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Tag Archive for amuda

Rojava Dispatch Two: The Road to Kobane / The Skeletal City

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El Errante

It is dark in Kobane, far darker than what you’d expect for a city of 150,000 souls. A few lights wink and crackle out of the encroaching dust and night, and the stillness is broken by the noise of grinding electrical generators and the sound of dumptrucks being filled with rubble and then driving off to one of the dumps outside the city center. It’s almost a year since the siege and there is still no electricity. I am sitting on a porch of the only real hotel in Kobane sipping (yet one more) sweetened tea in a glass. I’m glad I made it from Amuda to here, the road was long, the road was creepy, but now, the road is over.

My driver picked me up at 6am in the morning after a sleepless night at a YPG outpost in Amuda. As I walked out the door a YPG soldier threw me a warm pita. I folded it into quarters and put it into my shoulder bag — something to eat on the way. I left way too early to have breakfast. The guy who picked me up, Salah, was driving one of the ever-present white Hyundai (or Toyota) vans, I crawled in the front and we sped off. It takes four hours to get from Amuda to Kobane, assuming the road’s not closed for any reason.P1000139

The scenery was pretty much the same between Amuda and Serekaniye, more villages, hundreds of villages, and fields that were not fallow were filled with cotton and melon.

Between the border with the KRG and Serekaniye there’s very little to indicate that that the Kurdish Autonomous Region is at war with anyone. Once into Serekaniye that impression dissolves rapidly. Large buildings are studded with pockmarks from small arms fire, and here and there one shows signs of being hit by larger ordnance. In fact Serekaniye was one of the side battles fought prior to the Siege of Kobane in November of 2012. It lies directly on the road to Kobane, sits right on the Turkish border, and if it had been taken by al-Nusra (the Islamist terrorists de jour at that point) Kurdish supply lines to Kobane would have been severed. The YPG responded rapidly to the threat and fought viciously, eventually routing the jihadis. The area around Serekaniye is still somewhat contested though final mop up conducted during the spring seems to have ended any military threat of losing the city.

 

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And on the road one can see just how serious the YPG/J and Asayis take the threat — multiple roadblocks and traps are set between Serekaniye and Kobane. The militias have no intention of paying twice for the city of Kobane. At one point we passed a mine that had blown out half the road and eventually were brought to a stop by heavy construction equipment. A rocket had hit the road in the night and it was closed definitely. My driver shrugged, and we set out across a dirt road to go around the obstruction. We had gone about five miles when we encountered an Arab militia checkpoint. Salah pulled up spoke a few words in Arabic and then asked quite clearly, ”YPG?”

To which the response was a headshake and the mumbled acronym in Arabic of some other militia. My driver winced, and we drove on. This is where my nerves started get the best of me and I had him stop and reassure me that it was okay. He shrugged and said, “Syria.” I then knew where we were. In some of the areas of Rojava small enclaves have declared for Syria, this includes the section of Qamishli next to the Turkish border, and evidently the tiny village we were driving through — as evidenced by a Syrian flag floating proudly from a telephone pole. A few more turns and we were back on the road headed to Kobane, passing an Asayis or YPG checkpoint every ten miles. Landmarks I had come to appreciate and look forward to for a variety of reasons.

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On the last approach into Kobane from the east you are finally aware that, yes, you are in a war zone. A large ridge of earth has been erected effectively screening the city from approach and every here and there tank traps can be seen jutting out from the sand. Passing this earth wall the city rises up and shows its wounds. Large areas of the outer city have been turned into great dumps of concrete, twisted steel and burned out cars. Then a building catches your eye, it is only half standing and leans oddly against its neighbor; its floors in various states of anti-Euclidean geometry. By the time you come to the city center you encounter whole blocks razed, pounded to rubble, and here and there one sees a building untouched by even small arms fire surrounded by the hulking wrecks of its former neighbors. Luck counts. The streets are dusty, and an occasional water tanker passes in a vain attempt to keep the air breathable. This in combination with the backhoes digging out the wreckage one scoop at a time and the constant movement of heavy trucks as they take the detritus to the growing concrete and steel fields ensures that Kobane is almost always drowning in dust. In fact my first night I walked out at twilight and the city looked more like an impressionist painting by Monet than anything else. Buildings melded into each other in the dust, colors and shapes softened and were lost. A blurred x-ray of a city.

