Battles between hardened fighters from the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) continue around Deir-ez-Zor as units of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) watch over ISIL’s recently-captured former capital city of Raqqa. Meanwhile, residents are taking steps to re-inhabit the Kobane Canton and other areas recently gained from the Islamic State
Unicorn Riot contributors visited the recovering cities of Kobane and Manbij in northeastern Syria as well as the grim frontline of armed conflict in Deir-ez-Zor, and obtained photographs from Raqqa. The following video presents various elements of life in Syria, such as displaced residents fleeing ISIL control, scoping out an ISIL holdout, clearing a booby-trapped building in Deir-ez-Zor, as well as rebuilding and creating new apartment blocks in Kobane.Bombed-out buildings litter the landscape of Kobane – November 2017
With over half of the country’s population displaced during the last few years and a majority of the infrastructure destroyed, estimates place at least a $300 billion price tag on rebuilding Syria. The human death toll in the Syrian conflict in the past six years, as of early November, was estimated at exceeding 340,000.New Building in Kobani
Since 2012, the Kobane Canton, which borders Turkey in northern Syria, has been one of the de facto autonomous cantons of Rojava, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, with military control organized under the YPG (People’s Protection Units, KU: Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, AR: وحدات حماية الشعب), the largest component of the SDF.An improvised explosive device with a tripwire placed by Islamic State fighters is discovered in a building – December 2017
Rojava is the Kurdish region of northern Syria that has three “non-contiguous autonomous areas or cantons” established by the Democratic Union Party, whose political ideology is based on jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan‘s Democratic Confederalism, which posits that “decision-making processes lie with the communities“.
In late October, we published our first report from the ground in northern Syria, As Course of War Turns, Turkey Challenges Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava). The in-depth report gave recent historical context with a focus on northern Syria and the factors that gave rise to the modern Turkish-Kurdish side of the Syrian conflict, as well as a wealth of updated maps and a video from the bombed out YPG/YPJ headquarters on Qereçox Mountain.
The Kurdish enclave of Kobane city, as well as the greater Kobane Canton, were besieged by Islamic State fighters in 2014 and for several months, until early 2015, the Islamic State controlled the region.
Many residents of the area fled, seeking protection from the YPG. The residents of Kobane who chose not to flee, suffered through ISIL attacks, kidnappings, and massacres.
Graffiti on a concrete wall pitted with bullet holes and bomb fragments reads “Kobanî warê” – November 2017
The region was freed from ISIL control by a coalition of forces led by the YPG. Much of the city and region has been destroyed by on-the-ground fighting as well as the massive air bombing campaigns by Western forces, formally designated as Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), which includes France, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, the USA, and Canada. See Airwars.org for detailed data on civilian casualties from airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
Tens of thousands of residents fled into Turkey and neighboring regions in the last years, as schools, businesses, shops, bridges, sanitation, utilities and other infrastructure were impacted.
Bombed-out buildings litter the landscape of Kobane – November 2017
With Kobane surrounded on three sides by the Islamic State, resistance forces of the YPG and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units, KU Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, AR: وحدات حماية المرأة) had to contend with a relentless barrage of light and heavy weapons attacks, improvised artillery, and car bombs.
Locals are adamant that some of the attacks originated from Turkish soil, citing as evidence the northern-most buildings that show a majority of their damage on their northern faces. Locations destroyed by vehicle-borne explosives are located one block from the Turkish border crossing, further indicating collusion by the Turkish regime with the Islamic State in their common battle against the Kurds, who reside in an ethnically diverse region spanning the modern-day borders of Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.
Linking Kobane to previous decades of armed conflict, Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist organization threatening its security and as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK, KU: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê), who ran an extended insurgent campaign against Turkey during the 1980s and 1990s. Since 1997 the United States has designated the YPG’s ideologically related counterparts across the Turkish border as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. [See our previous story for further background.]
Buildings on the edge of Kobane destroyed from warfare – November 2017
Memorials for fallen resistance fighters line the streets of Kobane. From small placards to large portraits, the fighters’ faces remain in the medians of main streets. The sacrifices of hundreds of Kurds serve as a stark reminder of the importance of the struggle for freedom, a reminder that is imbued throughout the city of Kobane.
Portraits of resistance fighters that died in battle against the Islamic State line the streets as one of the many varieties of memorials in Kobane – November 2017
In the last year, widespread rebuilding efforts have taken place to repair collapsed roofs and walls damaged by the fighting. Large residential apartment buildings are being constructed to encourage the repopulation of the once-thriving regional urban center.
Rebuilding in the Kobane region has been a struggle. In November 2015, Idriss Nassan, a spokesman for the local Kurdish government, said that large-scale international aid had been thwarted by politics. Western governments are “reluctant to help for fear of offending Turkey” which objects to the new Kurdish political entity, and permits only limited supplies of humanitarian aid to pass through its mostly-closed border.
Rebuilding efforts in Kobane – November 2017
A special portion of the new apartment buildings are being set aside for the families of those who gave their lives to defend the city. Roads are being freshly paved and expanded, the electricity and the sewage systems work, and trash is being collected.
View from inside a newly constructed apartment building in Kobane, looking out at more new apartment buildings – November 2017
Efforts are being made to preserve the historical antiquities of the region (Islamic State fighters had previously left trails of destruction throughout ancient sites in ISIL-occupied Syria and Iraq); fortunately, the sites around Kobane have remained mostly undamaged. The language of Kurmanji is now being taught alongside Arabic in the same schools recently used for fundamentalist indoctrination during the brief rule of the Islamic State.
With the recent falls of ISIL stronghold cities Mosul, Raqqa, and Deir-ez-Zor, the Islamic State has been reduced to an ideology without a clear territorial base of operations. The pockets they still hold in Deir-ez-Zor province diminish day by day.
Smoke rises in the distance. Photo taken from inside a ruined building in Raqqa – December 2017
In October of 2017, as coalition forces surrounded Raqqa, numbers of Islamic State fighters were holed up in a hospital in Raqqa. The BBC reported that deals were struck to allow ISIL fighters to leave the region.In an interview, an international YPG volunteer formerly deployed in Raqqa provided further information on the terms of surrender, including details of a situation where Islamic State fighters in the hospital were threatening to kill their civilian hostages. He pointed to this as the reason behind why the deal had been made, and said he was speaking out because the media that covered the story “neglected to mention the hostage situation“. Listen to his interview below………………..
Unicorn Riot reporting on Syria:
- As Course of War Turns, Turkey Challenges Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava) (Oct. 30, 2017)
- Pipeline Politics in the Syrian Civil War (Sept. 20, 2015)
- Solecast #20 Rojava Special w/ Janet Biehl (Jan. 9, 2016)