On the ninth anniversary of the liberation of Kobani (Kobanê), the northern Syrian city’s remarkable resilience in the face of the Islamic State (ISIS) siege from 2014-2015 stands as a testament to the courage and determination of its defenders. In an interview with Yeni Özgür Politika on Friday, Heqî Kobanê, a key participant, recounts the arduous 134-day battle that led to the city’s freedom on 26 January 2015, describing the Kurdish forces’ preparation, resistance and eventual victory over ISIS.
Below, Medya News presents a concise English translation of his account.
It is a fight for existence
After predicting an attack, we initiated defensive preparations in February. ISIS started assaulting the surrounding villages of Kobani, initially carrying out intermittent attacks in the east, west and south that were not interconnected.
For the first time in February, they conducted a ten-day attack which was connected and extremely violent. We organised a total resistance against these assaults. Our civilian population, in addition to military forces, also participated in the resistance. Due to our concerted efforts, the enemy forces were repelled.
We expected ISIS to return, armed and strengthened, especially after their capture of Mosul and the launch of attacks on major cities. We anticipated that the weapons they obtained there would be brought to Kobani. Discussions about more significant attacks were held among the defence forces and civilians.
As a full-scale war was being waged, training sessions were conducted to educate the people and involve them in defence. Defensive channels were dug, positions prepared, and tactical work carried out. Training was provided to both defence forces and civilians. In essence, while we prepared for the attacks, we were also training civilians and defence forces, simultaneously resisting the attacks. Defence and training proceeded hand in hand.
The Free Syrian Army forces from around Jarabulus, Sirîn, Raqqa and Manbij, unable to withstand the attacks from ISIS and Jabhet al-Nusra, retreated to Kobani and joined the YPG and YPJ. The Arab groups, along with the YPG and YPJ, formed the Burkan el Firat (Euphrates Volcano) coalition on 10 September 2014.
The enemy launched a comprehensive attack against the coalition on 13 September. ISIS had brought weapons from the major cities they had occupied. There was a significant power imbalance. Kobani had been besieged from all sides since the revolution’s onset, living under an embargo. Basic necessities, including drinking water, were scarce. Drinking water came from Şêxler, which was also under ISIS control, preventing the supply to Kobani. While they received support from various sources, we struggled with our limited means.
ISIS didn’t enter Kobani suddenly; intense clashes occurred. From 13 September, attacks commenced from multiple locations on the eastern, western and southern fronts. Turkey had closed its border to the north, only aiding ISIS. While treating their wounded, Turkey provided arms to ISIS by transferring tanks across the border. We witnessed this firsthand, and civilians in the region sent us images of the weapons transported across the border. Despite the power imbalance and embargo, the civilian population united with the defence forces to perform a superhuman defence without retreating.
The Serzorî resistance at that time was crucial and symbolic. There, 13 comrades, even after losing contact, did not surrender. They resisted. When their ammunition was depleted, they gathered to avoid capture by the enemy, detonated their last bombs and fell as martyrs.
Even before ISIS reached Kobani, our comrades began sacrifice actions in Kobani’s villages, fighting to the last bullet. They carried out sacrifice actions within the enemy lines. Baran, one of these comrades, was wounded in the village of Piling. He disobeyed the order to retreat from his friends, feigned death, and lured the enemy towards him. When the enemy approached, he detonated the bomb, causing significant casualties.
After witnessing and experiencing such actions, one could not retreat. We might not have had enough weapons, but our will was strong. After this action, people transformed their bodies into weapons, even in the absence of firearms. The enemy was tracking us effectively, avoiding strongly fortified trenches and resistance positions. They attacked at our weak points and proceeded thus. In a vast geography, we lacked sufficient fighters and weapons. When comrades in strong positions moved to areas where the enemy was advancing, those strong positions also became targets. This was how the enemy advanced.
Kobani’s terrain is mostly flat. While there are hills on the west, the south and east are completely flat, making them unsuitable for defence. The enemy outnumbered us. As we repelled them, they brought in new forces. Due to the terrain’s unsuitability for defence, they easily advanced on the southern and eastern fronts. My comrades had to retreat to Mishtenûr and Xaret. We had to return to defend Kobani, constantly counterattacking. In the western front at Îzah, we could see the city of Kobani. We resisted there for a long time.
As we resisted, the people in the region never abandoned us. Especially, patriotic villages joined us at the front. For example, in the village of Sêde, a patriot named Bavê Teyar refused to retreat. While he sent his children with us, he stayed home. When the enemy thought we were retreating, they attempted to enter houses. However, Bavê Teyar resisted until his last bullet and dealt a heavy blow to the enemy. To instil fear in the remaining people, the enemy decapitated Bavê Teyar. But this action only made the people more committed to the struggle and more resentful towards ISIS.
We gradually withdrew to defend the city of Kobani and took positions around it. A significant resistance unfolded here. Many comrades, including Êrîş and Zozan from Kobani, who were part of the defence, were martyred while fighting near me. Zozan, over the radio, shouted, “Going back is treason”. His voice still echoes in my ears. These two comrades, who fought with such a spirit of resistance, became symbols. Similarly, Viyan in Îzah never retreated, demonstrating immense courage and a spirit of resistance until martyrdom.
We withdrew from Kobani’s countryside to hold the area around the city, standing shoulder to shoulder to prevent the enemy from entering. When the front coordinated by Êrîş and Zozan collapsed, the enemy seized the opportunity and surrounded us from behind. At that time, Sefkan Kobani, who was coordinating us, was wounded. As we fought on the front, defence lines were established inside Kobani under the leadership of Diyar Bagok, who had left his mark across Kurdistan. Preparations were made to defend the city, but it was a challenging process. Repairing broken equipment was impossible. We were already short on equipment, and when what we had broke down, we struggled against the enemy’s superiority in weapons and power.
In Miştenûr, where the fiercest resistance occurred, comrades Heval Arîn and Rêvana displayed remarkable bravery. Heval Arîn’s actions became a symbol not only for Kobani but also for all Kurdish women and globally for women who struggle with resistance and honour. Botanê Sor, Êrîş, Zozan, Revana, and many others became martyrs through their sacrificial resistance. For us, they have become symbols.
As we resisted and suffered losses all the way to Kobani, I pondered our situation. Climbing a hill in Îzah, I gazed at Kobani, noticing black smoke rising into the sky like a ribbon. Engaged in war for so long, I was focused on my duties and unaware of the broader situation. When I asked my friends, who periodically went to Kobani to bring logistical support, about the black smoke, they explained it was a human chain. People from all four parts of Kurdistan were holding a vigil. Civilians living in Kobani had also gathered at the border. Those in black were our people, they said. At that moment, my heart ached, and I wondered if Kobani would endure this too. I was already prepared to sacrifice my life for my people, but seeing them in such a state deeply affected me. My animosity and rage towards the enemy intensified beyond expression. ISIS, backed by Turkey, Qatar, other Arab states, and some hidden powers, was attacking with extreme cruelty. Experiencing this brutality firsthand brought immense pain. It was an indescribably difficult situation; Kobani was all we had left.