For three years now these frontlines have defended a little-known revolution...
It's not only ISIS trying to create a new society in the Middle East
In Northern Syria left wing Kurdish radicals are trying to build a mini state, in an unprecedented political experiment
But this is no caliphate
Clip of Arab fighter: "It's not about religion here. We protect all sects...
Their enemies say they are an atheistic one party state, with links to terrorism...
But they claim they're a model of tolerance for the entire region....
CLIP: It's the democracy of the people - the people's rights. The rights of the underprivileged!
Syria's secret revolution has created a place like no other in the Middle East.
Welcome to Rojava...
High Impact, Kinetic Battle... Show the women fighters
YPG Arab Gunman.
Children in camp... welders, oil and cows...
Mixed crowd in the city...
Cows Oil fields, Churches???
Kurdistan map made of expended bullets
Home Made Cat Tank...
TITLE: Rojava - Syria's Secret Revolution
The Tigris River marks the border between northern Iraq and a part of Syria the locals call "Rojava."
In October, Filmmaker Mehran Bozorgnia was granted rare access to take this exclusive footage.
Crossing from Iraq, this family of Kurdish refugees. The men are running from ISIS death squads - the women potentially from a life of slavery.
Clip of Dad. "Politicians should put aside their differences and unite. We Kurds have been oppressed for centuries..."
They say they feel safer on the Syrian side, than back at home in Iraqi Kurdistan...
Yazidis at the border SEQ
Kurds drive off
As the Syrian regime's authority waned over the past 3 years, left-wing revolutionaries took full advantage and declared their own mini-state in northern Syria.
It's based on three mainly Kurdish enclaves: one near Aleppo, the next around the beleaguered city of Kobane - and here - centered on Qamishli. Where we filmed.
They've called it "Rojava." Separate entities with a shared ideology.
Over 2 million people live here...
But ISIS forces now menace them all.
Animated MAP GFX
These refugees are Yezidis. They have come here to Rojava to learn how to fight ISIS, who were persecuting them because of their non-Islamic religion.
Drill Sergeant: If anyone sets foot on our sacred soil, we'll cut them down!!
Men: "Long live the Yezidi resistance!
Who are we? We are the people of Sinjar!
They are being trained by Rojava's Army - the so-called People's Protection Units or YPG.
In summer, the Yezidis were threatened with extermination by ISIS - prompting a wave of US bombing raids. But the Rojavan armed forces launched a daring cross-border rescue mission to save them.
Military training SEQ
Archive here? (probably NOT)
Commander Khalil is the spokesman for Rojava's Army. He sees an important role for their forces in the wider war against ISIS
Both the US and Europeans are trying to beat ISIS. The war against ISIS calls for joint joint-effort. ISIS are a threat to nations everywhere. But for the American and European plans to succeed, they'll need to co-operate with forces on the ground.
The new Yezidi recruits will get 3 weeks of basic training and some light weapons - and they'll then fight alongside the YPG.
Yezidis Training CTD.
And this is the where the they'll end up...
On the frontlines in the desert
FX: Bang bang bang!!!
...just a few hundred metres away from ISIS, seen here trying to advance on the strategic town of Ceza...
Add slight droney music
The Desert frontline SEQ.
The additional Yezidi manpower is certainly welcome, for Rojava's Army lacks modern equipment - unlike ISIS, whose Jihadis have looted tons of American made heavy weapons from captured Iraqi army bases
Instead the YPG have integrated the ethnic mix of Rojava's population:
Kurds, Yezidis, Arabs, Turkmen and Christians - both men and women - all fight shoulder to shoulder here.
Rear echelon shots, Arabs and women.
An antiquated Soviet era AA-Gun etc.
We are here fighting to defend our land, protect our homes, our nation and our children...
CLIP Arab Fighter
The Rojavan political project is all being run from this Spartan office :
Alder Xalil lost his left hand fighting for Kurdish guerillas in Turkey. Nowadays he's the brains behind the radical social revolution here.
For him, it is about much more than a separate region for Syria's Kurdish population.
Alder Xalil in his Spartan office
Rojava has got an overarching solution... it can be an example for other regions. This is a consensus based democratic way of living and it could become the way forward for Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. It is an advanced democratic model.
But we are part of Syria; we don't want to partition Syria.
Rojava Governing Council
But Rojava's has been scorned by its neighbours.
ISIS Jihadists are simply trying to eliminate them - especially around Kobane.
While the Turkish government has called Rojava a terrorist entity.
This is because the dominant party in Rojava has close links to a Turkish-Kurdish separatist group called the PKK.
The PKK fought an extremely brutal guerrilla war in Turkey. It started in the mid ‘eighties and violence is ongoing.
