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  • Rojavayê Kurdistanê
  • کردستان السورية
Rojava flag
Map showing de facto cantons held by PYD forces in February 2014
Map showing de facto cantons held by PYD forces in February 2014
Status de facto autonomous region of Syria
Capital Qamişlo (Qamishli)[1][2]
37°03′N 41°13′E / 37.050°N 41.217°E / 37.050; 41.217
languages Kurdish
Government Libertarian socialism[4]
Democratic confederalism[7][8][9][10][11]
 -  President Salih Muslim Muhammad
Autonomous region
 -  Autonomy Proposed July 2013 
 -  Autonomy Declared November 2013 
 -  Regional government established November 2013 
 -  Interim Constitution Adopted January 2014 
 -  2014 estimate 4.6 million [12]
Currency Syrian pound (SYP)
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Rojava or Western Kurdistan (Kurdish: Rojavayê Kurdistanê, from rojava meaning "western") is a de facto autonomous region in northern and north-eastern Syria.[13] Rojava consists of the three non-contiguous cantons of Afrin, Jazira and Kobani. Rojava is not officially recognized as autonomous by the government of Syria.[14]

Kurds generally consider Rojava to be one of the four parts of a greater Kurdistan, which also includes parts of southeastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan), and western Iran (Eastern Kurdistan).


Rojava (Kurdish: Rojavayê Kurdistanê, from rojava meaning "western") is also known as Western Kurdistan or Syrian Kurdistan.


Rojava lies to the west of the River Tigris along the Turkish border. There are three separate cantons: Jazira Canton, Kobani Canton and Afrin Canton. All are at latitude approximately 36 and a half degrees north and are relatively flat. Jazira Canton also borders Iraqi Kurdistan to the south-east. Other borders are disputed in the Syrian Civil War.


Since Ottoman Empire[edit]

CIA map of Kurdish-inhabited areas in 2002

Until the 19th century, Kurdistan did not include areas to the west of Tigris.[note 1][15] Similarly, Kurdistan as suggested by the Treaty of Sèvres did not include any territory in what later became Syria.

In the 1920s waves of Kurds fled their homes in Turkey and settled in northeastern Syria, where they were granted citizenship by the French mandate authorities.[16]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

Current military situation in the Syrian Civil War.
  Controlled by the Syrian government
  Controlled by Kurdish forces (Rojava)
  Controlled by the al-Nusra Front
  Controlled by other rebels

(For a more detailed map, see Cities and towns during the Syrian Civil War)

In the course of the Syrian Civil War, Syrian government forces withdrew from three Kurdish enclaves leaving control to local militias in 2012.

During the Syrian civil war People's Protection Units (YPG) were created by the Kurdish Supreme Committee to control the Kurdish inhabited areas in Syria. In July 2012 the YPG established control in the towns of Kobane, Amuda and Afrin.[17] The two main Kurdish groups, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), afterwards formed a joint leadership council to administer the towns.[17] Later that month the cities of Al-Malikiyah (Dêrika Hemko), Ra's al-'Ayn (Serê Kaniyê), Al-Darbasiyah(Dirbêsî), and Al-Maabadah (Girkê Legê) also came under the control of the Popular Protection Units.

The only major Kurdish inhabited cities that remained under government control were Hasaka and Qamishli.[18][19] However, parts of Hasaka and Qamishli later also became controlled by the YPG.

In 2014 Kobane was besieged by ISIL and later liberated by Kurdish forces assisted by coalition airstrikes.

