Residents of Tabqa speak out about ISIS oppression for the first time

The battle for Tabqa is almost over. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have made sweeping and efficient gains and have fully encircled ISIS militants.

The people in the liberated areas are jubilant at their liberation and are now engaged in efforts to return to normal life. The scars of ISIS oppression are visible in derelict buildings, but are also deeply engrained in the minds and hearts of the people.

Suffering was great and affected every single citizen. The children of Tabqa were lured into joining the ‘cubs of the caliphate’ with promises of money, safety and refugee if they joined; men and women were harassed, oppressed and controlled by the ISIS religious police (Hisba).

One citizen gives a list of oppressive tactics used by ISIS claiming they used “lashes…torture…killing” and engaged in “slaughtering men…killing children…torture…imprisoning women and children”. He continues that “they come to someone and torture them and force them to walk like an animal from the main street at al-Ashrawi roundabout to the second market roundabout. The man then acts like an animal and they force him to put on clothing that says ‘cigarette seller’”.

Life post-ISIS will be difficult: rebuilding broken roads, ransacked and destroyed business and homes, as well as reinstalling damaged critical infrastructure like electricity supplies will take a while, but in time will all be hopefully be reinstated. What is more difficult, however, especially for children, is to ensure that there are effective support systems in place to help those who have been traumatised by the group. In spite of all the troubles, people are enjoying the simple pleasures of life, which, before under ISIS rule could have landed you with a fine, or worse, death.

For now, however, SDF fighters must remain vigilant to ensure they keep pressure on ISIS in order to oust them completely. With Raqqa being their next battlefield, the SDF must be able to signal to the ISIS leadership that they are strong, determined and equipped to defeat them once and for all.