Kobane: Place of beauty torn apart by bitter fighting

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Kurdish families returning home to Kobane this week cautiously made their way through rubble, unexploded bombs and burnt corpses of the global terror group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Kobane is a Syrian city on the Turkish border and has since September last year been a battleground between ISIS and Kurdish fighters.

ISIS has attracted Muslims from various countries to fight for its vision of creating an Islamic empire. Over the last few years it has gained control in parts of Iraq and wreaked havoc in Syria.

Men raise the peace sign amidst devastating scenes of destruction in Kobane, Syria. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Men raise the peace sign amidst devastating scenes of destruction in Kobane, Syria. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Deadly clashes led thousands of Kobane’s residents to flee to other parts of Syria, Iraq and refugee camps in Turkish cities.

Kurdish fighters have pushed ISIS back to villages on Kobane’s outskirts where clashes still continue. Despite this, locals are returning to an uncertain future.

Khatoon Abdi, a mother of eight daughters and four sons, said this week in Kobane she was “happy to be home even if we don’t know if ISIS will come back”.

Khatoon Abdi with some of her 12 children in Kobane, Syria. She returned from a refugee camp in Turkey. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Khatoon Abdi with some of her 12 children in Kobane, Syria. She returned from a refugee camp in Turkey. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Our house is destroyed. We have no electricity or water. We are living in a miserable situation,” she said.

“When we heard about the liberation of Kobane we returned immediately. We were in Urfa (a Turkish city). We prefer to live in this destruction than to live in other countries.”

She added: “We want all the other people to come back. We have to remove this destruction, especially the dead bodies because it can cause diseases.”

Another returning Kobane resident, Hassan Rami, said his family was still in Diyarbakir, a Turkish city where refugee camps have housed thousands of Kurds displaced by ISIS attacks mainly in Iraq.

Rami said: “I was here (in Kobane) when ISIS came and then left to Turkey. When they first came, they shelled the city with missiles. It was too dangerous to be here. We saw the fighting.

“We went to Diyarbakir. My family is still there. I just came back to see my house. It is entirely destroyed.”

Residents struggle to comprehend the mess they have returned to. Buildings, houses and shops have been destroyed during clashes with ISIS. US-led coalition forces air strikes aimed at eliminating ISIS earlier this year led to further destruction.

Pharmacy assistant Kurdi Ibrahim kissed the street in Kobane and said: “I love it”.

Kobane in Syria has been destroyed by months of fighting and airstrikes. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Kobane in Syria has been destroyed by months of fighting and airstrikes. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Kobane was very beautiful. I am shocked to see it like this. It is very strange. We will rebuild our homes. We will give our children hope,” he said.

“I have hope that people will come back home. We need water and bread. We have no electricity. We need help from outside. Maybe other countries or the United Nations can help us.”

Fayza Abdi, co-president of the legislative council in Kobane, said locals were continually returning to their homes despite risks. The Turkish border this week opened for hundreds of refugees to re-enter Kobane.

“It is a psychological matter. People want to be in their homes,” said Abdi.

She said Kobane’s population was almost 700,000 and of that 200,000 left Syria during ISIS warfare. Many also fled to areas near Kobane.

Abdi said the legislative council had formulated a plan to rebuild Kobane but needed help.

“We have six committees that have different jobs. There are some international organisations that promised to help us rebuild Kobane but it’s just still promises,” she said.

Apart from the humanitarian crisis, Kobane’s returning residents also face the risk of land mines that ISIS planted across the town, said Abdi.

“Whenever people who return open the doors of their homes then bombs explode. This is the most difficult situation that people face when they return home,” said Abdi.

“Also there is no water. All the water wells have been destroyed. All the electricity generators have been burned.”

A representative from an international NGO, who did not want to be named, confirmed that land mines and booby trap bombs were a threat.

ISIS planted explosives in homes, streets and even on the bodies of their dead fighters, said the aid worker.

“There are booby traps in people’s homes, front doors, refrigerators, in the streets. People go back and their faces are blown off,” said the worker.

“The United Nations can’t get involved in Syria via the Turkish border because of politics. NGOs have to enter Kobane illegally but anti-mining groups can’t get in. People are just too slow to respond.”

The worker said there had already been “victims of land mines who need to be transferred to Turkey for help but are being blocked at the border”.

“They can’t get back into Turkey because the border is blocked. They can die at the border.”

Kobane’s makeshift hospital, set up in a basement school, assists civilians and Kurdish fighters injured in ongoing clashes with ISIS. A female fighter was treated for an injury to her leg at the time of this interview.

A Kurdish female fighter treated for injuries at a makeshift hospital in Kobane, Syria. Kurdish fighters are still battling IS on Kobane’s outskirts. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

A Kurdish female fighter treated for injuries at a makeshift hospital in Kobane, Syria. Kurdish fighters are still battling IS on Kobane’s outskirts. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

At the makeshift hospital, Dr Hekmet Ahmed said they had only eight beds and limited doctors.

“Our hospitals have been destroyed. We need equipment to treat people,” he said.

A walk about the destroyed city unearths ISIS fighter’s bodies, family photo albums, children’s clothes, shops that used to sell wedding dresses and other goods.

While some families have generators, most live without electricity and water supply remains scarce.

Abdi said: “We as Kurdish people defeated ISIS. It is a victory for the international community. We ask the international community to support us in reconstructing Kobane.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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