In January 2015 the YPG fought against Syrian government forces in Hassakeh.[20]


The Kurdish Supreme Committee (Desteya Bilind a Kurd, DBK) was established by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) as the governing body of Rojava in July 2012.[21] The member board consists of an equal number of PYD and KNC members.[22] In November 2013, the PYD announced an interim government divided into three non-contiguous autonomous areas or cantons, Afrin, Jazira and Kobani.[23]

The political system of Rojava is a mixture of socialist principles at the local level with libertarian principles at the national level. The constitution has protection for currency, property rights and free trade.[24] The basic unit at the local level is the community which pools resources for education, protection and governance. At a national level communities are unrestricted in deciding their own economic decisions on who they wish to sell to and how resources are allocated. There is a broad push for social reform, gender equality and ecological stabilization in the region.[25]

Political writer David Romano describes it as pursuing 'a bottom-up, Athenian-style direct form of democratic governance'. He contrasts the local communities taking on responsibility vs the strong central governments favoured by many states. In this model, states become less relevant and people govern through councils similar to the early US or Switzerland before becoming a federal state in the Sonderbund war.[26] Rojava divides itself into regional administrations called cantons named after the Swiss cantons.[24]

Moving towards democratic autonomy[edit]

The governance model of Rojava has an emphasis on local management with regions divided into cantons with committees to democratically make decisions. The Movement for a Democratic Society (also known as TEV-DEM) is the political coalition governing the democratically autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Syria referred to collectively as Rojava.

Its programme immediately aimed to be "very inclusive" and people from a range of different backgrounds became involved (including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and Turkmen (from Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi religious groups). It sought to "establish a variety of groups, committees and communes on the streets in neighborhoods, villages, counties and small and big towns everywhere". The purpose of these groups was to meet "every week to talk about the problems people face where they live". The representatives of the different community groups meet "in the main group in the villages or towns called the “House of the People”".

According to Zaher Baher of the Haringey Solidarity Group, the TEV-DEM has been "the most successful organ" in Rojava because it has the "determination and power" to change things, it includes many people who "believe in working voluntarily at all levels of service to make the event/experiment successful", and it has "set up an army of defence consisting of three different parts" - the YPG, the YPJ, the Asaish (a "mixed force of men and women that exists in the towns and all the checkpoints outside the towns to protect civilians from any external threat"), and "a special unit for women only, to deal with issues of rape and domestic violence".[27]

Centralised political representation[edit]

Alongside TEV-DEM there is the Democratic Society Movement, an interim governing body of Rojava and consists of an equal number of Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC) members.[22] This council mainly is concerned with external affairs.

Political parties include: Democratic Union Party (Syria), Syriac Union Party (Syria), Kurdish National Council

There are no plans for independence from Syria, but for self-administration and control of local resources.[28]

Kurdish officials said they planned to hold elections for a new government before the end of 2014,[29] but this has been postponed due to fighting.

There are 20 ministries dealing with the economy, agriculture, natural resources, and foreign affairs.[29] Among other stipulations outlined is a quota of 40% for women’s participation in government, as well as another quota for youth. Separately in connection with a decision to introduce affirmative action for minority ethnicities, all governmental organizations and offices are based on a co-presidential system.[30]

Human rights[edit]

Legally women have equal rights and there are quotas for their political representation.[31] There is affirmative action to give power to minority groups and ethnicities as a guiding principle. Human rights lawyer Margaret Owen, who visited Rojava for 8 days, reported being deeply impressed, commenting that "Rojava demonstrates what is possible".[32]

The self-rule administration which has de-facto legality, protects the rights of minorities and religious groups, along with religious sites and buildings. For example, the Virgin Mary church in Serê Kaniyê, which was used as a military base by armed groups, was restored to its proper owners once the YPG took over. The administration guarantees representation of different components in the Jazira Canton's administration; 10% Assyrians, Arabs and Kurds, 5% to technocrats and other minorities, the remaining 65% is elected through process according to electoral law issued by the legislative council. The Administration was originally formed by 11 political parties and 47 civil society organizations along with Assyrian and Arab organizations.[33]

Human Rights Watch who was permitted to visit in early 2014, reported "arbitrary arrests, due process violations, and failed to address unsolved killings and disappearances" and made recommendations for government improvement.[34] However, Fred Abrahams, special advisor to HRW who visited Rojava and drafted the report, noted that the PYD has taken solid steps to addressing the problems and has been receptive to criticism. He notes that they are currently in the process of political transitioning from the Syrian government, training a new police force and creating a new legal system.[35]

There has also been allegations of teenage fighters serving in the YPG military. After criticism from Human Rights Watch when the problem persisted, the YPG pledged publically to demobilize all fighters under 18 within a month.[34] It is worth noting that the YPG is a "decentralised army", and individual units act autonomously.[36] However the YPG has taken steps to prevent teenage volunteer fighters under the age of 18.

