‘God willing, the world won’t forget the sacrifices my people made’: a Kobani woman’s experience of the Syrian Civil War

Protesting the Turkish military patrols in Northern Syria. Photo: Nishtiman Haci Murad

Nishtiman Haci Murad in conversation with Cameron Weymes

I was 21 years old with a dream of becoming a journalist when the Arab Spring came to Syria in early 2011. I was a second year English student in the coastal city of Latakia, five hours away from my home town of Kobani.

By 2013, the situation in Latakia had become too dangerous for me to continue there. As a member of the Kurdish ethnic minority, I was viewed suspiciously by both the government and the rebels. Some of my fellow students were taking sides in the war resulting in a wave of arrests and kidnappings.

In addition, fighting between rebel groups and pro-government forces meant I risked being cut off from my hometown. So – with a year to go before graduation – I left my dream behind me and returned home, fluent in English but without the degree to show for it.

The Syrian city of Kobani with Turkey in the background. Photo: Cameron Weymes

In Kobani, the war was taking its toll economically and groups such as Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra were gaining power nearby. After my younger brother Dezgevan died of a short illness, the rest of my siblings took the decision to find work in Turkey to support our parents.

Life was tough there and we took any work we could get. We moved around from place to place working in farms and factories – and if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Some days, I had no money whatsoever and got by on the goodwill of some kind friends.

Meanwhile, back home, international news media had descended on my town where a six month siege by Isis was under way. Hundreds of male and female militia members hung onto the town and eventually pushed back against the jihadists with the support of coalition airstrikes.

Kobani’s men and women killed during the fight against Isis. Photo: Cameron Weymes

By 2015, it was safe to return home. 70 per cent of my town lay in ruins. My neighbours’ house had been used as a base by Isis fighters, luckily mine had been left untouched.

I quickly found work as an English teacher in a local school before moving to a nearby Institute of Education. There had been something of a social revolution in my town during the war. Female militia members had been instrumental in defending Kobani from Isis and dozens were martyred in the cause. As an independent, working woman, I’ve felt nothing but support from my people. They tell me I’m good at English and deserve success in life.

After four years of relative stability, our region returned to chaos in October when Turkey and its allied militias invaded towns nearby, cutting us off from the north-east of the country.

American forces withdrew from Kobani prior to the invasion with Russia and Turkey now performing joint military patrols in the area. Nine years after the beginning of the war, people from my town are still fleeing – this time fearing further Turkish aggression, including my best friend who left for Iraq last month. I miss him dearly.

Nishtiman at the Euphrates River in Northern Syria. Photo: Nishtiman Haci Murad

The situation is really difficult economically at the moment, and the Syrian Pound is now worth less than 10% of its 2010 value, squeezing our already small wages.

Despite these hardships, I still have hope for the future. I want the war to end, to complete my studies and get my degree. God willing the world won’t forget the sacrifices my people made to defeat Isis.

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