As the SUV bounced down the rocky slope towards the Tigris river, the truck’s headlights illuminated a small inflatable boat churning through the current towards us. I dumped my bags on the ground and waited for my turn to make the clandestine river crossing from Iraqi Kurdistan into the newly liberated region of Kurdish Syria called Rojava.
I was surrounded by teenage kids, the next generation of Kurdish freedom fighters. The previous generation had been wiped out by the ISIS meat grinder in places like Rabbia, Jezza, and Kobani. Hardcore guerrillas who had fought in the Turkish mountains for 12 years were sent to Rojava and killed within a year. Rojava is running out of fighters and ISIS, referred to as the Daash, are not. The teenagers are being sent up the front to fight and die for a country which does not yet exist.
These boy soldiers are not conscripted. They volunteered to fight.
Climbing into the raft, I crossed the river and found myself in a surreal new land. Some of this land had only been ridden of Daash a month or two prior. This region was now a part of Rojava, a place that did not really exist as an idea much less as a country until a few years ago as the Syria civil war opened up a front for Kurdish nationalism in what had been northern Syria.