19-YEAR-OLD HERISH ALI, a British-Kurd, said he requested to join the YPG along with five other European Kurds in August but YPG border guards rejected them on the Iraq-Syria border.

"We met the YPG fighters and stayed with them at their Sihela border crossing to Iraqi Kurdistan. They were nice and we thought it was awesome to join them, but they rejected us when we revealed that we are students and we have dual nationalities," Ali said.

He added: "We told them that we feel degraded because it was like we are not capable men for this fight, but they kept refusing our arguments and said we should go back to Europe and study. Then, they drove us to the nearby Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga checkpoint where the peshmergas too rejected taking us as volunteers."[37]


70% of government expenditure is on defense and security.[38]

Private property is protected, and entrepreneurship is de jure. There are no taxes on the people or businesses in Rojava. Instead money is raised through border crossings, and selling oil or other natural resources. The administration of Rojava is encouraging local community-based cooperatives as a way for people to serve their own needs and provide employment.[39][40]

Price controls are managed by democratic comittees per canton, which can set the price of basic goods such as for food and medical goods. This mechanism can also be used for managing public production to for instance, produce more wheat to keep prices low for important goods.[40]

The government is seeking outside investment to build a power plant and a fertilizer factory.[38]

Before the civil war[edit]

Before the civil war, 60% of Syria's poor were of Kurdish origin. Rojava under Syrian rule had little investment or development from the central government. Laws discriminated against Kurds from owning property, and many were without citizenship. Property was routinely confiscated by government loansharks. There were no high schools, and Kurdish language education in middle schools was forbidden disadvantaging Kurdish students education. Hospitals lacked equipment for advanced treatment and instead patients had to be transferred outside Rojava.[41]


Oil and food production exceeds demand[29] so exports include oil and agricultural products such as sheep, grain and cotton. Imports include consumer goods and auto parts.[42] The border crossing of Yaroubiyah is intermittently closed by the Iraqi side. Turkey does not allow Syrian Kurd business people or their goods to cross the border [43] although Rojava would like the border to be opened.[44]

Before the war, Al-Hasakah governorate was producing about 40,000 barrels of crude oil a day. However, during the war the oil refinery has been only working at 5% capacity due to lack of refining chemicals, some people work at polluting and primitive oil refining.[45]

In 2014, the Syrian government was still paying some state employees,[46] but fewer than before [47] however the government says that "none of our projects are financed by the regime".[44]

Military and police[edit]

PYD checkpoint in Afrin (August 2012)

The DBK's armed wing is the People's Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG). Military service was declared compulsory in July 2014 [48] due to the ongoing war against Daesh.

The People's Protection Units was founded by the PYD party after the 2004 Qamishli clashes, but it was not active until the Syrian Civil War.[49] As of the signing of the Arbil Agreement by PYD and KNC the Armed Wing came under the command of the Kurdish Supreme Committee, though in reality it is almost exclusively still the armed wing of the PYD.[50] The DBK's armed wing is the People's Protection Units (Yekîtîyên Parastina Gel, YPG). Military service was declared compulsory in July 2014.[51] The Sutoro is a Christian militia defending Assyrian areas. The police function in Rojava-controlled areas is performed by the Asayish armed formation.

The YPG is a trained force utilising snipers and mobile weaponry to launch hit and run attacks and maneuvre quickly.

