Seven years ago on 15 September, the Islamic State (ISIS) started its attack against the Kurdish-majority city of Kobanê in northern Syria, after it had captured Mosul in northern Iraq with no resistance from the Iraqi troops.
It was now armed with the advanced weapons it had seized; weapons provided by the United States for Iraq’s armed forces.
Rapidly encircling the city of 40,000, it occupied 350 villages within a matter of weeks, and headed for the centre of the city which looked defenceless against its seemingly superior military capabilities.
The only barrier between the Islamic State and the city were the fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), confronting ISIS tanks, howitzers, field guns and rocket launchers with only light weapons.
Cemil Mazlum, a commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which fought against ISIS and who participated in the liberation of the Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa in October 2017 after a three-month-long battle, recalls that Kobanê was a “symbol” for the revolution in the North and East of Syria, or Rojava, and this was the reason that the city was targeted by ISIS.
“Kobanê was a symbol for us. The revolution started here on 19th of July,” he says. “The resistance and organisation of the people started here. The Islamic State actually targeted the people’s revolution by attacking Kobanê.”
Mazlum points out that it was due to the commitment and determination of the people that the YPG and YPJ fighters stood their ground when the Islamic State attack began:
“The Islamic State had the area completely surrounded. They had previously terrorised everywhere they went; had everyone flee or surrender without resistance. But the people of Kobanê and the fighters of YPG and YPJ didn’t flee; they resisted as they constantly fortified their positions.”
Mazlum emphasises that as the Kobanê resistance won international recognition and support, international solidarity around it emerged, it evolved into a total war against the Islamic State for the liberation of all parts it had occupied.
He concludes stating that today they still rely only on the power and support of the people and that of the SDF fighters in the face of the continuing danger of an Islamic State re-organisation.