A day with SDF fighters amidst the siege in Raqqa
In Raqqa legends of unparalleled comradeship and self-sacrifice, that has grown with a deep sense of unity among the Kurdish and Arab fighters, are filling the pages of history.
The Great Battle launched on June 6 by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from two flanks to liberate Raqqa's city centre is ongoing. ISIS gangs are sitting in a tight deadlock following the two flanks' meeting. The days of the ISIS gangs, who are trying desperately to keep themselves alive by resorting to suicide attacks, planting of land mines and assassination plots, are numbered. The SDF has increased their operations in these last two weeks and have also started to engage in battle during daytime. The fighters are giving it all, to deliver the finals ISIS deserved.
When you talk about Raqqa, you will do injustice to the truth of the young men and women fighting at the front lines in Raqqa, if you restrict it to the advances on the ground, the captured areas and the numbers of ISIS thugs taken out. Because there is not only war in Raqqa, but huge resistance and legends are filling the pages of history every single day. In Raqqa epics of unprecedented comradeship and altruism, that have come into being with the deep sense of unity among the Kurdish and Arab fighters, are being written down. No words can ever describe the resistance put up by the Kurdish and Arab fighters, their loyalty to each other, their altruism and unexampled comradeship. These fighters that are engaged in a war in Raqqa are demonstrating how fraternity of the peoples will look like. They do not adhere to theories and policies, but live and fight side by side filled with affection and trustfulness, without even glancing at political benefits and balances. Only by recalling commander Egîd, whom we have witnessed with our own eyes, the attempt to express the comradeship shining in Raqqa can be facilitated.
A TWO DAYS OPERATION
As the fighting in Raqqa takes place also during daytime now, we accompanied the SDF units to document the operations there. A commander coordinating the battle said: "I will assign you to the Dirbêsiyê Battalion, to comrade Egîd, you will not sway from his commands."
When we reached our unit, we met Egîd, a young commander with a smiling face but who still looks a bit older due to his beard. He had been already informed that we were going to walk along with the unit under his command. He said that they would go into action the following day at 5 am and wanted us to prepare ourselves accordingly.
THE COMMANDER OF THE ATTACK FLANK
Egîd is a YPG fighter from Kobanê, in his twenties, and the commander of the Dirbêsiyê Battalion. He took part in the historic battle of Kobanê before and has joined almost all operations during the last six years. The Dirbêsiyê Battalion forms the attack flank in the Raqqa Operation. This battalion has served as the attack flank not only in Raqqa, but all operations until now. The age of its Kurdish and Arab fighters ranges from 19 to 23 years.
The next day at 5 o'clock in the morning we betook ourselves to the arranged point of departure. After a short time the unit gathered around the vehicles. We got into the cars together with the unit and started out. The cars reached finally a spot, from which we had to proceed with panzers. As the panzers halted in front of the historic city walls, it was time to go the rest of the way on foot. All groups gathered first together, checked once again the plan and headed eventually off. And we held on to the Dirbêsiyê flank.
OPERATION AGAINST THE POSITION TO BE CAPTURED FIRST
When they were close to the first ISIS position that was set to be captured first, the group's commander Egîd had already sent some fighters to check the building ahead. The building consisting of four floors was very spacious and had many rooms. For this reason, it took some time to guarantee full control of the building. After the fighters spotted the planted mines and checked the building thoroughly, they began to enter the building by twos. After all the building was checked from top to down, the group that was to hold the building was sent in. During the control many tunnels and holes, dug and hammered in by the ISIS gangs, were detected inside of the building. After commander Egîd warned that the ISIS gangs have laid an ambush nearby and that the clash would start now, the fighters started to take positions at once. After a short while, the clash began. The ISIS gangs tried on the one side to enter the building, and fired on the other side from afar at the building. The fight lasted up to an hour. After one hour, silence took hold for a short time. Then, while the fighters were shooting at the ISIS gangs from the 3rd floor inside the building in front of them, an explosion rocked the floor downstairs of the building. The fighters informed that an ISIS member detonated himself. And the building was suddenly set on fire.
THEY REALIZED THAT FIGHTER NEMIR WAS MISSING
Commander Egîd realized that the fighter named Nemir was missing. All the fighters started to call the name of Nemir simultaneously, but there was no respond. Egîd and a few fighters tried to get down, but the rubbles did not allow. The fighters tried persistently to climb downstairs, but were not able. The entire building was choked with black smoke. The flames were so high that even the people on the third floor could not stand the heat.
