City awaiting freedom: Raqqa
Raqqa, partial desert with 200 thousand residents, was brought to the attention of the world after the 2014 ISIS invasion.
Raqqa is a city to the north of Syria, on the Euphrates River 160 km west of Aleppo. The city’s population was 220,448 in the 2004 census and 191,784 in the 2008 census, but there has been arrivals and departures from the city after the Syrian civil war started.
Raqqa was invaded by gang groups in the Syrian National Coalition in the 2011-2014 period, and ISIS gangs removed the SNC gangs to invade the city themselves in 2014.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RAQQA
Raqqa is to the northeast of Syria. It is a strategic location that connects trade routes among Syria’s big cities and Iraq’s western cities like Mosul and Baghdad.
The greatest change Raqqa saw was in the 1970s. A huge hydroelectric dam was built near the city on the Euphrates River. Large scale agriculture projects in the region pulled tens of thousands of people seeking new opportunities from Syria’s other cities to Raqqa.
This started to change the demographics in the city. Raqqa is on the intersection of main roads that lead to every corner of Syria. The partially desert city has easy access to Iraqi territory, which is the reason why ISIS gangs chose it as their so-called capital.
LIFE IN RAQQA BEFORE AND AFTER ISIS
Before the civil war broke out in Syria, there was a private university and state-owned schools in Raqqa. Life in the city was relatively different than other Arab countries.
The residents stayed out in the streets until the late hours of the night in the summers, visited parks, went to cafés, and ate dinner in restaurants where women and men went together. Women and men went to the entertainment locales together as well. The attentive minds will remember that the anti-Assad demonstrations were also held by women and men together.
But everything changed when the city was invaded by the SNC gangs groups after the civil war broke out in 2011. The city fell under sharia law in the 2011-2014 period.
Raqqa was quickly transformed into a “radical Islamist” space after the fascist ISIS gangs took control of the city in 2014. The city began posing a threat to the world and turned into a “Hajj” for the jihadist movements and gangs from around the world.
ISIS gangs set up a system with the locals and former public workers after they finalized their invasion. They passed sharia laws and set up courts accordingly.
It is impossible to resist or protest the practices of the gangs in the ISIS-invaded Raqqa. There is a long list of people punished for breaking ISIS “laws.” The gangs have taken to public beheadings, stonings, executions and other such practices.
The people that remained in the city have adapted to the ISIS invasion because they have some semblance of access to security, law, services, and food. But the energy and water supplies were destroyed by the intensifying aerial bombings of the US-led international coalition and Russia, making life difficult for civilians.
For instance, there is a fuel shortage due to the bombing of the oil facilities and refineries.
WOMEN’S LIFE UNDER ISIS INVASION
ISIS’ approach to women has been covered in the media, if only partially. People, especially women, moving into the areas that YPG/YPJ fighters and QSD forces have liberated give accounts on how the gangs treat women.
Women and girls are not allowed to leave their houses without an accompanying male relative, which is usually their father, brother, or husband. They are forced to wear a veil and a black niqab that cover their bodies from head to ankle. ISIS gangs set up seperate brigades to inspect women in Raqqa.
There is a special patrol on the streets that inspect the clothing of men as well. It is forbidden to smoke. Smokers face sentences of lashings if they are caught smoking by the ISIS “security units.” All men are obliged to go to a mosque on prayer times during the day.
ISIS sentences people who are caught with photographs of women on their phones to 30 lashes. It is forbidden to watch football games. If they broadcast games, cafés and restaurants risk being shut down, while the owners risk getting killed.
ISIS gangs have formed an all-women El Hansa Brigade that inspects the clothing of women on the streets. Most women in these brigades are the wives of ISIS militants. Their job is to punish the women who do not adhere to the dress code and to torture women detainees.
These, and not wanting to be forced into marrying gang members, are the reasons why women stay in their homes.
The wives of killed ISIS militants are married off to other ISIS members. Children are not usually on the agenda because the marriages do not last long. Women are mostly turned into sex slaves in order to satisfy the gang members’ “needs.”