2014 was a year that shook the world. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, little known outside of the Middle East, managed to blitz across Iraq and Syria, capturing thousands of kilometers of territory, including major cities such as Mosul, Fallujah, Raqqa, and others. The speed and ferocity of the offensive took the entire world by surprise.
ISIS propaganda utilized their victories to entice tens of thousands of foreign radicals to come to the region and join their “caliphate.” The terrorist group’s merciless offensive pushed it into conflict with the forces of YPG (People’s Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units), Kurdish fighters that had already spent several years fighting the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra.
With tanks captured from retreating armies and thousands of foreign fighters, ISIS pushed into the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, imposing a brutal siege that lasted months. It was the tenacity of the Kurdish fighters, including thousands of women, that allowed the town to withstand an assault against all odds, with aid from US-led Coalition airstrikes. The city was declared completely free from ISIS on January 26th, 2015. Much was sacrificed to inflict upon ISIS their first defeat, including the lives of hundreds of members of YPG and YPJ, displacement of thousands of civilians, and over half the city being destroyed.
It is because of these sacrifices that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), including YPG and YPJ, was able to eventually defeat ISIS territorially in March 2019, and it is because of those sacrifices and the victories they enabled that we annually mark November 1st as World Kobani Day.
During the past six years since ISIS was driven out of Kobani, the AANES has worked tirelessly to rebuild and provide for the people. Their resilience is what allows the city to be where it is today. Nothing represents this better than the recent cohort of graduates from Kobani University, who became the first graduating class of the school on October 28th, 2021.
Kobani is now facing a renewed threat of invasion. The Turkish State has threatened to attack multiple areas in North and East Syria, including Kobani, Ayn Issa, and Manbij. The people of these regions have only spent a few years liberated from the threat of ISIS terrorism, and now terrorist groups, such as the US-sanctioned Ahrar al-Sharqiya, threaten them again. All the progress made in rebuilding these regions and constructing a democratic system based on equality could be destroyed. In the past few months alone, Turkish shelling and drone strikes have killed dozens of Syrians, both civilians and SDF veterans of the fight against ISIS.
The international community previously answered the call when Kobani was under threat of ethnic cleansing and destruction. The eyes of the world were fixed on the city as it became a symbol of democratic resistance in the face of terrorism. The city and wider region cannot afford another war. Peace must prevail, so that all the progress made against terrorism and its symptoms is not undone.