2013 – VICE, Henry Langston: North-east Syria is one of the most complex and under-reported fronts in the entire Syrian war. Kurdish fighters, affiliated with the PKK, have used the disintegration of Syria to carve out an autonomous state there, in the country’s north-east – Syria’s Kurdish heartland – and Turkey’s really not happy about it.
In an effort to blockade the Kurdish areas, the region the Kurds call “Rojava” (sunset), the Turkish government closed the border crossings to international trade as well as to journalists. While Turkey offers free access to rebel-held areas of Syria it doesn’t want any journalist entering Rojava leaving the film-crew with no option but to cross the border illegally, dodging Turkish army patrols and risking arrest.
They’ve come to meet Kovan Direj, a Kurdish activist now living as a refugee in north-east Syria. The regime had withdrawn from most of Rojava a year earlier and Kovan is keen to show how the local Kurdish forces were capable of filling the security vacuum.
While predominately Kurdish, Rojava is an ethnically mixed region of Syria. There is significant number of Arab Muslims and some Christian minorities. In Syrian Kurdistan however a fragile ethnic balance still exists. Christian parties and their militias are working with the dominant Kurdish PYD party to keep the Jihadists out. Syrian Kurdistan contains around 60% of Syria’s oil reserves and it could be a potential treasure trove to whoever controls it.
In some areas Kurdish and Arab villages sit side by side. These quiet farming communities were now the front line in the war between the YPG (People’s Protection Units) and their enemies. Like everywhere else in Rojava most of the fighters are local farmers. The YPG seem to use the local militias at the first line of defense in these isolated villages with the mobile reserve of elite troops ready to respond to any incursions.