Relying on speed, stealth, and surprise, it is the archetypal guerrilla army, able to deploy quickly to front lines and concentrate its forces before quickly redirecting the axis of its attack to outflank and ambush its enemy. The key to its success is autonomy. Although operating under an overarching tactical rubric, YPG brigades are inculcated with a high degree of freedom and can adapt to the changing battlefield.[36]


Further information: Kurds in Syria and Demographics of Syria


Most of the people in Rojava are Kurdish.[29] Especially in Jazira Canton there are settlements of Arab people. Most of the people in Khanik (ܚܢܝܟ) and Al-Malikiyah (ܕܪܝܟ Derik) in Jazira Canton are Assyrian. There are also Yezidis, Armenians, and Turkmen.


Most people are Muslim but some are Christian.

Languages spoken[edit]

Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian are spoken.

Population centres[edit]

Qamishli is the largest city.

Foreign relations[edit]

Turkey claims the YPG is the same as the PKK, which they consider a terrorist organisation, whereas YPG leaders insist the PKK is a separate organization.[52] In 2014 Turkey was accused of supporting ISIS attacks on the YPG, allowing them to conduct attacks from the Turkish border and providing logistical support.[53]

There is military cooperation with Iraqi Kurdistan and the USA although there is no official support for Rojava or the YPG.

In January 2015, a UK parliament committee asked the government to explain and justify its policy of not working with the Rojava military to combat ISIS.[54]

