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Plan to turn parts of Kobani into open-air museum stirs controversy

After a four-month siege by the Islamic State, the northern […]

18 May 2015

After a four-month siege by the Islamic State, the northern Syrian city of Kobani was re-taken in January 2015 by Kurdish People’s Protection (YPG) Units, the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), assisted by US-led coalition airstrikes and elements of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

In the months since, local and international bodies have discussed the future of the city, and this May a conference was held in Turkey to lay the groundwork for its reconstruction. The PYD’s autonomous government earlier this year announced its intent to leave large swathes of the city in ruins as an open-air museum memorializing the Battle of Kobani.

In response, the Barzani-affiliated Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Kobani released a statement calling the legitimacy of the announcement into question and raising fears of its possible impact on locals.

Wes Shaykhy, a member of the KNC in Kobani, underscored the potential dangers of the proposed project, saying “there are still buildings destroyed by warplanes that contain the corpses of IS fighters…if things stay as they are, it would be a health disaster.”

Syria Direct interviewed Mustafa al-Abdi, the director of radio ARTA FM in Kobani, who was also critical of the proposal.  “Loyalty to the Kobani resistance and the martyrs means for us to rebuild their homes…the coalition turned Kobani into rubble to liberate it, not for it to be turned into a museum.”

Below are excerpts from both interviews, conducted by Syria Direct’s Ghalia Mukhalati.


Wais Shaykhi, member of Kobani’s Kurdish National Council

Q: What are you thoughts on the plan for the museum?

There are fears on the part of the people that they will not be reimbursed [for the land] in a fair way, and that this big space will split up the city because the space is more than 80 hectares.

Leaving this space as it is now could cause future health problems; there are still buildings destroyed by warplanes that contain the corpses of IS fighters, and we don’t know what kind of weapons were used in the fighting, either by the Coalition or IS, and these [left-behind] weapons could have bad effects in the future

The local government supposes cleanup will be easy, but it will be very difficult.

A wall will be built around the destroyed buildings and they will be converted into a museum. We are still reviewing the plans.

The autonomous [Kurdish] local government does not have the resources to remove the ruins. An estimated 3,200 buildings were destroyed in the fighting, between completely destroyed and semi-destroyed.

If things stay as they are, it will be a health disaster. The Council is waiting for the international community to re-build Kobani, and this might not happen during the ongoing war in Syria. Removing the corpses will not be an easy task, as they are rubble, and because of that, all of these things are related to the developments on the ground.

 The Arabic reads: “The Museum of Democratic Kobani.” Photo courtesy of Bedir Mula.

Mustafa al-Abdi, the director of radio ARTA FM in Kobani

Q: The PYD has decided to turn more than two-thirds of Kobani into a museum. Which part of the city does this decision cover? And is it residential, or state-owned?

The proposed area is up to 80 hectares in the center of Kobani, and most of it includes private properties and schools.

Q: What is the reason for this decision? What will the museum contain?

The decision, according to those who made it, was to commemorate the martyrs of Kobani who died defending the city, and memorialize the resistance of the fighters.

The self-administration suggests moving military equipment, war debris, and other things to that area.

Q: How have civilians whose homes have been confiscated reacted to this? Do you personally know anybody whose property falls within scope of the plan?

Certainly, I know many people whose houses and possessions are within the current boundaries of the museum, and most civilians reject the decision.

Q: The KNC published an announcement calling for the local government to revoke the decision. Will there be a response?

No, the political differences between the Kurdish parties are very deep, and therefore the decision of the KNC was not met with any response by the self-administration.

Q: In the event that the decision is carried out, what is the civilians’ loss?

It would be a very great loss, there are hundreds of properties and shops and homes within the boundaries of the museum, and though the local government says that it would compensate those who suffer damages, and would construct properties outside the city, it would not make up for these great losses.

Q: Who runs Kobani now that it has been liberated? And what stage is the reconstruction at?

Kobani is currently under PYD control, which announced the self-government with the participation of some other parties.

Q: What are the living conditions in the city? Have civilians returned to the area?

Up to 70,000 civilians have returned, and they are living in difficult conditions due to the scarcity of various food items, supplies and fuel, as well as a lack of services and the spread of debris from the war. There is also an absence of electricity, water and fuel, on top of the destruction of infrastructure and the ongoing war on the outskirts of the city.

Q: What is your personal opinion about this decision?

Of course I reject it: in my opinion, the international coalition that came together to destroy our homes and neighborhoods and villages is now also obligated to rebuild it.

The coalition turned Kobani into rubble to liberate it, not for it to be turned into a museum.

And loyalty to the Kobani resistance and the martyrs means to rebuild their homes so that their families, brothers, and mothers return to live in them, to hang pictures of their martyred children, not for it to be turned into a museum to take pictures of.

Rebuilding Kobani is the best way to commemorate the martyrs and their resistance, not the museum. The return of the children, the brothers of the martyrs to their houses to play in the gardens is the greatest loyalty to the blood of the martyrs. 

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