As Syria’s bloody civil war enters its third year, fighting has reached the country’s Kurdish-dominated northeast, a region until recently almost untouched by the conflict. The Kurdish PYD party and its YPG militia, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in neighboring Turkey, took over control of much of Hassakeh province from the Assad regime in the summer of 2012, and with it control of Syria’s precious oilfields. But the PYD’s hopes of staying neutral in the conflict and building an autonomous Kurdish state were dashed when clashes broke out with Syrian rebel forces in the strategic border city of Ras al-Ayn. That encounter quickly escalated into an all-out war between the Kurds and a powerful alliance of jihadist groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliates ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. In September of 2013, VICE crossed the border into Syria’s Kurdish region to document the YPG’s counteroffensive against the jihadists, who had struck deep into rural Hassakeh in an attempt to surround and capture Ras al-Ayn. With unparalleled access to the Kurdish and Syrian Christian fighters on the frontlines, we found ourselves witnessing a bitter and almost unreported conflict within the Syrian war, where the Assad regime is a neutral spectator in a life or death struggle between jihadist-led rebels and Kurdish nationalists, pitting village against village and neighbor against neighbor.
Tags January 2014