Kobani was a key town on the front line of the allied battle against Islamic State guerrillas in northern Syria. It became famous as an amphitheatre of war in which artillery and bombing raids could be watched by the world’s media from just across the border in Turkey. Three years later, Kobani is back to a degree of normality — a new university opened this autumn, as newsagency Hawarnews records.
Here, Kurdish journalist and WikiTribune community member Mustafa Abdi describes his memories of his home and its ordeal in this first-hand report.
[ 2014]… ‘I am sitting on the Turkish-Syrian border, adjacent to the city of Kobani, watching hundreds of children sob. They have no place to sleep but the street. Farmers, fearing ISIS attacks, have left the city along with their sheep. In Kobani, sheep and humans shared a common fate – both risked slaughter by ISIS militias and both were left to wander in the brush.
Our houses, and the memories of my childhood, are now in the hands of a criminal, terrorist gang. ISIS is not a rebel group as many say. ISIS kills rebels and more members of the Syrian and Kurdish opposition than anyone else. They focus attacks not on the regime, but rather its opposition.
Before the ISIS attacks, Kobani was a sort of safe haven. Debates were held in public and people expressed their political views without fear of the regime, which once ruled there for decades. For the first time, people were ruling themselves. Every other day, you would see demonstrations and Kurdish flags alongside flags of the Syrian revolution.
Kobani is a city rich in history. It was a mirror of Syria’s diversity: Kurds, Syriacs, Assyrians, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Yazidis. All that disappeared when the “monsters” with black flags arrived in Kobani. They slaughtered people and raped women. They colored Kobani in the darkest and ugliest of hues.
From our perspective, the refugees of Kobani, it is clear that air strikes stop ISIS. Coalition attacks on ISIS haven’t defeated the terrorist group. Kobani has been under systematic attack by ISIS for a month and a half. Hundreds of civilians have been arrested. Food, supplies, children’s formula, and medicine are on the list of prohibited products banned from entering the city.
On September 18 , ISIS dramatically took the offensive in Syria. It attained heavy weaponry after capturing the headquarters of the 17th Division of the Syrian army Al Raqqa and advanced into Mosul and Al Tabaqa military airport. More than 8,000 of foreign fighters surrounded the city from every direction. The city has been under severe shelling; houses have been robbed, women raped and thousands of families fled to the Turkish border.
My family was one of those; they live now in Turkey in desperate conditions. Until ISIS’s advance, Kobani had been a peaceful city. Our family and others went about their daily activities. Our city was famous for producing olive oil. Now the only thing produced is the blood of innocents.
Finally, a week ago, peshmerga entered Kobani to fight ISIS. The villagers welcomed this. Women threw rice on peshmerga fighters, a tradition practiced at Syrian weddings when neighbors welcome the bride and groom. It is symbolic and moving to see Kurds marching toward Kobani – a reminder that Kurds from one part of Syria are rushing to help Kurds in a different place.
Tens of thousands of civilians still live in the city, starving, with limited food and water. Some 4,000 civilians fled the area and headed for the Turkish border. But the Turks are not helpful enough. Some border points are closed and they are not permitting all refugees to enter.
Now people are sleeping in the streets despite the rain. Children are suffering from fever and food poisoning. No one is coming to our help. Kobani is on the verge of destruction. The refugees beg for the world to save Kobani.’
The Siege of Kobanî was launched by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIS or Daesh) militants in September 2014, with the objective of capturing the Kobanî Canton and its main city of Kobanî. These lie in the autonomous region of Rojava. See this video from the Guardian on civilian preparations for the attack. Today, the town bears the scars: its suffering is not fully over despite Russian declarations of success driving ISIS out of Syria.