Twenty-seven-year-old award-winning Bangladeshi photographer Ismail Ferdous was travelling in Turkey in September 2014 when ISIS started to bomb Kobanî, a town in northern Syria. He had not planned to cover the siege but immediately made up his mind to do so. Ferdous left for the southern Turkish city of Şanlıurfa and drove to the Syrian border town Suruç, and then on to Kobanî. There he spent approximately two weeks shooting the ensuing chaos.
At the Turkish-Syrian border, hundreds of thousands of refugees were waiting to figure out where they could find safe shelter, he describes. “There were hundreds of buses jam-packed with people, predominantly women and children, who had fled Kobanî and travelled north. Some had carried livestock with them in the hope that they could soon return to farmlands they had evacuated, which became an increasingly futile desire.
“The people who had crossed here were anxious. In one scene that will be forever engraved in my mind, on a stormy afternoon an elderly woman was slowly, unevenly traipsing to safety with her walker, leaning on a Turkish policeman — who was also protecting her with a ballistic shield from heavy wind— as she painfully moved toward her new life in Turkey.
“Their reaction to me was mixed. Most of the time they accepted photographers or journalists but there were a few scattered incidents where they were not comfortable, since there was a lot of distrust during that time about ISIS, Turkish and Kurdish people.
”I saw men, women and children carrying or dragging everything they could manage. People were even carrying pet birds in a cage. In some cases, children were pulling bags almost as big as themselves. Dust was everywhere, and a feel of misery was tangible in the air. Many slept inside family cars parked next to the barbed-wire border fence and many people had spent several nights sleeping in open fields before they could cross the border.
“It was really hard to take in. I was witnessing people leaving behind all their worldly belongings and coming to a totally unknown country.”