Reporting a Revolution: How Rojava’s Press Evolved

By Shinda Akrem

Revolutions can be made with guns, but they are preserved and maintained with pens, photographs, and video cameras. This is because the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy itself, and a prerequisite for a free society. Since Rojava is committed to that ideal, it is helpful to look back at a timeline detailing the development of its journalistic press and media over the last twelve years.

Rojava’s Kurdish Press 

For the past 10+ years, the Ba’athist regime in Syria has deprived Kurds of their inalienable rights. From the very beginning of the revolution in Rojava, the Kurdish press played an important role. Compared to neighboring regions, Kurdish media in Rojava is relatively free; the press can report on events and issues important to the Kurdish community, as well as connect and communicate with the public. Kurdish media tries to promote Kurdish identity and preserve Kurdish heritage and culture in the region.

Kurdish media consists of a nearly uncountable number of newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV channels, and digital media platforms. These press institutes follow daily events and publish local and international news, as well as cover educational programs, cultural events, and entertainment. But the journey to get to this place has been a long and painful one, with many struggles.

The Cry of Celadet Alî Bedirxan

The history of the Kurdish press in Rojava began with Celadet Alî Bedirxan’s (Mîr Celadet) publishing of the magazine Hawar (The Cry) on October 26, 1931, with the permission of the Syrian government. The first issue published using the Latin alphabet came out of May 15, 1932. After 57 issues, the magazine was shut down on August 15, 1943.

Hawar was closed down, but it continued when Bedirxan published the first issue of Ronahi magazine on April 1, 1943 in Damascus. For the first time, a Kurdish magazine published daily news and events. Ronahi published 28 issues until it too was shut down in 1945.

Non-Arabs Need Not Apply

After these magazines, the Kurdish press remained silent for a long time. In 1957, the first political organization for Rojava’s Kurds, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, was established and began to promote Kurdish activities once again.

In 1963, the Ba’ath Party seized power in Syria and immediately declared a state of emergency, which continued up until 2011. All magazines and newspapers were shut down, printing presses and equipment were seized, and the country’s media came entirely under state control.

Chapter III, Article VI of the 1990 Law of the Journalists’ Union states that members of the union – a union in which membership is required to carry out journalistic work – must be “a Syrian Arab.” Chapter II, Article III also states that journalists must work “in accordance with the decisions and directives of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party,” and Ba’ath Party membership is essentially mandatory for anyone wishing to work as a journalist in Syria.

Under Layers of Clothing

Prior to the Rojava Revolution, Kurdish media work was carried out within an environment of fear, particularly after the intensification of the struggle for the freedom of Kurdistan. Dengê Kurd (Kurdish Voice) magazine started publishing in March 1986. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, dozens of other magazines and newspapers, including Sorgul, Adar, Rojda, Zingil, Helwest, Gulistan, Gelavej, Xunav, Roj, Newroz, Aso, Dilav, Hêvi and Zevi were published, with single issues hidden under the clothing of those distributing them. However, due to the oppression of the Ba’ath regime, none of these magazines were really able to gain a foothold in the media world.

Med TV: Kurds’ Foray into the Multimedia Age

Kurdish media began to widen its scope with the opening of Med TV in 1995. In Rojava, one family from every neighborhood had a satellite dish, and dozens of families would gather in that home during the evenings to watch the news in Kurdish. As children, we did not understand anything, but simply listening to news in our language was incredibly gratifying for us.

Dengê Jiyan: The Voice of Women’s Lives

During the period of Ba’athist oppression, Kurdish women took important steps in the field of media, despite difficulties from both state oppressors and their own societies. In 1998, the magazine Dengê Jiyan (The Voice of Life) was born, and became the voice of women in Rojava’s media.

From Med TV to Roj TV

Though Med TV was eventually shut down, its closure did not stop the progression of visual media in Kurdistan. On March 1, 2004, Roj TV began broadcasting. Though Med TV and Roj TV were broadcasting from outside of Greater Kurdistan, these channels played massive roles in inspiring the Kurdish movement in Rojava and educating and mobilizing society.

From Wedding Videographers to Activists

The same month that Roj TV began broadcasting, a tragedy occurred that would shake the society of Rojava. On March 12, 2004, clashes broke out at the football stadium in Qamişlo, leading to a massacre of Kurds and the arrest of Kurds across the region.

On this day, activists were able to record scenes for Roj TV on cassette cameras used for recording wedding videos. For the first time, this oppression carried out by the Ba’ath regime was well-documented, and in this way the media had a critical role in limiting the scale of the massacre and exposing it for the world to see.

Alternative Revolutionary Ideas

As the world entered the second decade of the new millennium, the Middle East was awash with demonstrations calling for the overthrow of well-entrenched, dictatorial regimes. The name “Arab Spring” began to pop up in every newspaper and on every TV channel, particularly after the Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi self-immolated in protest of deteriorating living conditions.