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In spite of this people move to Kobane daily, in fact with the cheap real estate — you pay what you can afford — there something of a run on property. As an example an Arab man I spoke to bought a house, complete, for around 15,000 Syrian Pounds ($80 at today’s exchange rate). Not bad.

It’s late, I’m tired and have developed a serious negative attitude towards the Syrian squat toilet. Tomorrow it’s time to look into the issue of revolution, and speak to the residents of this city in the process of slow rebirth.

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Rojava Dispatch One: Greetings from the Revolution

Arriving by ferry

El Errante

The young Kurdish woman, a border worker, walks me down to the launch on the Tigris River, I look out over the water and shallow canyon that 10,000 years ago gave birth to animal domestication, agriculture, complex hierarchical societies, in a word–civilization. She hands me my passport, says good luck and I step into the launch. It slowly glides across the river, the two or three other men in the boat talk in Kurmanji and generally ignore the clueless American, rendered in their native tongue, merikik. As we draw to the far shore the difference between the border sites operated by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Autonomous Kurdish Region is obvious, the former is huge with multiple buildings, paved roads and two restaurants, the latter is several card tables set on the pebbled beach of the Tigris. Two young members of the internal Rojava security force (Asayîş) search through suspect bags, they look at me, smile and P1000126return to their work. Oddly, at a border crossing, I feel, for the first time ever, welcome. There are a few large tents set on the beach to cover the overheated who are waiting to cross, and that’s it. I had been given a contact name and when I mentioned it to one of the Asayîş she waved me over to a man who arranged passage for me up the hill to the original Syrian border facility by car. There I met my contact and was served the ubiquitous sugared glass of tea. A beverage that by this time I had drunk enough of to not just stretch my bladder, but to break it. I sip the tea and he calls a translator to help with our discussion. I introduce myself and what I hope to accomplish in Rojava—some sense of the institutions that the Kurds have implemented since the stabilization of the battlefront; including the local assemblies, how they interact with the militias, the executive councils, and some of the new institutions — schools, universities and infrastructure that the PYD and their allies have built. He abruptly asked what I needed, after which I just about dropped my tea, and then mumbled sheepishly, ”A car? A translator?”

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He nodded and indicated that the PYD could provide that. He did want to make clear several things, first the PKK and the PYD are two separate and non-contiguous entities. Next that what is happening in Rojava is a direct reflection of the ideas and philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan (pronounced in Kurmanji, Ojalan, you fucking heathens). I nodded, noting the twingy feeling in my gut of hero worship, then reminded myself that this hero is buried so deep in a Turkish prison that they probably won’t let him out after he dies.

I was given a car and driver and sent to Amuda, to make contact with folks at the cantonal PYD media center. The next three hours were spent driving across Rojava, a really unique mix of mountains, plains, agriculture, oil wells, villages and people. The Asayîş check points were entertaining, the soldiers would look at the driver, then at me and say, ”Thank you,” or nod. My tattoos raised an occasional Kurdish eyebrow. The folks on the street were wide-eyed, and silently kind.

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In Amuda I met with the media folks and they asked me what I wanted to do, I set out my ideas and goals (once again) and they decided to send me to Kobani first thing as the weather looks like it will rain by the end of this week or the beginning of next. The roads are a mélange of asphalt, dirt, and in one or two places gaping pits left by ISIS car bombs. Therefore a good solid rain can really stop movement on the roads. Finally, the media people sent me to a house for journalists run by the YPG — communal living — but not a problem. At the house there was a smattering of journalists, some folks from the Netherlands helping to revamp a local hospital. There is a CNN crew here trying to make some kind of story out of Rojava, and since there is currently no huge amount of bloodshed here — it’s obviously not a great way to sell advertising. I have been listening to them prepare a video report for the past half hour in which — basically nothing happens — oh, and a YPJ militia woman gets asked pointed, burning questions like, ”Do you want kids, or to stay in the militia?” Devastating. I always wanted to listen to a CNN report being prepped. One off the bucket list.

So tomorrow it’s off to Kobani for several days. I am in one of the sketchiest places on earth, surrounded by friends — I am not afraid. More later….Version 5