Kurdish fighter shows off his weapon in north
Kurdish fighter shows off his weapon in northReuters

Kurdish fighters have routed Islamist forces in northeastern Syria, taking 19 towns and villages in the past week alone, across the region known by Kurds as "Rojova", or western Kurdistan.

Kurdish and Islamist armed groups, including the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), have been locked in a prolonged and bloody struggle over control of northern Syria. Clashes escalated earlier this year after the Kurdish Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) ejected Islamist forces from the border town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border, among other areas.

Frequent battles have continued since then, amid claims of war crimes by Islamist forces against Kurdish civilians.

But the YPG appears to have seized the initiative as of late, recently capturing the Yarubiya border post, on the border with Iraq, after three days of fierce clashes with Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, "since Saturday, a total of 19 localities have fallen into the hands of Kurdish fighters."

Since then, it continued, "The jihadists have been trying to regroup their fighters to reclaim lost ground."

The most recent gains by Kurdish forces saw the YPG retake the Kurdish village of al-Asadiya, near the Turkish border.

Syria's Kurdish minority makes up around 10% of the population and is largely concentrated in the country's far north-east, near the borders with Turkey and Iraq.

The Kurds are the Middle East's largest nation without a state. Their ancestral homeland, known as "Kurdistan", is currently occupied by four countries - Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria - although Kurds in Iraq now enjoy autonomy under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). 

Meanwhile, Kurdish groups inside Syria are making moves to establish an autonomous Kurdish region, along similar lines to the KRG in Iraq.

Syria’s civil war, originally a struggle between Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and rebels trying to oust him, has now essentially mushroomed into a series of different conflicts between warring factions, including clashes between Kurdish and (largely Arab) Islamist groups in the north, as well as infighting between various Arab rebel factions elsewhere in the country.