Remembering Kobani Before The Siege

Before ISIS militants surrounded the Syrian city, it had flourished as a place of tolerance and free speech. Now, that rich legacy has been wiped out.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo

I am sitting on the Turkish-Syrian border, adjacent to the city of Kobani, watching hundreds of children sob. They have no place to sleep but the street. Farmers, fearing ISIS attacks, have left the city with their sheep. In Kobani, sheep and humans shared a common fate—both risked slaughter by brutal ISIS militias and both were left to wander in the brush.

Our houses—and the memories of my childhood—are now left in the hands of a criminal, terrorist gang. ISIS is not a rebel group as many say. ISIS kills rebels and more members of the Syrian and Kurdish opposition than anyone else. They focus attacks not on the regime, but rather its opposition.

Before the ISIS attacks, Kobani was a sort of safe haven. Debates were held in public and people expressed their political views without fear of the regime, which once ruled there for decades. For the first time, people were ruling themselves. Every other day, you would see demonstrations and Kurdish flags along side flags of the Syrian revolution.

Kobani is a city rich in history. It was a mirror of Syria’s diversity—Kurds, Syriacs, Assyrians, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Yazidis. All that disappeared when the monsters with black flags arrived in Kobani. They slaughtered people and raped women. They colored Kobani in the darkest and ugliest of hues.

From our perspective, the refugees of Kobani, it is clear that air strikes will stop ISIS. Collation attacks on ISIS haven’t defeated the terrorist group. Kobani has been under systematic attack by ISIS for a month a half. Hundreds of civilians have been arrested. Food, supplies, children’s formula, and medicine are on the list of prohibited products banned from entering the city.

On September 18, ISIS dramatically took the offensive in Syria. It attained heavy weaponry after capturing the headquarters of the the 17th Division of the Syrian army Al Raqqa and advanced into Mosul and Al Tabaqa military airport. More than 8,000 of foreign fighters surrounded the city from every direction. The city has been under severe shelling; houses have been robbed, women raped and thousands of families fled to the Turkish border.

My family was one of those; they live now in Turkey in desperate conditions. Until ISIS’s advance, Kobani had been a peaceful city. Our family and others went about their daily activities. Our city was famous for producing olive oil. Now the only thing produced is the blood of innocents.

Finally, a week ago, peshmerga entered Kobani to fight ISIS. The villagers have welcomed this. Women threw rice on peshmerga fighters, a tradition practiced at Syrian weddings when neighbors welcome the bride and groom. It is symbolic and moving to see Kurds marching toward Kobani—a reminder that Kurds from one part Syria are rushing to help Kurds in a different place.

Tens of thousands of civilians still live in the city, starving, with limited food and water. Some 4,000 civilians fled the area and headed for the Turkish border. But the Turks are not helpful enough. Some border points are closed and they are not permitting all refugees to enter.

Now Syrians are sleeping in the streets despite the rain. Children are suffering from fever and food poisoning. No one is coming to our help. Kobani is on the verge of destruction. The refugees beg for the world to save Kobani.

Mustafa Abdi is a Syrian Kurdish activist from the city of Kobani. He’s currently on the Syria-Turkey border reporting on the events in his hometown. Mr. Abdi is also the director of Arta FM radio in Kobani. is a crowdsourcing platform created by Advancing Human Rights which connects activists from dictatorships with people around the world with skills to help them.