Qamishli is situated at the base of the Taurus Mountains, located near the area of ancient Hurrian city of Urkesh which was founded during the fourth millennium BC.

The city dates back to the 1920s, when a sizable amount of Assyrians escaping the Assyrian genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire fled from northwestern Iran and southern Turkey built a small town which they initially called Bet-Zalin. One of the most important funders of the early development projects in the city was Masoud Asfar, an Assyrian who survived the Massacres of Diyarbakır (1895) as a young child. Masoud, along with stepbrother, whose last name was Najjar, established the Asfar & Najjar Corporation, a company that produced wheat in Qamishli. Throughout the 1920s–1940s, the Asfar & Najjar Corporation funded hospitals, Assyrian schools, and churches throughout the city. However, in the 1960s and until the late 1970s, when Assyrians constituted two-thirds of the city’s population, the government of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party – Syria Region actively confiscated Assyrian farms, lands, and areas, causing an Assyrian exodus. At this same time, many Kurds, fleeing persecution from Iraq and Turkey, moved into the region.

The city itself (not the Assyrian Bet Zalin) was officially founded as Qamishli in 1926 as a railway station on the Taurus railway.

Qamishli, the second largest city in al-Hasakah Governorate, is considered a center for both the Kurdish and the Assyrian ethnic groups in Syria. It is renowned for throwing a large Christmas parade every year in December, as well as celebrating Newroz festival by a large crowd every year in March and Kha b-Nisan or Akitu on the 1st of April each year.

In March 2004, during a chaotic soccer match, a 2004 Qamishli riots began when some people started praising Saddam Hussein, turning the match into political conflict against the Kurds. The riot expanded out of the stadium and weapons were used against people of Kurdish background. In the aftermath, at least 30 Kurds were killed as the Syrian security services took over the city. The event became known the “Qamishli massacre”.

In June 2005, thousands of Kurds demonstrated in Qamishli to protest the assassination of Sheikh Khaznawi, a Kurdish cleric in Syria, resulting in the death of one policeman and injury to four Kurds. In March 2008, according to Human Rights Watch, Kurds were also killed when Syrian security forces opened fire on the Kurds when celebrating the spring festival of Newroz and purportedly gathering to revive the 2004 riot in Qamishli. The shooting left three people dead.

With the war and the Rojava conflict from 2011, the city grew into a major political role, being the de facto capital of the Rojava, a self declared autonomous region in northern Syria.

In October 2015, the city’s airport, the Qamishli Airport was briefly closed, before reopening again. Syrian airline companies including Cham Wings Airlines, FlyDamas and Syrian Air all know provide regular flights into Qamishli from Damascus, Latakia and Beirut. The airport also receives seasonal foreign flights from Germany and Switzerland.

On 27 July 2016, 44 people have been killed and many injured after a twin blast attack rocked the city. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

» See also: Qamishli