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August 2015 Featured Photographer of the Month

Mourning Kobané

Maryam Ashrafi | Syria

A YPJ fighter looks over the wreckage left by fighting on a street in Kobane, Syria, on 31 March 2015

Few months after the liberation of Kobané many families have started to come back to what is left of their houses. With the hope of rebuilding their life and their city, they clean their houses of dead bodies and bury the fighters who lost their life in the war which is still going on in three front lines near the city.


Photographer Statement

Following my ongoing project on Kurdish women fighters, I realized their battle is not only against their enemy common with the fellow male fighters (the Islamic State) but also to prove their role as women in a male dominated society—a difficult yet promising battle. The more I spent time with the women of different age groups and backgrounds, the more I realized the significance of this project.

After the liberation of Kubane, many cameras were pointed towards those women and began attracting attention of many, but sadly I realized not many people knew about the history of their involvement in previous battle grounds, as if during the war in Syria and Rojava (Kurdish autonomous region in northeastern Syria) they had picked up a gun for the first time! This was motivation to carry on my project in Kubane before going to different parts of Rojava and document this remarkable point in history, the liberation of a city which is one of the first places liberated from ISIS.

To get there, I had to cross illegally through the Turkish border like many other journalists and activists. We had to go through Suruc, on the Turkey side of the border, where I spent a week. Suruc was bombed on July 20 by ISIS, killing more than 30 people and wounding more than 100 at a Turkish cultural centre.

Finally one night we crossed the border to entered Kubane. On the same way back a month later I was arrested by Turkish police and after few hours was released. Since it was my first time they let me go with the promise of not making this so called mistake again!

In Kubane I stayed at a house for journalists or with people from Kubane whom I met and got to know. The 35 days I spent there was an unforgettable experience. Seeing people returning to what was left of their homes, the fighters who are still fighting in three front lines near the city, and leaving with them helped me realise the depth and pain of their struggle and courage. It was such a frustrating experience to see all that suffering and yet not enough help getting through. The Turkish government only opened the border one way to families who want to go back to Kobane, and yet there is no going back into Turkey for them. But for international organizations and people who wish to help with rebuilding Kubane the only way to get there is to illegally cross the border from Turkey.

There are only two schools inside the city but there are no psychological support for the children who have suffered immensely during the war. Two hospitals are open but lack of medicine and equipment make it difficult for even the most trained nurse and doctor to provide basic treatment. Only a few days before I was returning some small shops begun to open allowing people to purchase basic good and necessities.

The story of Kubane is not only about the war and consequences but also the story of the power of humanity, courage, and solidarity — something that those in power fear the most and that is why they are trying to keep the returning Kurds in absolute isolation.

Maryam Ashrafi
July 20, 2015

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