Rojava: a timeline

Background: The Kurdish ethnic group comprises approximately 30 million people, making them perhaps the world’s largest ethnic group without their own nation-state[1]. Their traditional homeland has long been divided between four nation-states: Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, they formed the nation’s largest ethnic minority, numbering around 2 million people concentrated in the north of the country[2]. Following Arabisation policies imposed by the Damascus government through the “Arab Belt” project, many Kurdish people were forcibly displaced from their oil-rich homeland[3]. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were also stripped of citizenship, leaving them stateless[4].

Under the Syrian regime, the Kurdish language was banned and repressed throughout society, and Kurdish activists were tortured and murdered. In 2004, for example, scores of Kurds were killed following demonstrations in the majority-Kurdish city of Qamishlo[5].

2011: a power vacuum opens as the regime becomes embroiled in civil war.

2012: The Kurdish people establish autonomous self-rule in Kurdish-majority regions of Northern Syria, extending their protection to the region’s diverse ethnic population. The YPG (People’s Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units, an all-female force) are established to protect the region during the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

2012: Launch of the co-operative based People’s Economy Plan, encouraging and enabling the creation of co-operatives on principles of self-sufficiency, sustainability, community-based economy.

2012-present: establishment of thousands of communes across Rojava, enabling millions of people to participate in direct-democratic processes and autonomously organise their own neighbourhoods[6].

2013: the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) coalition is established to govern the liberated areas of Northern Syria. Its constitution emphasises principles of rights, representation and personal freedom based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It enshrines the rights of women and outlaws capital punishment and summary judiciary processes, among other reforms[7].

September 2014: The Islamic State (ISIS) launches a heavy assault on Kobane Canton, seizing huge amounts of land and encircling the city.

2014-15: The YPG and YPJ resist and repel the occupation of Kobane by the Islamic State (ISIS), winning worldwide support and military backing from the US-led coalition.

March 2015: Democratic elections held for the first time to elect municipal governments in the three cantons of Jazira, Kobane and Afrin. 237 of 565 candidates are women, and each post is occupied by one woman and one man[8].

November 2015: Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) formed, uniting YPG and YPJ with other Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian militias in the fight against ISIS and Islamic extremism.  Within the month they liberate swathes of territory from ISIS control, including over 200 towns and villages[9].

December 2015: The Democratic Federation of Rojava – Northern Syria is declared. Its name will be changed to the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) in 2016, and again to the Autonomous Administration of North Eastern Syria (AANES) at the end of 2018.

February 2016: Turkey begins cross-border shelling against North Eastern Syria.

2016-2017: New curriculum introduced allowing Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac-speaking children to attend lessons in their own language and one other[10] (previously, languages other than Arabic were banned in the classroom). Women’s studies lessons also introduced across the curriculum.

2016-2017: Raqqa and other major cities such as Manbij and Tabqa liberated from ISIS rule by the SDF and US-led coalition.

2017: communal elections and local elections held across the region, with thousands of posts being filled. Again, women fill a minimum of 40% of posts.

January 2018: Turkey invades the Canton of Afrin, home to over 200,000 ethnic Kurds[11] and around 300,000 internally displaced people from elsewhere in Syria[12]. Prior to the invasion it had been one of the most peaceful and secure parts of Syria, virtually never seeing combat during the civil war[13].

March 2018: Turkish invasion ends with occupation of Afrin city. 400-500 civilians are killed[14], and 300,000 civilians internally displaced[15]. Turkish-backed militias continue to impose sharia law, kidnap, torture and execute civilians, and commit human rights violations possibly amounting to war crimes, per Amnesty International[16].

September 2018: The General Council of the Self Administration in Northern and Eastern Syria is established. Under this banner, the cantons of Rojava work in co-ordination with civil councils in Raqqa, Manbij, Tabqa and Deir al-Zor.

December 2018: US President Donald Trump makes the shock announcement that all American forces will withdraw from the AANES within a short but unspecified timeframe. Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan announces intention to launch an assault on the remaining cantons of Rojava in the coming days.

January 2019: Diplomatic power conflicts continues. The city Manbij gets more and more focus from all sides. Erdogan claimes the city himself. A suicide bomber triggered a fiery explosion that killed four US citizens and soldiers. SDF and Syrian Regime coordinating their military forces together to repel the offenses.

February 2019: Final assault launched on ISIS pocket south of Deir-Ez-Zor, following evacuation of 20,000 civilians in recent weeks. After their peak four and a half years ago ISIS seems to come to and end. „But this is only in a military sense. Like a system, like an ideology, like an organisation, that’s another subject“, Mustafa Bali told to RIC.


[1]              Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/the-kurds

[2]              CIA factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sy.html

[3]              Jordi Tejel, Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=g4f54qsU618C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

[4]              Tilburg Law Review, https://brill.com/abstract/journals/tilr/19/1-2/article-p171_19.xml

[5]              Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/11/26/group-denial/repression-kurdish-political-and-cultural-rights-syria

[6]              Hakam Khello, head of legislative council of the self-administration, https://mesopotamia.coop/every-commune-is-a-cooperative-self-organisation-and-self-sufficiency-are-progressing-in-rojava/

[7]              Social Contract of the DFNS, https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/charter-of-the-social-contract/

[8]              Rojava Report, https://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/rojava-goes-to-the-polls-2/

[9]              France 24, https://web.archive.org/web/20151117103931/http://www.france24.com/en/20151116-syrian-kurdish-arab-alliance-captures-nearly-200-villages?ns_campaign=reseaux_sociaux&ns_source=FB&ns_mchannel=social&ns_linkname=depeche&aef_campaign_ref=partage_user&aef_campaign_date=2015-11-16

[10]           Rojava Education Commission, http://aranews.net/files/2016/10/rojava-administration-launches-new-education-system-kurdish-arabic-assyrian-2/

[11]           Syrian Census, http://www.cbssyr.sy/General%20census/census%202004/pop-man.pdf

[12]         International Middle East Peace Research Center: http://www.kurdistan24.net/en/video/ad12b384-8c46-4c4e-8de2-d7e2a555ffca

[13]           See eg. Dr Thomas Schmidinger, https://www.newsdeeply.com/syria/community/2016/02/24/afrin-and-the-race-for-the-azaz-corridor

[14]           Estimate based on figures from Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and elsewhere, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=107310

[15]           Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=102951

[16]           Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/08/syria-turkey-must-stop-serious-violations-by-allied-groups-and-its-own-forces-in-afrin/