Following this, the Syrian people, thirsting for freedom themselves, graffitied walls of schools and institutions with slogans calling for freedom and demanding the overthrow of the Ba’athist regime. On March 15, 2011, the spark of the Syrian Revolution was ignited.

As a result, an “alternative revolutionary media” began to arise in opposition to the ‘one language, one flag, and one people’ idea of media, which had existed under the regime.  Revolutionary media played a massive role in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular, by allowing facts and events to reach popular media platforms and be shared with the world.

Working with what they had

Many Kurdish activists and youth gathered in individual homes and met to plan their work, as their capabilities were still incredibly limited during the early days of the Rojava Revolution.

In 2011, the only journalists were wedding photographers, filming parties and weddings by night and following important events during the day.

However, in order to advance the revolution, these photographers became activists, and eventually, the people came together to raise funds for these activists to acquire more media tools and equipment.

Working Under a Mud-Brick Roof

The first official media office in Rojava was a humble one, to say the least. In 2011, the people of Rojava gathered funds to rent a small, three-room mudbrick and straw house in the Hileliye neighborhood. In that cramped home, around 40 media workers from all over Rojava gathered to carry out media work in all forms, from magazines and newspapers to TV and radio. Though media offices have moved on to bigger and better locations, the house that birthed Rojava’s first media channels is now a local commune, maintaining its ties to the region’s historic revolution.

The first media office in Rojava, located in Qamişlo (photo by Ali Ali).

Ronahi: Rojava’s First Newspaper

On October 14, 2011, intellectuals and journalists from Kobanê, Afrin, and Cizîre announced the publishing of the Ronahi newspaper. This newspaper was seen as a qualitative step within the revolution, as its purpose was to start educating the Kurdish community in Rojava and present facts in a clear and objective manner.

The newspaper’s first issue was released two days later, and 500 copies were distributed in Aleppo, Damascus, and Rojava’s three cantons at the time. However, the media’s capabilities were still so limited that journalists had to do everything; in the evenings, around 20 of them gathered in their homes with the printed reams of the newspaper and put the pages together themselves, before distributing the paper among the people themselves.

Ronahi TV Begins Broadcasting in Rojava

Visual media took another huge step in Rojava when Ronahi TV, which opened in Europe in 2005, began broadcasting in Rojava in 2011. After this, a flood of new Rojava-based TV channels began to open, including independent Arabic-language and Syriac-language media.

The Free Media Union

In order to better organize media work in Rojava and Syria, a group of journalists gathered in a meeting in the town of Amûdê on July 13, 2012, to hold the first conference of the Free Media Union.

From the Arab Spring to the People’s Spring

On July 19, 2012, the people of Kobanê began tearing down the flag of the Ba’athist regime. All across Rojava, people rose up, and one by one removed the red, black, and white flag from their cities and regions and lit the spark of the Rojava Revolution.

As these developments arose, journalists saw their duty to inform the public of the reality of events happening in Rojava. Kurdish people raised their voices during Friday marches, peacefully yet firmly asserting their rights, until eventually, even Arab and Syriac people began to join them.

Under Attack

With barely two years passing since Rojava obtained some semblance of autonomy, it came under heavy attack, initially by Al-Nusra Front and its Turkish backers in the city of Serê Kaniyê. Journalists struggled to cover the fighting as many of them were not trained in how to defend themselves, but with the help and protection of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), the truth of the war was documented and reported.

In addition to terrorist attacks and cyber attacks, the spreading of propaganda on TV and social media also created fear among a people who were just getting accustomed to a free and independent media in Rojava. False news meant to spread fear and panic often paved the way for mass waves of migration and terror among residents.

Journalism by Bicycle

If the journalist’s weapon was her camera at the beginning of the media’s flourishing in Rojava, the journalist’s chariot was her bike, and her laptop was her shield.

During many actions and marches, some journalists would enter a comical scene, having to walk through the crowds of people with their laptop open on Skype and a tiny webcam pointed towards the masses. After the actions were done, they would load up their equipment and either walk or bike for two hours, before reaching their base and sending whatever extra footage they had to various media outlets.

No Easy Place for a Woman

Media work was not an easy place for a woman at that time, due to pressures from family and  society. As a female journalist, I am an example of this. Sometimes when covering marches or protests, I would have to climb up onto vehicles or walls, and would hear a litany of unpleasant and harassing language because of the influence of the patriarchal system on our society. However, I accepted that this was a society and a system that could not be changed overnight.

Cudi FM: Raising the Voice of the Revolution

Rojava’s first radio station, Cudi FM began broadcasting from a tiny room – big enough only for three people – on October 20, 2012. People across Cizîre began listening, and more radio stations opened across the region. Later in 2012, Kobane FM opened, and Afrin FM began broadcasting from Afrin in 2013. Buyer FM and Arta FM, also broadcasting from Cizîre, followed in 2013.

