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Syrian Kurdistan
  • Rojavayê Kurdistanê
  • کوردستان السورية
PYD flag
Anthem: Ey Reqîb
"Oh Enemy"
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)[2][3]
languages Kurdish
Government Interim government
 -  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 [5]

Syrian Kurdistan (also known as Rojava or Western Kurdistan, Kurdish: Rojavayê Kurdistanê, Kurdish rojava meaning "western"; Arabic: کوردستان السورية Kurdistan Al-Suriyah), is a de facto autonomous region in northern and north-eastern Syria.[6]

Kurds consider Syrian Kurdistan to be part of a greater Kurdistan which also includes parts of southeastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northeastern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), and northwestern Iran (Iranian Kurdistan). In the course of the Syrian Civil War, Syrian government forces have withdrawn from three Kurdish-inhabited areas and handed military control to Kurdish militias in 2012. 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 Syrian Kurdistan in July 2012.[7] The member board consists of an equal number of PYD and KNC members.[8] In November 2013, the PYD announced an interim government divided into three non-contiguous autonomous areas or cantons, Afrin, Jazira and Kobani.[9] The DBK's armed wing is the People's Protection Units (Yekîtîyên Parastina Gel, YPG). Military service was declared compulsory in July 2014.[10]

History and background

The demographics of this area saw a huge shift in the early part of the 20th century. Kurds cooperated with Ottoman authorities in the massacres against Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Upper Mesopotamia and were in return granted their land as a reward.[11]

Kurdish-inhabited areas

Assyrians began to emigrate from Syria after the Amuda massacre of August 9, 1937. This massacre, carried out by the Kurd Saeed Agha, emptied the city of its Assyrian population. In 1941, the Assyrian community of al-Malikiyah was subjected to a vicious assault. Even though the assault failed, Assyrians were terrorized and left in large numbers, and the immigration of Kurds from Turkey to the area converted al-Malikiya, al-Darbasiyah and Amuda to completely Kurdish cities. The historically-important Christian city of Nusaybin had a similar fate after its Assyrian population left when it was ceded to Turkey through the Franco-Turkish Agreement of Ankara in October 1921. The Assyrian population of the city crossed the border into Syria and settled in Qamishli, which was separated by the railway (new border) from Nusaybin. Nusaybin became Kurdish and Qamishli became an Assyrian city. Things soon changed, however, with the immigration of Kurds beginning in 1926 following the failure of the rebellion of Saeed Ali Naqshbandi against the Turkish authorities.[12] 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. [13]

CIA map of Kurdish-inhabited area in 2002

Until the 19th century, Kurdistan did not include areas to the west of Tigris. In A Dictionary of Scripture Geography (published 1846), John Miles describes Upper and Lower Kurdistan as following:

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.[14]

Similarly, Kurdistan as suggested by the Treaty of Sèvres did not include any territory in what later became Syria. Nowadays, the population of much of the claimed Kurdish part of Syria is overwhelmingly Arab (e.g., Azaz, al-Bab), Circassian (e.g., Manbij), Assyrian (e.g., Tell Tamer), or mixed (Qamishli, al-Yarubiyah, al-Hasakah, al-Malikiyah, Al-Qahtaniyah, al-Hasakah Governorate, etc.).

Syrian Civil War

Current military situation in Syria.
  Controlled by the Syrian government
  Controlled by Kurdish forces
  Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
  Controlled by other rebels
  Israel (Golan Heights)

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

During the Syrian civil war, People's Protection Units (YPG) were created under the administration of the Kurdish Supreme Committee to control the Kurdish inhabited areas in Syria. On 19 July 2012, the YPG established control in the city of Kobanê (Ayn al-Arab), and the next day it established control in Amuda and Afrin.[15] The two main Kurdish groups, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), afterwards formed a joint leadership council to run the controlled cities.[15] By 24 July, the cities of Al-Malikiyah (Dêrika Hemko), Ra's al-'Ayn (Serê Kaniyê), Al-Darbasiyah(Dirbêsî), and Al-Maabadah (Girkê Legê) had also come under the control of the Popular Protection Units. The only major Kurdish inhabited cities that remained under government control were Hasaka and Qamishli.[16][17] However, parts of Hasaka and Qamishli later also became controlled by the YPG. By November 2014, PYD lost control of most of Ain al-Arab to ISIL forces.

Interim government

PYD checkpoint in Afrin (August 2012)

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

The Democratic Society Movement is the interim governing body of Syrian Kurdistan and consists of an equal number of Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC) members.[18]

There are no plans for independence from Syria, but for self-administration and control of local resources. [19]

Kurdish officials said they planned to hold elections for a new government before the end of 2014 [20] but this has been postponed due to fighting.

There are ministries dealing with the economy, agriculture, natural resources, and foreign affairs.[20]

Legally women have equal rights (in the largest canton). [21]

Human Rights Watch 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. [22]

Relations with [23] However Turkey has allowed military support from Iraqi Kurdistan to transit its territory and has provided humanitarian assistance.

There is military cooperation with Iraqi Kurdistan and the USA.


Oil and food production exceeds demand [20] so exports include oil and agricultural products; such as sheep, grain and cotton. Imports include consumer goods and auto parts. [24] But the border crossing of Yaroubiyah is intermittently closed by Iraqi Kurdistan and is threatened by Islamic State.

About 40,000 barrels of crude oil a day are produced, however the oil refinery is only working at 5% capacity due to lack of refining chemicals, and some people work at polluting primative oil refining. [25]

In 2014 the Syrian government was still paying some state employees [26] but fewer than before. [27]


Most of the people in Syrian Kurdistan are Kurdish[20] but there are also settlements of Arab or Assyrian people, especially in the al-Hasakah Governorate; and Yezidis, Armenians, and Turkmen.

See also


  1. ^ widely regarded as the "Kurdish national anthem", and adopted as anthem by Iraqi Kurdistan
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "West Kurdistan divided into three cantons". ANF. 6 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ The secret garden of the Syrian Kurdistan
  7. ^ "Kurdish Supreme Committee in Syria Holds First Meeting". Rudaw. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "Now Kurds are in charge of their fate: Syrian Kurdish official". Rudaw. 29 July 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  9. ^ PYD Announces Surprise Interim Government in Syria’s Kurdish Reg
  10. ^ "YPG's Mandatory Military Service Rattles Kurds". 27 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Hovannisian, Richard G., 2007. [The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies]. Accessed on 11 November 2014.
  12. ^ Abu Fakhr, Saqr, 2013. As-Safir daily Newspaper, Beirut. in Arabic Christian Decline in the Middle East: A Historical View
  13. ^ Chatty, Dawn, 2010. Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East. Cambridge University Press. pp. 230-232.
  14. ^ A Dictionary of Scripture Geography, p 57, by John Miles, 486 pages, Published 1846, Original from Harvard University
  15. ^ a b "More Kurdish Cities Liberated As Syrian Army Withdraws from Area". Rudaw. 20 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  16. ^ "Armed Kurds Surround Syrian Security Forces in Qamishli". Rudaw. 22 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  17. ^ "Girke Lege Becomes Sixth Kurdish City Liberated in Syria". Rudaw. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  18. ^ "Now Kurds are in charge of their fate: Syrian Kurdish official". Rudaw. 29 July 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "War with Isis: The forgotten, plucky Kurds under siege in their enclave on Syria’s border with Turkey". Independent. 13 November 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c d "Striking out on their own". Economist. 
  21. ^ "Syrian Kurds give women equal rights, snubbing jihadists". 
  22. ^ "Syria: Abuses in Kurdish-run Enclaves". 
  23. ^ "Meet America's newest allies: Syria's Kurdish minority". CNN. 
  24. ^ . Wall Street Journal 
  25. ^ "Control of Syrian Oil Fuels War Between Kurds and Islamic State". Wall Street Journal. 23 November 2014. 
  26. ^ "Flight of Icarus? The PYD’s Precarious Rise in Syria". International Crisis Group. 
  27. ^ 

External links

  • The Constitution of the Rojava Cantons
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