For residents of Qamishli, there is hope in the midst of Syria’s war

In this diverse north-eastern Syrian city, everyday life is improving after eight years of conflict

Abu Abdo Layli nimbly moves around his small restaurant in the north-eastern Syrian city of Qamishli.

It is a carefully choreographed dance. His left arm stretches up to grab a plate from a low shelf, while his right hand readies a scoop of homemade buffalo cream.

Mr Layli runs a popular breakfast nook deep in the heart of Qamishli’s bustling souq. “I serve buffalo cream with honey,” he said, “and homemade Syrian porridge.”

A steady stream of customers flow in out of the closet-sized restaurant. Mr Layli greets each customer warmly and chats briefly before turning back to the task at hand, preparing the food.

It is a scene that feels far removed from the eight-year-long civil war that has ravaged Syria. While much of the country has been decimated by fighting, Qamishli has been left relatively unscathed.

The city lies in the north-eastern corner of Syria and borders the Turkish city of Nusaybin.

It has become the de facto capital of Rojava, a Kurdish controlled area that stretches across north-eastern Syria.

As the civil war raged, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad transferred his troops from north-east Syria to other part of the country. The Kurds filled the void and have created an autonomous region with robust civil services. “Life has changed a lot,” said Mr Layli. “At the start of the crisis the situation was bad, but now it is getting better.

Today, Qamishli’s streets are teeming with people. The narrow passageways that make up its souq are lined with busy shops that sell everything from spices to air guns. The smell of fresh cooked bread wafts through the air and people mingle, chatting in a mixture of Kurdish and Arabic.

Qamishli has always been a diverse city. Different ethnicities and religions live side by side. Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Christians and Muslims. Under the Assad regime, minority groups suffered, but under the Kurdish leadership that diversity is celebrated.

But as the civil war nears an end and the Assad regime slowly consolidates its power in the rest of Syria, the future of Qamishli remains up in the air.

Eight hard years have left a mark on the city and its people, but they remain resilient and optimistic. “I hope that in five or 10 years Qamishli will be nicer and better Inshallah,” Mr Layli said. “I hope people will come back and businesses will continue to improve. We always want things to be better.”