Syrian Kurds rebuilding Kobani from rubble

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by Fehim Taştekin

KOBANI, Syria — I recently stayed overnight in Serekaniye and awoke to unusual sounds at about 5 a.m. I looked out and saw a group of Asayish (local Kurdish police), both men and women, engaged in physical training in an empty lot. Serekaniye had been the scene of clashes in 2012-13 between the Kurds and groups supported by Turkey. Now, the Asayish there look like a disciplined army.

Not quite 200 miles away in Kobani, there is other evidence that the Kurds have serious aspirations for Rojava, officially the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria. Though rubble remains in most parts, the city is both rebuilding and launching new construction. There is even a new cemetery, which could be seen as a sign of intended stability.

The Syrian side of the border crossing where Turkish and Kurdistan flags flutter is heavily damaged. Streets are named after the Kurdish losses of the war. Destroyed armored vehicles buried under the rubble, damaged tanks, mortar tubes and rocket remnants create the scene of a war museum. Two tanks sit in the city square of Kobani as if they were part of a monument saluting the Kobani resistance.

The Islamic State (IS) was obsessed with Kobani. Omar Alloush, a foreign relations official with the Movement for a Democratic Society (Tev-Dem), the Rojava governing coalition, explained why with an interesting anecdote I had not heard before.

“When IS laid siege to Kobani, it cut off our water and electricity connections. They invited us to a meeting. We met in a village between Kobani and Raqqa in May 2014, before their assault on Kobani. The IS representative began his speech by saying, 'I bring you greetings from [IS leader] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Kurds are our friends. We have many Kurds in our ranks. We want you to declare an Islamic Kurdish state. The entire Islamic world will applaud you. If each Muslim pays $5 for this new state, it will accumulate $5 billion. You are the grandchildren of Salahuddin Ayyubi. Just like he liberated Jerusalem, you can also make all the states in the Middle East, especially north Kurdistan and Turkey, revert to Islam.'"

Alloush continued, "I asked the IS representative whether [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan was their friend or if they were against him. His response was, 'You don’t understand politics. Erdogan is an infidel. Now we appear to be supporting him because our interests dictate so. Erdogan is a friend of Jews.' I ended the discussion there by saying we had no intention or project to set up an Islamic state."

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