France is supportive.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Modern Curdistan is of much greater extent than the ancient Assyria, and is composed of two parts the Upper and Lower: In the former is the province of Ardelan, the ancient Arropachatis, now nominally a part of Irak Ajami, and belonging to the north west division called Al Jobal. It contains five others, namely, Betlis, the ancient Carduchia, lying to the south and south west of the lake Van. East and south east of Betlis is the principality of Julamerick, south west of it is the principality of Amadia. the fourth is Jeezera ul Omar, a city on an island in the Tigris, which corresponds to the ancient city of Bezabde. The fifth and largest is Kara Djiolan, with a capital of the same name. The pashalics of Kirkook and Solimania also comprise part of Upper Kurdistan. Lower Kurdistan comprises all the level tract to the east of the Tigris, and the minor ranges immediately bounding the plains and reaching thence to the foot of the great range, which may justly be denominated the Alps of western Asia.
    A Dictionary of Scripture Geography 1846, John Miles.[15]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "ISIS suicide attacks target Syrian Kurdish capital - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "West Kurdistan divided into three cantons". ANF. 6 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Biehl, Janet (2014-12-20). "Libertarian Revolution in Rojava | Janet Biehl". 
  5. ^ Sule Toktas (1970-01-01). "Waves of Feminism in Turkey: Kemalist, Islamist and Kurdish Women’s Movements in an Era of Globalization | sule toktas". Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  6. ^ Campos, Paul (2013-01-30). "Kurdistan's Female Fighters". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  7. ^ Jongerden, Joost. "Rethinking Politics and Democracy in the Middle East" (PDF). Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Ocalan, Abdullah (2011). Democratic Confederalism (PDF). ISBN 978-0-9567514-2-3. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  9. ^ Ocalan, Abdullah (2 April 2005). "The declaration of Democratic Confederalism". Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  10. ^ "Bookchin devrimci mücadelemizde yaşayacaktır". Savaş Karşıtları (in Turkish). 26 August 2006. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  11. ^ Wood, Graeme (26 October 2007). "Among the Kurds". The Atlantic. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  12. ^ Estimate as of mid November 2014, including numerous refugees. "Rojava’s population has nearly doubled to about 4.6 million. The newcomers are Sunni and Shia Syrian Arabs who have fled the scorched wasteland that Assad has made of his country. They are also Orthodox Assyrian Christians, Chaldean Catholics, and others, from out of the jihadist dystopia that has taken up so much of the space where Assad’s police state used to be." "In Iraq and Syria, it's too little, too late". Ottawa Citizen. 14 November 2014. 
  13. ^ The secret garden of the Syrian Kurdistan
  14. ^ "Fight For Kobane May Have Created A New Alliance In Syria: Kurds And The Assad Regime". International Business Times. 8 October 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  15. ^ a b A Dictionary of Scripture Geography, p 57, by John Miles, 486 pages, Published 1846, Original from Harvard University
  16. ^ Chatty, Dawn, 2010. Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East. Cambridge University Press. pp. 230-232.
  17. ^ a b "More Kurdish Cities Liberated As Syrian Army Withdraws from Area". Rudaw. 20 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  18. ^ "Armed Kurds Surround Syrian Security Forces in Qamishli". Rudaw. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  19. ^ "Girke Lege Becomes Sixth Kurdish City Liberated in Syria". Rudaw. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  20. ^ "Kurds battle Assad's forces in Syria, opening new front in civil war". Reuters. 17 January 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  21. ^ "Kurdish Supreme Committee in Syria Holds First Meeting". Rudaw. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  22. ^ a b "Now Kurds are in charge of their fate: Syrian Kurdish official". Rudaw. 29 July 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  23. ^ PYD Announces Surprise Interim Government in Syria’s Kurdish Reg
  24. ^ a b "Charter of the social contract in Rojava (Syria)". 
  26. ^ "A Very Different Ideology in the Middle East". 
  27. ^ "The experiment of West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has proved that people can make changes". Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  28. ^ "War with Isis: The forgotten, plucky Kurds under siege in their enclave on Syria’s border with Turkey". Independent. 13 November 2014. 
  29. ^ a b c d "Striking out on their own". The Economist. 
  30. ^ "Western Kurdistan’s Governmental Model Comes Together". The Rojava Report. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  31. ^ "Syrian Kurds give women equal rights, snubbing jihadists". Yahoo. 
  32. ^ "Prominent UK human rights lawyer and women’s rights campaigner returns from Rojava solidarity visit". 
  33. ^ "Peace in Kurdistan: PYD responds to Human Rights Watch report". 
  34. ^ a b "Syria: Abuses in Kurdish-run Enclaves". Human Rights Watch. 2014-06-18. 
  35. ^ "Rights Official Speaks of Situation in Rojava, PYD Challenges". 
  36. ^ a b "Analysis: YPG - the Islamic State's worst enemy". 
  37. ^ "Western "comrades" join Kurds, Arabs, secularists, Yezidis, and Syriac Christians against Islamic State". 
  38. ^ a b "Poor in means but rich in spirit". Ecology or Catastrophe. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  39. ^ "Poor in means but rich in spirit". Ecology or Catastrophe. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  40. ^ a b "Efrîn Economy Minister Yousef: Rojava challenging norms of class, gender and power". Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  41. ^ "Efrîn Economy Minister: Rojava Challenging Norms Of Class, Gender And Power". 
  42. ^ "Kurds Fight Islamic State to Claim a Piece of Syria". The Wall Street Journal. 
  43. ^ "Syrian Kurds risk their lives crossing into Turkey". Middle East Eye. 2014-12-29. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  44. ^ a b "Efrîn Economy Minister: Rojava Challenging Norms Of Class, Gender And Power". 2014-12-22. 
  45. ^ "Control of Syrian Oil Fuels War Between Kurds and Islamic State". The Wall Street Journal. 23 November 2014. 
  46. ^ "Flight of Icarus? The PYD’s Precarious Rise in Syria" (PDF). International Crisis Group. 
  47. ^ "Zamana LWSL". 
  48. ^ "YPG's Mandatory Military Service Rattles Kurds". 27 August 2014. 
  49. ^ Gold, Danny (31 October 2010). "Meet the YPG, the Kurdish Militia That Doesn't Want Help from Anyone". Vice. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  50. ^ van Wilgenburg, Wladimir (5 April 2013). "Conflict Intensifies in Syria's Kurdish Area". Syria Pulse (Al Monitor). Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  51. ^ "YPG's Mandatory Military Service Rattles Kurds". 27 August 2014. 
  52. ^ "Meet America's newest allies: Syria's Kurdish minority". CNN. 
  53. ^ "Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey List". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 February 2015. 
  54. ^ "Build Kurdistan relationship or risk losing vital Middle East partner". 
  55. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]