Al-Tabqa: A City Rising from Ashes

Destruction in the city of al-Tabqa – July 5, 2018 (Enab Baladi)

Destruction in the city of al-Tabqa – July 5, 2018 (Enab Baladi)


After four years, he spent in Turkey escaping the authority of the “Islamic State” (ISIS), Hazem Mohammad, 27 years old, decided to return to the city of al-Tabqa, rural Raqqa, where his family lives, expelling the fear that controlled him concerning the return to the city while it was under the control of ISIS.

To Enab Baladi, Hazem said: “Life is easier now, and people started to return to their homes and jobs,” pointing to the “little” difficulties which face the people traveling between one city and another under the control of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) that are almost limited to inspection at the checkpoints, erected on the roads, including checking identity documents.

The checkpoints inspect the names of the people passing through; they also make sure that all their documents and identity cards (family register, personal identity cards and passports) are original, for copies are refused, confiscated or damaged, as Hazem has confirmed to Enab Baladi.

The young man added: “Passing and residence would be a lot easier if your place of birth or residence is in the areas that are totally controlled by SDF (Raqqa, al-Tabqa and al-Hasakah).” People from other parts of Syria might be interrogated about their destination and their reasons for coming to the area.

The “Asayish” (SDF-affiliate local police) checkpoints spread at crossroads, at the entrances to major towns and cities. They can be identified by the blue and white which color the cement mounds and lights that are either red or orange, with reflective badges and signs ordering passers to stop for inspection at the checkpoints.

The Arrival and the Guarantor

Hazem chose to return to live with his family, searching for an opportunity to work in al-Tabaqa, assuring that many of his friends have returned to Raqqa and al-Tabqa, for both areas are witnessing the return of their population from different areas inside and outside Syria.

The “Islamic State” withdraw from the city of al-Tabqa, the western countryside of Raqqa, about a month after the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) launched the “Euphrates Wrath” military operation through which they managed to capture wide areas of Raqqa governorate.

“SDF” allocated the management of the city to a local council formed of its people, but it yet manages all its military and security joints and encircles it with a number of checkpoints. In addition to this, most of the Kurdish “Self-Management” laws are applied in the area.

The last checkpoint before the main entrance to al-Tabqa is the one to make a decision if a person is or is not allowed passage to the city, as Ali said, a member of “Asayish.” He said that the matter depends on the arrival’s possession of guarantee documents from people who already reside in the city. In case, the papers are not provided, the person wanting to pass has to wait for the guarantor to personally come to the checkpoint.

Ali, 21 years old, was displaced from Deir ezZor many years ago with his family to finally settle down in the city of al-Tabqa, where he joined “SDF” as a part of its “Asayish” forces.

He stressed that entering the SDF-held cities and residing there, even if for a limited period, necessitates the presence of a guarantor, who have been living there prior to 2012.

The guarantor, as explained by Ali, is a person who ensures the arrivals’ behavior and “moral decency,” as well as that he is not a former recruit of any faction or armed group. Arrival is the adjective given to every visitor or resident in the city, who is not originally from there.

The arrivals do not have the right to guarantee other arrivals; they are also provided with specific documents and identity cards, named “Arrival Card,” issued by the area’s administrative councils.


Inside al-Tabqa City

The feelings of the returnees to al-Tabqa, as they enter the city in which “SDF” shows a great interest, are a mix of joy, longing and fear of the unknown. To pass to the city, which some people call “SDF Capital,” the arrivals have to cross al-Sad dam, reaching the bus station, near the market area, where passengers and vehicles strive alike.

The city is divided into two parts; the first is called the “neighborhoods,” joining three neighborhoods near the al-Wasea Lake, one of al-Tabqa’s land marks and the most beautiful of all. The lake was constructed behind the Euphrates Dam, 1968, on the Euphrates river.

The shelling’s impact yet appears on the first, second and third neighborhoods, clear through destroyed buildings and bullet holes.

The second part is the “market,” a popular area split into a number of neighborhoods, with an Arab majority. Some of the area’s buildings have a modern style, of two or three floors, that harmonize with its popular traits, resembling the village atmosphere. According to the people, the area did not suffer a massive damage and looks less destroyed.

Basic services are available in the city of al-Tabaqa most of the day. Early 2018, “SDF” provided 80% of the city with electricity, while the municipality workshops work constantly to reconstruct infrastructure, clear off the rubble and beautify the city.


New Words and Kurdish Character

Entering “SDF” control areas, the word “Heval” appears as the most used, meaning a companion or a friend in Kurdish. Colloquially, the word refers to the “Syrian Democratic Forces” and the “Self-Management” recruits, both civilians and militants. This is not the only word that found its way to the local dictionary, for many others are being used by the area’s people in their daily life, as Hasnah Akab, 43 years old woman, told Enab Baladi.

Akab was displaced from the city of al-Tabqa with her children to the city of al-Bab, rural Aleppo, before she decided to return, searching for safety. In the return, she found “a chance to build her life anew.”

Akab added that the new words have covered all life domains, let them be economic, social, intellectual or administrative, including the administrate designations. For example, there is the word “comin,” which refers to the administrative units within the “Self-Management’s” sectors. There are also the titles of administrative and military agencies, such as “Asayish” and the “Women’s Protection Units” that people are using without any form of “alienation.”

Despite the slight changes in al-Tabqa city’s life pattern, security developments and services give the people a sense of comfort, which they lacked during the reign of the “Islamic State,” for Hazem Mohammad’s dream of having his own family and starting a small project is no more impossible since the return to his city manifests a new life, which promises a better future.

A map showing military control areas in Northern Syria (Livemap)

A map showing military control areas in Northern Syria (Livemap)

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