Young Pioneer Tours

Rojava – In the Shadow of Islamic State

Not 7 years ago the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were running amok within the region, while simultaneously ferrying the world at large. It was in what is now known as Rojava and Kurdistan where their full weight was felt.

And yes, while there was help from western planes, for the most part it was Kurdish and Syrian blood that defeated them. We went to check the remnants of this state within Rojava.

The Islamic State and Kurdistan

When Islamic State took over much of Iraq and Syria, many Kurds and other ethnic minorities were affected. Most famously this of course affected the Yazidi, many of whom were killed or made sex slaves.

Other Kurds were also affected, with ISIS almost able to enter Iraqi Kurdistan before being driven back. I personally saw an ISIS convoy that had been bombed from Kurd held Mosul.

Most famously, ISIS came in what is now the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria was the ISIS capital of Raqqa.

Dark tourism in Raqqa

This means that the most important place related to Islamic State is Raqqa. This is about a 5-hour drive from the capital of Qamishi and much like everything else here, it does involve a fairly decent amount of bureaucracy. This should be fixed by your arrangers.

To say that Raqqa is not tourist friendly is a great understatement, but there is at least one “hotel” that arranges stays for delegations, as well as journalists. Of course, it is run by Kurds.

Tourist sites wise, there are many historical things here, but when it comes to Islamic State the main thing is the city itself. Over 80 percent of Raqqa was turned to rubble during the war and while things are better than in Aleppo, the scars and bullet holes are very much still here.

From a macabre point of view, the most important thing to see is the Raqqa Stadium. Formerly a mere football stadium, it was used during the period of ISIS to sell sex slaves, hold executions and most famously as a prison. Remnants of all of this, as well as bullet holes, are still to be seen. Football though has returned at least to some degree.

The Raqqa stadium is quite near the legendary Fakher Restaurant known as the best within the city.

What is the atmosphere like in Raqqa?

Walking around the market and the city in general is a word experience, but also not one all that foreign in a fallen empire. You will regularly be welcomed by people willing to talk to you and tell their story, as in the people who hated Islamic State, but these are far from the majority.

The majority of people here are still conservative when it comes to religion and there is no doubt that some still support Islamic State, after all extremism cannot be quashed in a night.

On top of this, there is also the omnipresent sight of the protecting Peshmerga, largely female and dressed well. This as you can imagine does not go down well with all of the locals.

On the way out of Raqqa and in the small towns, the atmosphere is slightly more relaxed, but you would not call this a peaceful place.

Can you visit Islamic State?

By the YPT rules of engagement to visit a former country you need to go to all constituent parts. This means for Islamic State going to where they were present on at least Iraq and Syria – Rojava.

And YPT run tours to Syria as well as Iraq.

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