Fear, uncertainty persists in legendary city of Kobani that resisted ISIS

"We hoped that the US would protect the Kurds in Syria, and there would be a situation similar to the Kurdistan Region where there is safety."
author_image Wladimir van Wilgenburg

KOBANI (Kurdistan 24) – The Syrian army entered the symbolic city of Kobani in October 2019 to prevent a Turkish assault after US forces left— a town that became internationally famous for its resistance against the so-called Islamic State in 2014. However, people in the area say they remain fearful of their future.

The local market in Kobani is now filled with tunnels and are mostly empty due to the worsening economic situation.

People protest in Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
People protest in Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Tunnels are still seen in the markets of Kobani, Dec. 11, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Tunnels are still seen in the markets of Kobani, Dec. 11, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Tunnels are still seen in the markets of Kobani, Dec. 11, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Tunnels are still seen in the markets of Kobani, Dec. 11, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

The name “Trump” has even been removed from a local restaurant named after US President Donald Trump following the American withdrawal.

The famous Trump Falafel Restaurant in Kobani changed its name after the US withdrew from northern Syria, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
The famous Trump Falafel Restaurant in Kobani changed its name after the US withdrew from northern Syria, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Rojava Restaurant in the city of Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Rojava Restaurant in the city of Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

“The increase of the US dollar value and the lack of food imports have all added to the difficulties that people are experiencing in their daily lives in Kobani,” Anwar Muslim, a senior official from Kobani, told Kurdistan 24.

International NGOs that employed local people have also left.

“It is a difficult situation; the recent [Turkish] attacks have affected the economy in Kobani. Before that, people were building their houses, but now they have stopped,” Muslim added.

“We, as the Self-Administration, continue to offer assistance and services to the civilians to the extent of our resources.”

Co-Chair of the Executive Council of the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) of the Euphrates Region, Anwar Muslim, smiles during an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Kobani, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Co-Chair of the Executive Council of the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) of the Euphrates Region, Anwar Muslim, smiles during an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Kobani, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

Journalists rarely visit the town since Turkish-backed groups blocked the M4 international road, and it now takes at least eight hours to travel to Kobani from Qamishli, which has also affected trade between the two towns.

“Look at my shop, it is almost empty, but why am I not shutting it down?” Soz Kobani, a 30-year-old mobile shop keeper, asked. “Because I am waiting for the situation to be clear. I can neither improve nor shut it before that. We are in great danger in Kobani, especially since we are on the border with Turkey.”

“We hoped that the US would protect the Kurds in Syria, and there would be a situation similar to the Kurdistan Region where there is safety, and there are EU companies. We hoped for that, but in the end, oil was more important than human lives.”

Ismet Sheikh Hassan, the grey-haired head of the Kobani Military Council, told Kurdistan 24 that the situation is becoming complicated.

“We don’t know how the future will look when different sides – the Americans, Russians, and the Syrian government – approach each other considering their common interests,” Hassan stated.

Ismet Sheikh Hassan, head of the Kobani Military Council, during an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Kobani, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Ismet Sheikh Hassan, head of the Kobani Military Council, during an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Kobani, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Ismet Sheikh Hassan, head of the Kobani Military Council, during an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Kobani, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Ismet Sheikh Hassan, head of the Kobani Military Council, during an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Kobani, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

“And there are conflicts everywhere around us; there is chaos in the entire Middle East. Therefore, we cannot foretell what the future holds for the region.”

He added that people are rightly afraid when they “see children are being massacred; when civilians are murdered in large numbers.”

Hassan said the Turkish attacks in October reminded the people of Kobani of the days of death and destruction when the Islamic State besieged the town years ago.

As a result, some civilians fled Kobani in October and have not returned. Others have returned or simply stayed in the town. “There are still people who would rather die in their homeland rather than leave,” Hassan said.

A shop in Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
A shop in Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
A shop in Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
A shop in Kobani. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

So far, the local administration in Kobani has continued its work, and the Syrian army forces are only positioned on the border.

Muslim said Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters had left Kobani and that local internal forces run the security of the region.

“The Syrian government forces are positioned on the borders. But civilian services are still provided by the local administration.”

Nevertheless, some people, like Soz Kobani, are afraid the Syrian government could “return and reimpose their institutions” in the future.

“The young people will all leave, no one will stay,” he said. “They will not hesitate to conscript me—I know people who have been conscripted for eight years within the Syrian armed forces!”

Soz Kobani noted that he could not serve because he financially supports three families.

Many Kurds have bad memories of Bashar al-Assad’s rule in the region before the Kurds took control of most of the Kurdish enclaves in 2012.

Hassan himself was jailed “in almost all Syrian prisons” after he gave his children Kurdish names. Other Kurdish politicians have disappeared in the regime’s jails.

“The people are rightly afraid, but we have 11,000 martyrs and 27,000 wounded, we rebuilt the city of Kobani after its destruction,” Hassan said.

“Therefore, we will not accept a return to the time when the Ba’ath party was ruling and oppressing the people. Yet, we are concerned that we will be left alone again.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany