Rebuilding a New Education System in post ISIS Kobane

It’s been raining here in Kobane all week; a much welcomed rain to wash away the oppressive dust that seems to float across the city like the spectres of war that still darkens the alleyways of this small city. Sometimes in the early evenings you can look across the city and as far as the eye can see there is the cloud of dust sitting heavily across the city. A dust which results from the thousands of shattered buildings laying as wounded witnesses of a war not long ago. A dust that settles on your hair, eyelashes, the desks and bookshelves and coats everything, leaving nothing untouched; just as the war, that produced this dust, has on the lives of the people and all Kurds who continue to keep the flame of a free Kurdistan burning in their hearts.

In the centre of this wondrous city there is a ‘living museum’; a part of the city that has sustained and experienced the heaviest fighting, and also the place which has experienced the greatest loss of the lives of YPG-YPJ. There is a cluster of schools that sit in the northwestern part of the museum which have been deemed necessary to restore due to urgent need for schooling from an increasingly returning population. We visited the schools, as the Kobane Reconstruction Board, with the engineers and architects to see what could be salvaged and what lay in ruins.

The Ba’ath era schools are heavy, oppressive, square buildings built more like prison complexes, with high walls and mental bars across the windows; I dislike these buildings intensely because they represent the autocratic, undemocratic and inhumane psychology and prisons that kept the Kurds and other minorities in Rojava as less than second class citizens. I shudder wondering about what the actual prisons of the regime were like in turn, if these were the schools of such a regime. I have seen these same architectural designs all across Kobane canton and Cezire canton. When I asked why these schools were built in such a manner, I was told that they represented the Assad regime’s efforts towards controlling society. Control and discipline are of course necessary elements for producing an obedient and malleable society. Each time I see these schools I wonder about the children who have flooded the hallways of these schools across the years; their colourful souls must have been in stark contrast to the bare and lifeless walls; and wonder about their psychology and if the teachers charged with developing the minds of the future generation ever thought about the violence they imposed on the children there, whether Kurd, Arab, Armenian, Assyrian or otherwise, and whether they ever grasped how these concrete walls and iron bars crushed the children’s creativity and sense of wonder and awe for a life yet to be discovered. I wonder about the difference, the deep level of love and hope for these children months earlier when we (the European board of the Reconstruction Board) got together in Brussels to design the new schools and architectural designs we wanted to implement in the now liberated, democratic Rojava region, and the endless discussions involved. Each wall and each window was designed to increase the children’s sense of creativity, promote a sense of freedom and involvement in the learning process. Even the teacher’s desks were placed in such a way as to promote a sense of inclusive unity in the learning environment….

Now these other schools lay in ruins, just as the ideology and psychology that produced them in this region of Syria lays demolished. As we walked around the schools and I took pictures of the damaged areas for documentation and reports to be written later and send out to NGOs and supporters in the hope of funding and support, it became clear that the schools had been sights of great fighting and resistance; there were still unexploded mortars lodged in the ground, marked with an ominous X; the sandbags used to defend positions and locations still lay across the classrooms; and in some classrooms spanning over 4-5 rooms adjacent to one another wall after wall after wall had holes dug out in them to allow the fighters to move from one room to the next with ease. As I took the pictures I realised that I was not even sure if it had been Daesh or the YPG-YPJ who had made these holes in the walls and made the sandbags that had eventually led to the war being determined one way in the end. Should I have felt glad they existed or did they represent the loss of brave warriors of colossal courage?- that I felt slightly ashamed to step in the same places that they had stepped. I hoped fervently that it was the YPG-YPJ and I hoped even more vehemently that they eliminated as many Daesh in the process as they could.

In the late afternoon as I took the last few pictures, with the dying, fading sun and a progressively ominously cloudy sky making ever increasing rumbling sounds, I entered the last room and again saw the sand bags across the window. The engineers had long left the building to discuss the rebuilding approach outside, while I went room to room to document the damages; and as I entered the last room and clicked the last few pictures an earth shattering serious of thunderbolts ran catlike across the sky- and for a moment, that lasted less than a nanosecond, fading before it even formed into a concrete thought, I felt what it would have felt like to be a woman fighting, running into this room and to the window to continue the fight, with a cold, heavy weapon in my hand instead of the camera now, as the coalition planes thundered across the skies over head- and just as quickly the feeling passed before I could grasp it. And I am glad the feeling was fleeting, not least of all because I have no right to even dare assume to know what it was like to have been in this city in the thick of the war and the fighting, especially as a woman knowing what Daesh would to the YPJ caught alive. Instead I was far away, tucked away in the privileges of my life in Australia.

I have nothing profound or even worthy of interest to say here other than as if reaching across the dusts of time, and sassily riding across the thunders waves of invisible atoms, for a moment I felt a sense of profound connection with women of the past who fell fighting for this city; women whose bodies no doubt could have lain in these rooms; women whose souls now own this land once lost but now free; felt an invisible string of energy that connects us all as humans, but especially as women; and I hope they realise that every effort, every moment is taken by so many in this city, in small and incredible ways to honour their courage and their fearlessness; valour that changed the previously unchangeable maps of our lives which had seemingly been determined and written aeons ago across the sands of time by cruel, patriarchal gods; but whose bravery in the face of such terror shamed the gods into re-writing our collective destinies so that we may imagine a life different to what has always been…

What a profound city Kobane is.

Hawzhin Azeez

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