Sunday, February 1, 2015

Kobani: destroyed and riddled with unexploded bombs, but after defeat of ISIS, residents dream of a new start

Kurdish forces triumphed over Isis in Kobani but the Syrian town is devastated. 

The concrete eagle in what used to be Freedom Square still surveys Kobani imperiously. But around it almost nothing stands. Buildings have vanished during months of heavy shelling, replaced by snarls of steel and rubble, and the yawning craters left by US air strikes.
One side street is blocked by the bodies of Isis fighters, rotting where they fell – a pile of bones marked only by a foul smell. On the muddy track that marks where another road led, a series of tattered sniper screens veils the destruction of the schools and homes where sharpshooters had sheltered.
Everywhere there are bullet and shell casings, the twisted metal of spent mortar rounds and, often, the alarming outline of an unexploded shell, bulbous nose to the ground and tail fins spiking into the air.
The Kurdish forces’ unexpected victory in this north Syrian town marked a huge strategic and propaganda loss for Isis, which once seemed unstoppable in their rampage across the region.
But the mountains of ruins, the shells and booby traps, the decaying corpses and shattered power and water systems means that while Kobani has been freed, it is no longer a town in anything but name. Salvation from Isis came at the price of Kobani itself.
“There are no words coming back to a destroyed city that was your home,” said Shamsa Shahinzada, an architect who fled Kobani days before Isis arrived and who was our guide to the shattered remains – still off-limits to most of its former inhabitants.
“This was the main square where people crowded every week to ask for freedom,” she said, eyes filling with tears as she surveyed what was left of Kobani’s centre. “This was our friend’s home, we used to stay there. Oh God. Beside there, there was a school – my high school.”
Over half the city was destroyed, officials say. Entire blocks are pancake flattened, as if an earthquake had struck. Even in quieter areas, no building seems to have escaped unscathed – those still standing are missing windows, doors, whole sections of walls, scorched black by fire or looted during the fighting.
Some things that inexplicably survived only highlight the devastation around them: an unsold tray of snacks sat in one shop window like a perfectly preserved museum exhibit on a street littered with jagged metal, piles of rubble and the twisted bodies of cars used for suicide bombs.
Even on the streets that still look like streets, there is an eerie silence – broken only by the crackle of distant gunfire, the pop of a nearby shot from training grounds and the echoing blast of air strikes and attacks by Isis tanks – a constant reminder that while the militants have been kicked out of the city the frontline is still just a few kilometres away.. read more: