Military Wiki
Rojava conflict
Part of the Syrian Civil War
File:YPG fighters 2.jpg
YPG fighters celebrating a victory on their return to base
Date19 July 2012 – ongoing
(10 years, 2 weeks and 6 days)
LocationAl-Hasakah Governorate, Ar-Raqqah Governorate,[13] Aleppo Governorate Syria
Status Ongoing


Operation Inherent Resolve

  •  United States
  •  Canada
  •  Jordan
  •  France [7]
  •  Qatar
  •  United Arab Emirates
  •  Bahrain
  •  Morocco
  •  Saudi Arabia

Syrian opposition

al-Nusra Front

Ghuraba al-Sham

Syrian Arab Republic

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Commanders and leaders

Salih Muslim Muhammad (PYD co-leader)
Asya Abdullah (PYD co-leader)
Sipan Hemo (YPG commander)
Nujin Derik (YPG Aleppo commander)
Çekjîn Efrîn[14] (YPG Dêrik commander)

Hajji Ahmed Kurdi (Jabhat al-Akrad commander)[15]

Mahmud al-Kari'i (Ahrar ash-Sham senior commander in Hasakah)
Walid Faysal Al Ashoui (Marouane Ben Al Hakem Brigade Leader)
Abu Louay al-Haleb[16]

Nawaf Ragheb al-Bashir[17]
Abu Ahmed (Jabhat Al Nusra Hasakah commander)[18]
Muhammad Fares (Qamishli Popular Committees leader)[11]

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Self-declared Caliph)
Abu Ayman al-Iraqi (Head of Military Shura)[19][20]
Abu Suleiman (Replacement Military Chief)[20]
Abu Omar al-Shishani (Field commander in Syria)
Abu Ali al-Anbari (Deputy, Syria)
Abu Khattab al-Kurdi (Kobanî assault commander)[21][22]

Abu Musab
(ISIL emir of Tell Abyad)

YPG: 60,000-65,000 (claimed)[23]

Jabhat al-Akrad: 7,000 (claimed)[24]

Free Syrian Army: 50,000

Islamic Front:
1,500 soldiers (54th special Forces)[25] Unknown
Casualties and losses
3,000 Killed[26] 152–178 killed (until 16 July 2013; multiple claims)[27] 376 killed (2013; YPG claim)[28] 7,887 killed, 598 captured (2013–2014; YPG claim)[28][29]
156 civilians killed (until 18 July 2013)[30]

The Rojava conflict, also known as the Rojava Revolution, is a political upheaval and military conflict taking place in Northern Syria, known as Rojava. During the Syrian civil war, a coalition of Kurdish groups have sought to establish the Constitution of Rojava inside the de facto autonomous region, while military wings and allied militias have fought to maintain control of the region. The revolution has been characterized by the prominent role played by women both on the battlefield and within the newly formed political system, as well as the implementation of democratic confederalism, a form of grassroots democracy based on local assemblies.


Rojava is the Kurdish name for the northern region of Syria. The area is strategically important, because it contains a large percentage of Syria's oil supplies.[31] Most of the over 2 million Syrian Kurds live in Rojava, making up the majority of the area, followed by Syrian Arabs. There are also small communities of Assyrians and Turkmen. Ethnic tension is high, especially between Kurds and Arabs, due in large part to decades of "Arabization" which outlawed Kurdish language and music, evicted tens of thousands of Kurds from their homes and farmland and stripped over 120,000 of their citizenship altogether.

State discrimination

Anti-government sentiment has been present among the Kurdish population for a long time.[32] The Syrian government has never officially acknowledged the existence of Kurds in Syria[32] and in 1962 120,000 Syrian Kurds were stripped of their citizenship, leaving them stateless.[33] The Kurdish language and culture have also been suppressed. The government attempted to resolve these issues in 2011 by granting all Kurds citizenship, but only an estimated 6,000 out of 150,000 stateless Kurds have been given nationality and most discriminatory regulations, including the ban on teaching Kurdish, are still on the books.[34] Due to the Syrian Civil War that began in 2011, the government is no longer in a position to enforce these laws.

Qamishli uprising

In 2004, riots broke out against the government in the northeastern city of Qamishli. During a soccer match between a local Kurdish team and a visiting Arab team from Deir ez-Zor, some Arab fans brandished portraits of Saddam Hussein (who slaughtered tens of thousands of Kurds in Southern Kurdistan during the genocidal Al-Anfal Campaign in the 1980s). Tensions quickly escalated into open protests, with Kurds raising their flag and taking to the streets to demand cultural and political rights. Security forces fired into the crowd killing 6 Kurds, including 3 children. Protesters went on to burn down the Ba'ath Party's local political office. At least 30 and as many as 100 Kurds were killed by the government before the protests were quelled. Thousands of Kurds fled to Iraq afterwards, where a refugee camp was established. Occasional clashes between Kurdish protesters and government forces occurred in the following years.[35][36]


Syrian uprising

In 2011 the Arab Spring spread to Syria. Similar to the beginning of the Tunisian Revolution, Syrian citizen Hasan Ali Akleh soaked himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in the northern city of Al-Hasakah. This inspired activists to call for a "Day of Rage", which ended up being sparsely attended, mostly because of fear of repression from the Syrian government. Days later, however, protests again took place, this time in response to the police beating of a shopkeeper.[citation needed]

Smaller protests continued, but it was on 7 March 2011, when thirteen political prisoners went on hunger strike, that momentum began to grow against the Assad government. Three days later dozens of Syrian Kurds went on hunger strike in solidarity.[37] On 12 March, major protests took place in Al-Qamishli and Al-Hasakah to both protest the Assad regime and commemorate Kurdish Martyrs Day.[38]

Protests grew over the months of March and April 2011. The Assad regime attempted to appease Kurds by promising to grant citizenship to thousands of Kurds, who until that time had been stripped of any legal status.[39] By the summer, protests had only intensified, as did violent crackdowns by the Syrian government.


Protests against the Assad regime and for Kurdish rights in al-Qamishli, the site of the al-Qamishli Uprising which took place in 2004.

In August a coalition of opposition groups formed the Syrian National Council in hopes of creating a democratic, pluralistic alternative to the Assad regime. However, internal fighting and disagreement over politics and inclusion plagued the group from its early beginnings. In the fall of 2011 the popular uprising escalated to an armed conflict. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) began to coalesce and armed insurrection spread largely across the central and southern parts of Syria.[citation needed]

Kurds and government opposition negotiations

2013 VOA report about the Kurdish situation in Syria

The National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria, a coalition of Syria's 12 Kurdish parties, boycotted a Syrian opposition summit in Antalya, Turkey on 31 May 2011, stating that "any such meeting held in Turkey can only be a detriment to the Kurds in Syria, because Turkey is against the aspirations of the Kurds."[40]

During the August summit in Istanbul, which led to the creation of the Syrian National Council, only two of the parties in the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria, the Kurdish Union Party and the Kurdish Freedom Party, attended the summit.[41]

Erbil Agreement

On 22 July 2012, Serê Kaniyê (Ra's al-'Ayn) pictured above and a series of other towns in the Kurdish inhabited northeast of Syria were captured by the People's Protection Units (YPG).

Anti-government protests had been ongoing in the Kurdish-inhabited areas of Syria since March 2011, as part of the wider Syrian uprising, but clashes started after the opposition Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC) signed a seven-point agreement on 11 June 2012 in Erbil under the auspice of Iraqi Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani. This agreement, however, failed to be implemented and so a new cooperation agreement between the two sides was signed on 12 July which saw the creation of the Kurdish Supreme Committee as a governing body of all Kurdish-controlled territories in Syria.[42][43][44]

YPG claims territory

The People's Protection Units (YPG) captured the city of Kobanî on 19 July 2012, followed by the capture of Amuda and Efrîn on 20 July,[45] thus entering the Syrian Civil War as belligerent. The KNC and PYD afterwards formed a joint leadership council to run the captured cities. The cities fell without any major clashes, as Syrian security forces withdrew without any major resistance.[45] The Syrian Army pulled out to fight elsewhere.[46]

The YPG forces continued with their advancement and on 21 July captured Al-Malikiyah (Kurdish language: Dêrika Hemko), which is located 10 kilometers from the Turkish border.[47] The rebels at the time also intended to capture Qamishli, the largest Syrian city with a Kurdish majority.[48] On the same day, the Syrian government attacked a patrol of Kurdish YPG members and wounded one fighter.[49] The next day it was reported that Kurdish forces were still fighting for Al-Malikiyah, where one young Kurdish activist was killed after government security forces opened fire on protesters. The YPG also took control over the towns of Ra's al-'Ayn (Kurdish language: Serê Kaniyê) and Al-Darbasiyah (Kurdish language: Dirbêsî), after the security and political units withdrew from these areas, following an ultimatum issued by the Kurds. On the same day, clashes erupted in Qamishli between YPG and government forces in which one Kurdish fighter was killed and two were wounded along with one government official.[50]

The ease with which Kurdish forces captured the towns and the government troops pulled back was speculated to be due to the government reaching an agreement with the Kurds so military forces from the area could be freed up to engage opposition forces in the rest of the country.[51] On 24 July, the PYD announced that Syrian security forces withdrew from the small Kurdish city of 16,000 of Al-Ma'bada (Kurdish language: Girkê Legê), located between Al-Malikiyah and the Turkish borders. The YPG forces afterwards took control of all government institutions.[52]

Popular protest continued in Rojava through 2011 and into the spring of 2012 though most Kurds and other Northern Syrians did not join the FSA because of disagreements over Kurdish representation in a future Syria.[53]

Self-governed Rojava established

On 1 August 2012 Assad forces on the periphery of the country are pulled into the intensifying conflict taking place in Aleppo. During this large withdraw from the north, the People's Protection Units (PYD), a pro-Kurdish militia that formed after the 2004 al-Qamishli riots[54] took control of at least parts of Qamishlo, Efrin, Amude, Terbaspi and Ayn El Arab with very little conflict or casualties.[55]

On 2 August 2012, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change announced that most Kurdish dominated cities in Syria, with the exception of Qamishli and Hasaka, were no longer controlled by government forces and were now being governed by Kurdish political parties.[56] In Qamishli, government military and police forces remained in their barracks and administration officials in the city allowed the Kurdish flag to be raised.[57]

It was reported in August that the Kurds in northern controlled Syria had set up local committees and checkpoints to search cars. The border crossing between northeastern Syria and Iraq was no longer occupied by government forces. Kurds stated that they would defend their towns if government or opposition forces attempted to enter them. In some areas of Qamishli, government checkpoints were still active, however, Kurds denied cooperation with the Syrian government and stated that the troops remained in their checkpoints with hopes of avoiding a military confrontation.[58] In the same month, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) successfully bombed the government's intelligence center in the city.[59]

After months of de facto rule, the PYD officially announced its regional autonomy on 9 January 2014. Elections had been held and popular assemblies crafted and approved Constitution of Rojava. Since then, residents have been organizing local assemblies, re-opening schools, establishing community centers and pushing back ISIS to gain control of further territory. They see their model of grassroots democracy as a model that can be implemented throughout the country in a post-Assad Syria.

Social revolution

After declaring autonomy, grassroots organizers, politicians and other community members have radically changed the social and political make up of the area. The extreme laws restricting independent political organizing, women's freedom, religious and cultural expression and the discriminatory policies carried out by the Assad regime have been abolished. In its place, a constitution guaranteeing the cultural, religious and political freedom of all people has been established. The constitution also explicitly states the equal rights and freedom of women and also "mandates public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination."[60]

The political and social changes taking place in Rojava have in large part been inspired by the libertarian socialist politics of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.[60]

Direct democracy

The Rojava cantons are governed through a combination of district and civil councils. District councils consist of 300 members as well as two elected co-presidents- one man and one woman. District councils decide and carry out administrative and economic duties such as garbage collection, land distribution and cooperative enterprises.[61] Civil councils exist to promote the social and political rights within the community.