Bedirxan’s Echo in Rojava

As more and more outlets of various mediums began spreading across Rojava, the need arose for a proper news agency. On March 1, 2013, Hawar News Agency opened, taking its name from the first Kurdish newspaper published by Celadet Bedirxan in Syria.

The agency published in six languages: Kurdish, Arabic, Russian, English, Spanish, and Turkish. With this step, slowly, every media organization now began to have its own broadcasting space.

The Republic of Mahabad Renews its Roots

On the 21st of January, 2014 – the anniversary of the short-lived but influential Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, the Autonomous Administration was announced in Qamişlo. This announcement was shared as breaking news across the world, becoming a valuable gem representing the revival of Kurdish history. This declaration was followed by similar declarations in Kobanê and Afrin.

In Kobanê, Journalists were Stronger than Ever

In 2014, the Kurdish enclave of Kobanê was forever changed when the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked the city. However, the role of media was stronger than ever before amid this threat to the Kurds of Rojava.

Throughout the crushing siege, the radio station Dengê Kobanî highlighted the resistance of the people of Kobanê and the fighters of the YPG and YPJ as they defended their region. Despite the dire circumstances of war, journalists worked day and night to be the voice of truth. Eventually, dozens of journalists from around the world joined them, coming to Kobanê to see and share the reality for themselves. Through their lenses and voices, Kobanê became a symbol of resistance and the first heroic defeat of ISIS.

Journalists also became witnesses to the resistance of everyone who fell in the defense of Kobanê and Rojava in general; no one remained who did not have a martyr in their family, be it a father, mother, son, daughter, granddaughter, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or friend.

It was with the sacrifices of these individuals, who wrote golden epics with their blood, so that journalists such as ourselves can now talk about the role of the media.

The Thread of Lies is a Short One

As much as the spread of free media in Rojava brought with it many positive effects, some individuals took advantage of this environment. From the start of the revolution, bad actors began to attack the freedom movement in Rojava. For example, after the resistance of Tel Hamis was won, and heartbreaking views of dozens of caskets began to be published, some journalists and media agencies called the clips “fake news,” stating that the people of Rojava were engaging in theatrical performances with empty coffins. But because, as a popular saying in Rojava goes, the ‘thread of lies is a short one’, these media attacks never gained much ground, and these individuals and agencies lost the trust of the people of Rojava.

“Rajin” for Women in Journalism

The Women Journalists of Rojava organized a women’s journalism conference (Rajin = Ragihandin + Jin) in 2014. The conference followed the development of the work of female journalists. As a result of the conference, the Aso magazine began its publication, and the women’s agency JINHA began publishing as well.

From 2014-2015, many other radio stations opened in smaller cities and towns in Rojava, such as Dirbêsiyê FM, Washokani FM, and Dengê Khabûr, and eventually Suroyo FM, which broadcast in the Syriac language, followed suit.

Rojava Film Society

The Rojava Film Community was established in the city of Dibêsiyê in the Cizîre region on July 14, 2015, with the efforts of the resistant people. Then community centers were opened in Afrin in 2016, in Kobanê in 2018 and lastly in the city of Qamişlo.

The Film Society produced many important films with the help of actors who were recruited from the people. Films were shown in many local and international festivals, including the film The End Will Be Spectacular and so on. The film series Kurdish Love was shot in 2022 and it will be broadcast on the Ronahi TV channel in 2023.

“No to Silence”

As media organization improved across Rojava, journalists began to expand their role beyond simply documenting and sharing news and events. On April 3, 2016, 74 media workers in Rojava joined in the “No to Silence” campaign, which documented violations committed in Northern Kurdistan’s Nisêbîn (Nusaybin) via photo and video reports. These reports were then handed over to 420 different local and international media organizations covering human rights issues. Six international journalists also joined in the 73-day-long campaign.

Kurdish Journalists Across Borders

In order to support the newspaper Azadiya Welat, which was published in Northern Kurdistan until its forced closure by the Turkish state, the Free Media Union in Kobanê and Cizîre decided to lend a hand. They began to both print and distribute the newspaper in Rojava, providing the exiled journalists with union membership cards to enable them to easily carry out their work. The Autonomous Administration’s Media Department also allowed them to open offices and institutions in Rojava.

The First Women’s TV Channel

On International Women’s Day – March 8th, 2018 – the first TV channel for women with an all female staff, Jin TV, opened in Rojava. The station broadcast programming encouraging women to take on roles in the military, political structures, economy, and strengthen their self-esteem.

