, they left’ –
Vefa Hesyni, a 32-year-old mother of three, said she had ended up staying at home all day long in Tal Abyad as everything — even sitting on a chair outdoors — was considered “haram” (“forbidden”) by IS.
The sole breadwinner of the house, she had to quit working as a farm labourer because she didn’t dare go out for fear of doing something wrong and getting punished.
“When they first came to our town, they went around telling us things like ‘your daughters as young as eight can get married’, beauty salons are the work of Satan and women should stay behind closed doors at all times,” said Hesyni, wearing a black veil covering her face.
A jihadist had been visiting their home for months to get permission to marry their 13-year-old daughter, who aspires to be a doctor someday.
Just a week before she fled to Turkey, IS militants cut off a neighbour’s right hand on charges of theft after a trial held under sharia law.
They left him on the street, writing “Kaffir” (unbeliever) on his forehead, she said.
“Thank God, we left. Thank God, they left,” she said.
Mahir-el Kuburi, 54, said that when IS militants first took over the town in August last year, they declared a “caliphate” through a loudspeaker.
They told everyone that they were under the authority of an Islamic state, and life would be different from now on.
“I don’t even call it a life.”
“Some people liked them at the beginning because they tried to win them over with free food and water and other assistance, but they lost their popularity after people saw their cruelty,” said Kuburi, a farmworker.
He said black-clad IS police, who were constantly patrolling the streets to make sure everyone obeyed their rules, had immediately banned alcohol and gave penalties including stoning to death for adultery.
His own son wanted to join IS for a salary of $100 a month, but Kuburi stopped him.
He noted that those patrolling in the street had changed a lot over the last few months. Previously they included foreign fighters, but by the end they were mostly local Arabs.
“I’m happy that Daesh left, any regime is better than theirs,” he said, using the pejorative Arabic acronym for IS.
“I want to return to Syria as soon as possible, my Syria, a free Syria,” he said.
The Kurdish advance has sent some 23,000 people fleeing to Turkey to escape the fighting, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday.