Most of Syria is a nightmarish landscape of bombed-out buildings and scorched countryside laid to waste by a brutal civil war now dragging into its third year. But the northeastern region of Syria, Kurdish-controlled Rojava is the exception. This quiet agricultural region has been spared the worst of the war's brutality. The Kurdish population here has thus far refused to overtly align with either side of the conflict, taking a diplomatic position they have labeled "The Third Line." It appears to be working. As Assad's regime focuses its fight on the rebels in Syria's western regions, the Kurds in Rojava have established an interim government, local councils, and armed forces like the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdish police force known as Asayish. In stark contrast to the ruins of other Syrian cities, downtown areas of Qamishli, one of the largest Kurdish cities in Syria, are lively and appear untouched by the war raging a few hundred miles away.
But this self-rule in the midst of an ongoing civil war comes at a cost -- Rojava's economy has suffered and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) continues to attack its borders, wreaking havoc and terror as they fight to establish their caliphate. Kurdish forces try to keep them at bay.
While in Rojava in late May and early June, photographer Cengiz Yar Jr. noticed the contrast between this region and the rest of Syria, and was struck by the resilience of its people. Rojava was a rare refuge in a country destroyed by civil war, a place maintaining a level of freedom from Assad's dictatorship -- and ISIS. And the Kurds are fighting to hold onto it.
Mousa Mohammed, an elderly local Kurdish teacher in Qamashli seems to speak for his community. In a voice both celebratory and proud, Mohammed cries out, "Our aim is freedom... We will succeed no matter the price."
A young Syriac fighter stands outside a countryside home, a former ISIS base. The YPG successfully reclaimed this base south of Qamishli in Rojava province. The Syriac militias, who are primarily Christian, fight alongside the YPG defending territory against ISIS.