TISHRIN DAM – Tears rode down cheeks as fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that captured Tishrin dam feasted their eyes on the first bit of terrain that isn’t featureless flat wasteland since the Syrian Civil War started almost five years ago.
Unlike most of the other areas under SDF control, the landscape surrounding Tishrin dam boasts rugged mountains and hilltops, the valley of the Euphrates river and the large artificial Lake Assad, which is also referred to as Lake Ocalan by the local Kurds, Lake Khalifa by the FSA that controlled the area before ISIL, and Lake Erdogan by ISIL fighters themselves. Most SDF fighters were overjoyed, hugging their mobile phones, taking photos and sending “You won’t believe this!” messages to their relatives.
Some fighters became ill and even vomited from such a drastic change of surroundings, their bodies having a hard time adapting to their physical or even just visual exposure to a terrain that isn’t perfectly uninteresting. One fighter became the only casualty of this offensive when fell to his death as he was shooting at an ISIL car in the distance from a rugged rocky hilltop while walking. “All these years we took walking without looking forward for granted, because there was nothing to trip on or fall from,” his friend said as he struggled between tears of sorrow and joy, adding: “I’m so ashamed to be happy right after he died, but this lake really is amazing!”
“I’ve never seen anything taller than a ground-level building,” another fighter said, this one an Arab from a hamlet in northern Raqqa province, later mentioning a legend about a mountain called “Abdulaziz” also in SDF territory near the city of Hasaka. He said that he never believed in the mountain as he was brought up to believe that the stories about it were Kurdish trickery. “It’s good that we liberated these mountains before ISIL could blow them up” he added.
Apart from the single casualty, the new landscape has had a positive effect on the SDF fighters, boosting the already high morale to stellar levels and attracting an unprecedented wave of new “tourist-soldier” recruits who want to fight ISIL so that they can witness the mountains and large bodies of water for themselves.