Media Role During the ISIS War

At the people’s request, in 2017 the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began its push towards ISIS’ de facto capital Raqqa. The city became a hellish nightmare, particularly for the hundreds of Yazidi women and children who had been kidnapped from Shengal and sold in slave markets from Mosul to Raqqa. Together with the SDF, the Shengal Women’s Protection Units and the YPG, which had saved Shengal from ISIS in 2014, marched on the ISIS capital to take revenge for the Yazidis.

Through the media, their actions were documented minute by minute and shared with the public. On the day of Raqqa’s liberation, women burned their black veils in front of camera lenses, and the world watched as the black curtain was lifted from people who had lived in darkness for so many years.

A Deaf, Blind, and Mute World Turns its Back on Afrin

On January 20, 2018, the Turkish state launched a blitzkrieg-style war on Afrin from all sides. 72 F16 aircraft pummeled the small Kurdish enclave, targeting not just military sites but also civilian infrastructure.

Journalists risked their lives to travel to Afrin to combat misinformation and lies as well as support Afrin’s people. The resulting waves of migration and massacres of civilians were widely reported for everyone to see, but still the world remained blind, deaf, and bitterly silent. Now, five years of hellish occupation has ensued and we are still awaiting justice.

Martyrs for the Voice of Truth

Throughout the Rojava Revolution and struggle against terror groups, many journalists have laid down their lives as their fight to reveal the truth.

On July 13, 2016, Ronahi TV reporter Mustafa Mihemed Shukri was injured while covering the campaign to liberate Manbij from ISIS; he died of his injuries three months later.

In October 2017, three reporters from ANHA – Dilişan İbish, Hogir Mihemed and Rizgar Deniz – were killed by an ISIS VBIED, while covering Operation Jazira Storm in Deir ez-Zor.

International journalists also risked everything not just to cover the revolution, but to join it. Mehmet Aksoy, who was born in Northern Kurdistan and emigrated to Britain at a young age, was killed during the Jazira Storm campaign in September 2017.

On October 13, 2019, civilians, including journalists, rushed to open a humanitarian corridor to rescue those wounded and stranded in the hospital of Serê Kaniyê, which was under attack by the Turkish army. The rescue convoy was bombed by Turkish warplanes, and media worker Mihemed Hussein Resho and ANHA correspondent Saad Ahmed were killed alongside dozens of civilians. Journalist Widad Erdamji was also killed by a Turkish air strike two days prior.

The most recent attacks on journalists came less than one year ago, when Turkey bombarded the city of Kobanê and the village of Teqil Beqil on November 20, 2022. After the bombing of Teqil Beqil, the people of Derik traveled to the site of the strike to render assistance and read a statement condemning the attack. Turkish warplanes then bombed the site again, killing dozens of civilians, including Hawar News Agency correspondent Issam Abdullah.

An Unprecedented Media Bloom

From its humble beginnings in a three-room mud house, Rojava’s media has grown in leaps and bounds, now boasting more than 125 local and international media organizations working in north and east Syria. This does not include the dozens of YouTube channels and social media platforms opened with the approval of the Free Media Union.

Today, around 1,700 individuals work in the media of Rojava. Moreover, the region’s universities, including Rojava University in Qamişlo, have opened media and journalism departments, and dozens of students are being trained to become the next generation of journalists.

Towards a Brighter Future

Though the media has progressed far beyond what journalists in regime and opposition-held areas could dream of, it still has a long way to go. Many agencies have not reached a level where they can carry out proper investigations or analysis. Specialization, that is, journalists who cover specific facts of life such as the economy, society, culture, and politics, would help diversify the media here.

Proper education and training would also go a long way towards helping journalists here reach their full potential. Foreign specialists and professional journalists can help provide training in technology, cybersecurity, first aid, personal protection, countering misinformation, and psychological support. Female journalists in particular could benefit greatly from training on sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace in order to better defend themselves within their line of work. Though some training in these areas is available online, journalists only participate in them on an individual basis. Media institutions and unions must organize these trainings in order for all media workers to improve themselves and the media work in Rojava in general.

Lastly, despite all of the gains and hard work, more independence is needed for journalists. There is a saying that goes, “the truth is sharper than the sword.” To what extent do Kurdish agencies, newspapers, TV channels, and magazines see themselves as truly independent? To what extent are they able to say to their respective political parties or employers, “no, you are wrong, and this is the truth?” We must have the space to be self-critical of our societal project and how well it does or does not match our ideals.

In order to fully echo the cry of Celadet, we must protect the roots of our tree, which has been grown with the blood of all those who sacrificed to make Rojava free.


  • Shinda Akrem

    Shinda Akrem is an independent journalist from Rojava. One of the founders of the Rojava media industry as well as one of the first female journalists in Rojava, she has worked as a correspondent, producer, and presenter for countless outlets, including Cira TV, Hawar, Furat News Agency, Ronahi TV, Ezdina, Medya News, and the Rojava Film Commune.

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