January 26, marked the six-year anniversary of “Kobani Liberation Day, when the Kurdish fighters stopped ISIS and pushed it back.
Like the Battle of Stalingrad against the Nazi menace, the Battle of Kobani in 2014 was an epic moment in which the surging tide of ISIS and its genocidal religious fanaticism was stopped by heroic fighters who refused to surrender.
Tuesday, January 26, marked the six-year anniversary of Kobani Liberation Day, when Kurdish fighters stopped ISIS and pushed it back.
It is hard to remember now those dark days because so much has changed. In the spring of 2014 ISIS was rampaging across Syria and Iraq. At the time the group had emerged from the shadows of areas where Syrian rebels were fighting the Syrian regime.
The group, which attracted some 50,000 foreign fighters and up to 5,000 people from Europe, sought to exterminate and enslave minorities and create an Islamic “caliphate.” ISIS members openly preached on social media and shared videos of beheadings.
When they had sponged up support from extremists who hovered around the Syrian rebels, they rapidly expanded into new areas. They set their sights on Iraq because their interest was not in defeating the Assad regime, but taking over both Syria and Iraq.
They took Mosul in June 2014 and began a campaign of genocide against Shi’ites and then against Yazidis and Christians.
In August 2014 they increased their attacks on Kurds and laid siege to Kobani. Kobani is a city in northern Syria along the Turkish border.
Here, a member of NATO looked down at ISIS flags across the border and did nothing to stop it. In fact, Turkey would close its border only later, to stop Kurds from crossing, but not to stop ISIS. There was a mass of support for ISIS arriving through Turkey.
Kurdish fighters in Kobani tried to hold on. Turkey, playing a kind of double game, enabled Kurds from the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq to transit to help in the battle. These fighters – the Peshmerga – joined the People’s Protection Units to defend Kobani. Every meter and house had to be fought for.
The US participated in the campaign with airstrikes.
Today, Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve, the US anti-ISIS coalition, celebrates the sacrifice in Kobani. The spokesperson wrote that “on January 25, 2015, Kurdish fighters, supported by CJTFOIR airstrikes, liberated Kobani and showed that Daesh [ISIS] wasn’t invincible and denied them a strategic objective.”
While the US military has congratulated the Kurdish fighters, the Kurds in Syria have suffered in recent years.
In January 2018 Turkey backed Syrian extremists to attack Afrin, much as ISIS had once attacked Kurdish areas. With Turkey’s backing the Kurds were ethnically cleansed, women kidnapped and raped, and the area was destroyed.
In October 2019 Turkey again launched an attack on Kurds in Tel Abyad near Kobani.
Turkey even threatened to unleash its extremists, many of whom are similar to ISIS in ideology, to sack Kobani.
This was prevented due to a deal with Russia and the Syrian regime. The city that so many had sacrificed for was handed, like a ripe plum, to Russia and the Assad regime, and US influence evaporated overnight, as Washington demanded US forces withdraw in October 2019. It was a betrayal.
Today, people in eastern Syria are trying to salvage things. The betrayal of October 2019, the Turkish invasions, the resurgence of ISIS, and lack of international support for rebuilding efforts harm people. But everyone puts on a brave face.
The defeat of ISIS in Kobani was important, and it helped turn the tide of the war. The question today is whether peace can be won.