Syria is a nightmarish landscape, laid waste by the grueling and brutal civil war dragging into its fourth year. In the northeastern region of the country, Kurdish-controlled territory that the Kurds call Rojava (it extends over parts of the Syrian provinces of Al-Hasakah, Ar-Raqqah, and Aleppo) is the exception. This quiet agricultural region has been spared the worst of the war’s brutality. The Kurdish population here has thus far refused to overtly align with either side of the conflict, in a diplomatic position they’ve labeled “Third Line.”
It’s a revolution that appears to be working. As Assad’s regime focuses their fight on the rebels in Syria’s western regions, the Kurds in Rojava set up an interim government, local councils, and armed forces like the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Asayish (Kurdish police force). In stark contrast to the ruins of other Syrian cities, downtown areas of Kurdish controlled Qamishli are lively and appear untouched by the war raging a few hundred miles away.
This attempt at democracy and self-rule in the midst of an ongoing civil war isn’t without cost. The economy in Rojava is crippled and ISIS continues to attack its borders, wreaking carnage and terror as they fight to strengthen their “caliphate.”
Yet, a rare refuge in a country destroyed by civil war, Rojava is still experiencing this taste of freedom from Assad’s dictatorship, and the Kurds are fighting to hold onto it. In a voice both celebratory and proud, Mousa Mohammed, an elderly local Kurdish teacher in Qamishli, declares, “Our aim is freedom…We will succeed no matter the price.”