Rebuilding the City or a Museum Left in Ruins? Mapping Heritage in Post-Displacement Reconstruction Plans for Kobani

By Thomas McGee
Submitted to Session P4834 (Narratives of Struggle: Maintaining and Preserving Kurdish Cultural Heritage, 2017 Annual Meeting
Kurdish Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Rebuilding the City or a Museum Left in Ruins? Mapping Heritage in Post-Displacement Reconstruction Plans for Kobani

The particular circumstances precipitating cases of forced migration undoubtedly impact upon local citizens’ memories of, and future aspirations for, once familiar lived spaces. There is currently, however, relatively limited research on how personal experiences, and collective political narratives, of displacement contribute to discourses of heritage and rehabilitation in the context of post-crisis return after disaster, be it of natural or man-made cause.
Fleeing the ravages of terrorist group, the Islamic State, in August 2014, the mass migration from the Syrian Kurdish region of Kobani across the international border into Turkey, and subsequent destruction of large sections of the city's infrastructure, presents an intriguing case study through which to trace the topographic markers of identity within a landscape once abandoned by almost the entire civilian population.
Impossible return and months of limbo in camps and host communities in Turkey, as well as in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for some, have meant that the physical border between the refugees and home developed a temporal dimension: dividing the geographies of pre- and post-crisis. When, following military developments, return to the region eventually became a possibility for civilians, questions of approaches and projects for reconstruction naturally arose.
This paper examines the popular responses towards the plans devised by the emergent local authorities, and considers the impact of refugees and returnees in shaping public policy, as well as their initiatives to preserve and recover/(re)construct heritage, while revitalizing urban space. Most notably, the paper deals with local reactions to the 'Kobani living museum' proposal: that is the suggestion that the most devastated sections of the city, including many civilians' homes, be left un-repaired as a symbol of the townspeople's suffering. The study focuses its analysis on local expressions of criticism and movements of resistance against this project, much of which are found within debates circulating on social media.
As well as giving weight to voices of affected individuals, this paper seeks to examine the discrepancies between views of everyday citizens and those of the political and military institutions that actively resisted against the affronts of the Islamic State. In this context, I examine attempts of civilians to reclaim their land and property physically, and meanwhile symbolically re-appropriating local heritage from the dominant military narratives.