Sunday, February 15, 2015

Kobani: A small but important town

Kurds watching the battle for Kobani from across the border in Turkey
Photo from David Takaki (@Truth2Pwer), 2014

The small town of Kobani became internationally-known with the long and deadly battle against terrorists of the Islamic State or ISIS. However, the people of this small town had been resisting attacks long before 2014. The Syrian regime treated Kurds as second-class citizens, even stripping many of their citizenships, and thus, making them illegal in their own country. The decades-long oppression of Kurds culminated in 2004 when Kurds in Syria began experiencing crackdowns against political dissidents in their communities. Among the political groups being targeted was the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, which would years later lead the fight against the al-Qaeda/al-Nusra and ISIS attacks against Kurdish territories.

The right of association was not one that was afforded to people in Syria and Kurds organized themselves in unofficial and underground groups and forums. They sought to raise awareness of the Kurdish issue in Syria within their own communities and to reach out to groups outside of Syria as well. When the PYD began organizing events more openly in 2008, their supporters became the targets of governmental crackdowns. The video below from 2008 was posted by the Washington-based NGO, the Syrian Tharwa Foundation, showing a celebratory event organized by the PYD in Kobani. It was one of many instances in which Syrian Security Forces responded to a Kurdish gathering with tear gas, live bullets, and injuring and arresting dozens:

   

In 2012, Kurds began taking control of their cities, towns, and villages after expelling Syrian state security forces from the territories. At the time, Assad was more concerned with the rebellions taking place elsewhere in the country, which were a far more immediate threat to Damascus. The Kurds were primarily concerned with their own security and preventing a spillover of the nasty civil war that was unfolding in Syria. A short year later, the spillover would take place when jihadist elements such as al-Nusra, and later ISIS, would focus their efforts on expanding into PYD-held territories. 

Since 2013, the PYD and its administration's forces, the YPG, have been battling jihadist militants. In 2014, prior to the ISIS takeover of Mosul, the YPG had been engaged in long battles with ISIS. The rest of the story is well known as the town of Kobani went from a small town of Kurdish resistance to a centerpiece of the international campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS - one of the deadliest terrorist organization's in recent history.

Today, Kobani is free from the threat of Islamic State rule. Kurdish fighters have been making further gains by securing much of the territory surrounding the small city. However, the city still faces the threat of another attack as well as countless explosive remnants of war. These two concerns should be carefully considered as the campaign against ISIS continues. Kurdish fighters, with the help of American-led coalition airstrikes dealt ISIS a huge blow in morale by saving Kobani. Kurdish fighters - neither a friend to jihadists nor the Assad regime - were an effective ground-force for the coalition. Their victory also set the stage for a reversal of the Islamic State's ambitions. The coalition should continue to work with Kurdish fighters to preserve and build on these achievements.

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