COMMANDER EGÎD TRIES TO JUMP INTO THE FIRE
Commander Egîd was constantly trying to cross somehow the flames. The fighters held him back, shouting that it was not possible to pass the fire. If he did so, he would also fall a martyr himself. But Egîd and a fighter called Çekdem insisted on breaking through that fire and reach comrade Nemir as soon as possible. The flames grew larger and larger because the ISIS gangs, who had laid the ambush, were constantly shooting rockets. In addition, the gasoline bins on the second floor of the building fuelled the fire and the flames would only grow bigger. The war coordination made contact with the group via the mobile radio and told them to stand by until the fire stifles. But neither Commander Egîd nor the fighter Çekdem would come to a halt. Egîd constantly said, 'Not without Nemir, I will take no step without getting him out of there'.
THEY EVEN DISOBEYED A DIRECT ORDER
The war coordination desk gave them instructions to leave the building at once and to move to a safe place. But Commander Egîd and his unit replied that they would never leave the building without Nemir. Commander Egîd was trying on the one hand to motivate his unit and provide them with morale and was looking on the other hand for ways to reach comrade Nemir. The whole group was very calm and no one was distressed in whatever way. All of them were only thinking of one thing, to reach Nemir.
EVEN IF HE TURNED TO ASHES, I WILL NOT LEAVE THOSE ASHES BEHIND
After a couple of hours, when the fire eased a bit down, the fighters winded themselves into blankets, crossed the flames and tried to retrieve their comrade, but every group that went returned empty handed. There were no signs of Nemir. Commander Egîd and fighter Çekdem went through the flames a couple of times, but they could not find him no matter what. When the war coordination desk ordered them: 'Leave the building now, you will return as soon back up arrives', Commander Egîd got very angry and replied: 'What are you saying, I will not leave until I get Nemir out of there.'
They said that Nemir had been burned most likely in the fire and that it was not possible for a person to escape from such an enormous fire alive. Commander Egîd responded to them saying: 'Even if he turned to ashes, I will not leave his ashes behind, if necessary I will turn to ashes myself, but I will not let him go'.
This time the war coordination desk told them: 'At least get out of the building and let the battalion with heavy weapons tear down the front buildings with DShK and missiles', but Egîd refused this as well. As much as Egîd's comrades tried to convince him over the mobile radio, he did not yield the slightest. Neither his comrades in arms, nor the war coordination desk, no one could convince Commander Egîd and his group. They all were united. At this stage everyone understood that nobody could get them out of there without comrade Nemir. There was a way out, the front of the building was already in the hands of the fighters, so it would be easy for them to leave if they only wanted to. But the spirit of comradeship did not allow them to leave Nemir there and climb out.
EGÎD AND ÇEKDEM WERE ALSO SOAKED IN BLOOD
As the inside of the burning building began to become somewhat visible, Egîd and Çekdem entered the burning floor again. The ISIS gangs were still firing at the building. When they entered, a violent explosion occurred. On hearing the sound of the explosion, we all started to rush to that floor. Commander Egîd and Çekdem were lying on the ground. Blood was pouring out from the chest of both. Nemir's burnt body was lying there just next to them. Yes, Commander Egîd and Çekdem did what they set their minds on and finally found Nemir. Commander Egîd, Çekdem and Nemir were lying on the ground next to each other ...
"I ONLY DO WHAT I HAVE TO DO"
We had seen the Commander Egîd at the beginning of the operation while dancing halay with his comrades. Even though he was only in his twenties, he looked with his immense self-confidence and resolute stance 10 years older beyond his years. When the Rojava Revolution started, he joined the revolution even though he had been yet a child and joined the YPG when he was 18 years old together with his elder brother. He used to say: 'All I want is, that when the people in these lands go to sleep, they shall not sleep with one eye open. The people of these lands deserve now to live in freedom. I am not doing anything at all, I only do what I have to do.'
NEMIR WAS AN ARAB FROM RAQQA
Nemir was a young Arab man from Raqqa at the age of 20. The ISIS gangs had killed many of his family members when they swept over the city Raqqa. He was repeatedly exposed to torture by the ISIS gangs. At the end, Nemir managed to escape and joined YPG. He had said: 'What I want is to clear this earth of the gangs. Not only Raqqa, but until the entire world is freed from the ISIS thugs, my heart will not be satisfied.' When we conducted an interview with Nemir before, we asked him what he wanted to do after Raqqa was liberated. He replied: 'When I fled from Raqqa I came to the Serêkaniyê city. I stayed there and I decided to join YPG there. I loved it there very much. For me, now all of Rojava is Raqqa.'
ÇEKDEM WAS ONLY 18 YEARS OLD
Çekdem was a young man from Kobane and only 18 years old. He had said: 'I have come to take revenge for the martyrs of the Raqqa Operation and all those innocent people. Raqqa is the last stronghold of ISIS and we will demolish that stronghold with our own hands.'