As the city of Kobani rebuilds from the brutal ISIS siege of 2014, activists such as Oum Rinas seek to also revive its cultural heritage that had been suppressed under the Ba'ath rule for decades.
The war in Syria has had an impact in virtually every region and community across the country, changing many of them in ways unimaginable back in 2011. Among these places is Kobani in northern Syria.
Located along the Turkish border, the city with a Kurdish majority was among the first areas to come under the control of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) following the withdrawal of Syrian Government forces and it has been under the group’s de-facto control since 2012. The Kurdish community here has since sought to express its culture and language that had been suppressed under the Arab Nationalist Ba’ath Party for decades.
Among such cultural activists is Saliha Hamou, also known as Oum Rinas. A local of Kobani, the 50-year-old has lived through the many changes her town experienced. Having seen the destruction wrought upon her town by ISIS militants during the brutal militant siege in 2014 and the reconstruction efforts afterwards, Oum Rinas sought to make her own contributions to the reviving of Kobani’s culture and heritage.
Her main expertise is traditional textiles and she has been working tirelessly to make wool clothing in traditional styles. She has also bought rugs made in traditional Kurdish style and, where needed, fixed them. She proudly exhibits these pieces around her house, as well as cooperating with a number of museums and cultural organisations who share her goals. She hopes that her efforts will be instrumental in protecting and reviving the culture of Kobani and aims to help open a folklore museum in the town.
She is not alone in her efforts. On account of its fight against ISIS, Kobani has emerged as a major symbol of Kurdish resistance, identity and culture. The city saw the establishment of numerous other schools and institutions aimed at Kurdish cultural revival, as well as general educational pursuits that were neglected under the Ba’ath and actively suppressed under ISIS. Indeed, the education system has also been changed to not only give the Kurdish population of the region more space for expression, but also to promote coexistence and pluralism. For many Syrian Kurds, there is no returning from the path they took and returning to the days before 2011.