Women's rights

Women's councils have formed to handle domestic abuse and sexual assault cases. Additionally, there is a 40% quota required of all councils in order for a vote to take place. There have also been the establishment of women's houses, which are safe houses for victims of violence to stay to seek refuge.[62]

Religious freedom

Christian Assyrians, Muslim Kurds and others have worked together both in fighting regime forces and Islamist groups as well as in managing political affairs. The right to religious expression is also safeguarded in the constitution. Because of this as well as the extreme hostility towards religious minorities in Islamist controlled areas has led to a large migration of religious minorities to Rojava.[63]

Cooperative economy

The vast majority of the economy continues to support forces fighting Assad forces, Islamist forces and now on occasion Turkish forces. However, the canton administration has been working to support worker cooperatives.[64]

Ethnic minority rights

Closely related to religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities is the protection of ethnic minorities. Kurds now have the right to study their language freely as do Assyrians. In some areas, there is an ethnic minority quota in addition to the gender quota for councils.[65]


There are four major forces involved in the Rojava Revolution. The People's Protection Units are working with the PYD and other political parties to establish self-rule in Rojava. Syrian government forces still maintain rule in some areas of Rojava under the leadership of the Assad regime. A collection of Islamic forces, the largest being ISIS are fighting to rule the region by Sharia law. Finally, there are several militias under the general banner of the Free Syrian Army whose intentions and alliances have differed and shifted over time. At the moment, most FSA fighters are working with the YPG against Islamic forces and the Syrian government.

YPG-Syrian Government conflict

While conflict between the YPG and Syrian Government has not been as active as fighting against Islamist forces, there have been several conflicts between the two forces. Territory once controlled by the Syrian government in Qamishli and al-Hasakah have both been lost to YPG forces.

YPG and FSA relations

The relationship between the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been one of tentative cooperation. Both are opposed to the Assad regime and ISIS, however clashes have taken place. Recently, the two forces have been working together to battle ISIS under the name of Euphrates Volcano.

YPG-Islamist conflict

Rojava territory controlled by the YPG in November 2015

On 4 May 2013, YPG forces and Jihadist militants, including Al Nusra, clashed in areas close to the cities of Hasaka and Ras al-Ain.[66] Reports seemed to suggest that FSA forces were arming Arab tribes in the town of Tal Tamer; encouraging them to confront Kurdish groups. Despite hit and run attacks which led to the deaths of several YPG members as well as civilians, YPG forces reportedly held off the armed groups.[67]

Map of the territory changes during the YPG-led Northern Syria offensive (2015)

The situation in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, as of 29 November 2015

YPG forces have clashed heavily with Islamist forces. Most notable have been the Siege of Kobani and more recently the Al-Hasakah Offensive and Tell Abyad Offensive. The YPG has been one of the most reliable and effective fighting forces against Islamic groups such as ISIL and al-Nusra Front.

Internal conflict

The majority of tension and conflict in Rojava has been between the YPG and Islamist groups. However, there has also been internal conflict between various Kurdish political parties and militias. This was particularly true at the beginning of the revolution, while those tensions have largely subsided as the autonomous administrations of Rojava have become more established and the urgency for a united front against Islamic forces has developed.

Towns under semi-autonomous rule

In November 2015, the following towns were under YPG control:

  1. Afrin (Efrîn)[68]
  2. Al-Darbasiyah (Dirbêsî)[50]
  3. Al-Jawadiyah (Çil Axa)[69]
  4. Al-Ma'bada (Girkê Legê)[52]
  5. Al-Malikiyah (Dêrika Hemko)[68]
  6. Al-Qahtaniyah (Tirbespî)[70][71]
  7. Ali Kuz (Aali Kôz)[72]
  8. Ashrafiyeh (Eşrefiye, district of Aleppo)[73]
  9. Amuda (Amûdê)[68]
  10. Ayn al-Arab (Kobanê)[68]
  11. Ain Diwar (Eyndîwer)[74]
  12. Jindires (Cindirês)[70]
  13. Rajo (Raco)[75]
  14. Ra's al-'Ayn (Serêkanî)[68]
  15. Sheikh Maqsood (Şêx Meqsûd, district of Aleppo)[73]
  16. Tel Adas (Girzîro)[76][77]
  17. Rumeylan[71]
  18. Tell Tamer (Girê Xurma[78]) also known as Tal Tamr or as Tal Tamir[79]
  19. Al-Yarubiya (Tel Koçer)
  20. Suluk or Saluq [80]
  21. Tell Abyad (Girê spî)[81]
  22. Ayn Issa (Bozanî)[82]
  23. Sarrin (Zêrîn)[83][84]
  24. Al-Hawl[85]

According to the Jerusalem Post, the YPG controls the city of Afrin along with its 360 surrounding villages.[86]

See also


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