The people have returned to Kobanê, famed for its 134-day resistance against the Islamic State (ISIS), and rebuilt their northern Syrian city after the conflict. More than 80 percent of the city had been reduced to rubble in ISIS attacks, Mezopotamya Agency reported.
ISIS occupied numerous cities in Iraq and Syria, as well as villages close to Kobanê (Ayn al-Arab) in north and east Syria without a shot being fired, but when they set their sights on Kobanê city itself on 15 September 2014, their heavy weapons assault came up against resistance from the People’s Defence Units (YPG) and the Women’s Defence Units (YPJ).
The fighters put up a 134-day resistance armed only with light weapons. The resistance was supported by millions of people across the world, and Kobanê city was finally cleared of ISIS entirely on 26 January 2015, starting a new era under the leadership of the YPG/YPJ. The first job was to liberate the villages one by one from ISIS control.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), part of the YPG/YPJ, headed south to the cities of Manbij, Tabqa and Raqqa to throw ISIS out of Syria altogether. ISIS members who remained after these cities were liberated became trapped in Baghuz on the border with Iraq. Some 3,000 of them surrendered.
Kobanê resistance was when the dark clouds over Syria gradually began to dissipate. A local politician, Democratic Unity Party (PYD) member Ahmed Sheikho, speaking at the time, said that ISIS “knew that Kobanê was the gateway to the Autonomous Administration [of North and East Syria]”, and they targeted the city because they wanted to “annihilate free thought”.
After ISIS was expelled from Kobanê, over 62,000 people started to return to the city and rebuild it. The project to rebuild Kobanê drew great levels of international support as well.
While the people were still licking their wounds, ISIS attacked again. On 25 June 2015 a group of up to 100 ISIS members dressed in YPG fatigues crossed the border from Turkey and split into two groups, one attacking the city centre and the other the nearby village of Berx Batan. The resulting fighting lasted three days.
On 21 July 2015 Kobanê Canton Administrative Council stated that 233 civilians had been massacred and 30 YPG/YPJ fighters had lost their lives pushing back the attack.
Turkey has targeted the city with drones nine times in the last two years. Ankara has been taking courage from the silence of Russia and the US, who are guarantor states in a ceasefire brokered in 2019, and bombing villages to the south and east of Kobanê on a regular basis. Turkey also attacked Kobanê on 20 November 2022, using a bombing in Istanbul a week earlier as a pretext. Throughout 2022, Turkey conducted attacks against Kobanê no fewer than 78 times.
The reconstruction of Kobanê continued despite attacks. Part of the city has been made into a museum, and thousands of homes have been built in other neighbourhoods. Institutions have been set up for health, education, culture and the arts, ecology, women and youth groups. Communes have been set up with neighbourhood and village councils, ensuring the involvement of the people in the administration.
“It was not just a little fight in a small town,” said Mustafa Îto, the Kobanê Canton Council co-chair. He spoke of a battle between “the forces of democracy and freedom, and the lords of darkness”, remarking that had ISIS been successful in Kobanê, it would have affected people everywhere, and praising the people of Kobanê for their unity of will in returning to a city in ruins, and their determination to rebuild.
He spoke of Turkey’s attacks against the city and the resulting indiscriminate civilian deaths. But, he said, “We will protect Kobanê from these attacks, just as we protected it from ISIS.”