Though much of Syria has turned into a nightmare, the Kurdish region in the northeast of the country has largely been spared. The Kurds refer to this de facto autonomous place as Rojava, which translates directly as “west” or more poetically as “where the sun sets.” It’s the western-most section of a divided Kurdish territory split between Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.
As Amin and I eat dinner a few days later, the 62-year-old points out the dishes laid before us. The eggs are from the chickens in his backyard. The yogurt and cheese from his friend’s dairy farm. The marmalade and stuffed fig leaves made by his wife and daughters. The cucumbers and tomatoes grown in his farm. The bread that accompanies every meal in the Middle East made by a baker right down the street with the wheat from a local field. Syrian Kurds are self-sufficient. They must be to survive.
Syrian rebels accuse the Kurds of siding with Assad, while regime supporters accuse them of supporting the rebels
Syria is well into the fourth year of its bloody civil war, spiraling further into seemingly endless humanitarian disasters with every passing day. In the west, around the cities of Homs, Hama, and Aleppo, violence between splintered rebel fractions has battered local populations while barrel-bomb assaults by the Assad regime’s air force kill civilians and rebels alike. The Kurdish population, though, has refused to align with any side in the conflict.
As a result, Syrian rebels accuse the Kurds of siding with Assad, while regime supporters accuse them of supporting the rebels. The Kurds, for their part, say that they are in the midst of a revolution to gain autonomy for their region. They intend to establish a democracy, siding neither with regime or the rebels, but with themselves, asserting a “third revolution” that is distinctly their own.
So far, it’s a revolution that appears to be working. With Assad’s government forced to concentrate efforts fighting the rebels, and, more recently, ISIS, the Kurds managed to build an interim government over the past year with local councils and armed forces like the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Asayish, the Kurdish police force.