At its peak, there were human rights abuses and killings on both sides. Tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives.
The PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is in prison in Turkey accused of terrorism offences.
He is the political guru for Rojava's leaders. And his new, radical egalitarian ideology forms the basis for the Rojavan movement.
Critics say Rojava is now dominated by PKK ideologues, who don't really want a democratic Syria. It's something the leadership deny.
If there is a political change in Damascus, one which leads to democracy, then we could deal with them.
Our Rojava system could function in co-operation with them.
Camps like this one north of Qamishli house refugees from ISIS' attacks.
The authorities say the political system here is based on collective agreement, via popular local assemblies and grass roots decision making.
And you can see the results at meal times in the refugee camps.
All the food on offer was facilitated by the authorities, but we were told it was 40 local families who've agreed to organize and take it in turns to cook meals for the refugees.
According to the constitution, in each municipality the top three officers have to come from different ethnicities - and at least one must be a woman. This is unprecedented in the Middle East
Qamishli is the biggest city in Rojava.
The separation of church and state in here means women can dress as they want and there are no religious restrictions on public behavior.
Although many of the Kurds here are from Muslim backgrounds - Rojava has now become a sanctuary for minorities from across Syria and beyond.
GVs or normal street life
Couple eating ice creams, women in both Islamic and western clothing styles etc.
Hussein converted from Islam to Christianity two years ago. Apostasy is viewed as unforgivable in many parts of the Middle East - and Rojava is probably one of the few places in this region someone like him can live a normal life.
Hussein's change of faith came about after a traumatic spell in one of Assad's prisons.
Hossein prepares Kebabs
What can I say? The Syrian regime is a dictatorship, Islam is a dictatorship and Communism too is a dictatorship. There is no respect for humanity.
Hussein's wife, Meskineh, worries about the effects of the war on her kids if she stays in Rojava.
I would love to stay (in Syria) here, but the war for three years has made us develop psychological ailments and despair. But for the sake of my children, especially their education and future, for this reason, I want to leave and go abroad.
Before the war Hussein had invested in these new apartments. But since ISIS attacked, everything's ground to a halt.
Hussein driving to the unfinished flats
All business has collapsed - there's not even any cement.
People are scared of ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra and Bashar al-Assad.
People are frightened, people are poor.
People can barely make it through the day.
He is showing us a half build block of flats
Abdul Rahman Hamo is the man charged with developing Rojava's new economic model.
Set up Mr. Hemo...
The system here is based on a combination of private enterprise and collectives - the aim is to make Rojava self-sufficient
Abdul Rahman Hemo
Rojava Economics Dept.
The authorities have invested in agriculture and light industry.
But the economic mainstay remains oil, which is sold on the black market: it's a useful revenue stream, as this mini-state doesn't levy any taxes and the banking sector is non-existent.
More problematic, though, is the attitude of other regional powers.
Oil field shots
During the last three years we have been under political and economic embargo, from all our neigbouring countries.
Abdul Rahman Hemo
Back at the Tigris border crossing a fact finding delegation from the European Parliament are arriving.
In the front line to greet them is the Rojava political strategist Alder Xalil.
He wants to sell the political project to the visiting foreigners - and win friends for Rojava.
The EU big wigs arrive at the river crossing
...a terrorist group has attacked us. They want to destroy pillage our region and destroy our way of life. If the international community, the United Nations and particularly America, really want to stand against terrorists, then they have to support us and our people.
The EU officials have come to look at the plight of refugees. These hospital patients were all injured in the panicked flight from ISIS.
This little boy was found crying and alone in the desert. Nobody knew who he was, or whether his family were alive.
Exposure to the desert sun blinded him in both eyes.
Hospital tour etc.
He is disabled now. He's five years old and he can't see. The doctors give him the proper medication. We do what we can.
We have since learned that that child died of his injuries
(Fade To Black)
BREAK HERE IN BBC WORLD VERSION
Things are tough everywhere here: Rojava is broken into three separate enclaves - and they're beseiged by ISIS.
This is one of the volatile border zones near Iraq.
Al Ya-Rabia border Crossing etc
Sheikh Nafas runs Rojava's Internal Security force, which is organized as a volunteer militia.
How long have you guys been here?
We came yesterday.
And how many are you?
Seven of us
And true to the "bottom up" philosophy at work in Rojava, all These Internal Security Force
members are nominated by local village committees, not recruited centrally by the government.
This security man is an ethnic Arab, but he's sporting an Abdullah Ocalan badge - the famous Kurdish PKK leader is the ideological inspiration for the whole movement here.
Ocalan is a great man. It's not about race with him, it's about ideology and equality. It's a philosophy. In this area, we are all one people.
Arab ASAYIS Fighter with badge
And this fighter is a Christian.
I'm a Christian, but this is a place for everyone. We will protect all sects: Kurds, Muslims, Christians and Arabs. We just want everyone to live in peace and harmony.
Christian gunman in a straw hat.
Sheikh Nafas well knows just how perilous the military situation in Rojava is - and how unpredictable the results of foreign military intervention in the region could be.
If the Americans defeat ISIS in Iraq, it could push those fighters towards us.
So the Americans have a duty to protect people. Both in Iraq and elsewhere human rights are respected, like here
Rojava is a new territory - a new market. And everyone can play a role, including the Americans.
Internal Security Boss.
Sheikh Nafas offers to take our cameras on a tour of the frontlines.
On the way out, two ISIS suspects are brought in. They'd apparently been caught planting a roadside bomb. The guards didn't want us to film them - and we don't know what happened to those men next.
Reports have come in that ISIS have launched rockets on the nearby cement works.
Leading from the front, Sheikh Nafas insists on having a look for himself.
Keep your heads down, their won't miss you!"
The ISIS frontline is only 400 metres away
ISIS men in blindfolds being led off by a large thug with a lit cigarette.
He drives to cement works... examines rocket fragments
He scrambles up the slope to see the ISIS positions.
And the Jihadists are a real and lethal threat...
ISIS fighters are well equipped and highly motivated when they launch an attack in another sector, on the southern city of Hassakeh.
The Rojava military scramble to respond.
Lacking heavy weapons, they've constructed their own home-made tanks...
The Mad Red Cat Dustbin Lorry Tank...
In Hassekeh city, the situation is critical...
It's close quarters street-fighting....
The Rojavan forces are under extreme pressure and everybody has to fight.
And It's not just the men.
These women are fully trained combat troops - it's something unique here and not just borne of military necessity.
The movement's stated commitment to gender equality extends from the home to the frontlines...
7,500 women are under arms here.
The Rojava forces eventually repulse the ISIS attack.
The city is safe - at least for today.
Heavy street fighting
CHECK ALL RENDERING HERE
More women fighters
Long Live the YPG's Struggle!
Long Live Ocalan!
Long Live Kurdistan!!!
YPG-Kurd fighters celebrate
Back near his HQ, Sheikh Nafas examines some "artwork" his men have made from spent machine gun bullets. All these come from just one day of fighting
"That says Kurdistan, that says YPG... That one's Ocalan's nickname.. That one's the map of Kurdistan... That's Ocalan again..."
It's leaders say Rojava has only survived through a combination of ideology, careful organization - and force of arms.
Sheikh Nafas thinks it's now time the world paid proper attention to the views of Kurdish revolutionaries, despite the "terrorist" label the international community has put on his allies in the Turkish-Kurdish PKK.
Nafas at the bullet-map place
Nafas and his armed goon squad in the HQ
If they label us as terrorists that means they don't want to recognize the case of the Kurds. Yasser Arafat was labeled a terrorist for years. But America and Israel sat down with him. This terrorist labeling doesn't help.
SHEIKH NAFAS IV
Rojava appears to be something unique in this region - and is a sanctuary for all sorts of minorities. But it's under siege and many people aren't sure they want to risk staying.
Tens of thousands of Christians live in Rojava, as they have done for millenia.
This is the main Syriac Orthodox Church in the city of Derek...
The community here is terrified of ISIS and what the future might hold.
We went with the convert Hussein to a meeting of local Christians.
Christian churches SEQ...
Old big church
Old big church
Hussein gesticulates in meeting
Young Woman: It's not that I am being inherently selfish... We are afraid. We are afraid that if we stay here we will be killed. The basic fact is that there is no real security here. We don't feel safe. Why on earth wouldn't we leave?!
Old man: Like that man said, If you thought of the greater good and believe in God, he will rescue you...
Concerned Christians meeting
While the Christians in this enclave pray for divine intervention, the enemy are quite literally at the gates.
Since the filming, Hossein has sent his daughter to Turkey - and his eldest son to Europe.
And as the nightly barrage of ISIS rockets starts again, out in the desert Rojava's Army is still holding the line ...
Some people here believe this revolutionary mini-state could be the blueprint for a more tolerant and stable region.
But how long can Rojava hold out, in the face of such ruthless and determined enemies?
GVs at dusk.
Audio: Rockets thud into the city
Add fighter in scarf? Or Lee Enfield one?
Reporter and Producer/Narrator and Producer / "Produced and Narrated by" (?):
Nabaz Mahmood, Mustafa Hemo
Executive Producer (BBC Arabic)
Produced and Directed by
Plus OUR WORLD standard ones inc. Kavita Puri
A BBC Arabic - BBC World News Co-Production