Faces of war: Kurdistan’s armed struggle against Islamic State

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Since March 2015, the photographer and author Joey Lawrence has had unprecedented access to Kurdish guerrilla organisations fighting Isis, embedding himself into the Iraq and Syrian civil war. His powerful portraits of the fighters give a different perspective to the conflict

We came from fire, and we will return to fire

The war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has flooded our daily news with troubling statistics of massacres and mass migrations, yet there are faces and human stories at the heart of the conflict. Joey L wrote: “From Iraq, one crosses the Tigris River into war-torn Syria, and is catapulted into a worldview crafted by the guerrilla.”

A water tower overlooking the liberated city of Sinjar, Nineveh governorate, in Iraq on 10 November 2016.

Warshin, a survivor of the Yazidi genocide and volunteer YJÊ fighter, in the Nineveh governorate in Iraq

From Iraq, one crosses the Tigris River into war-torn Syria, and is catapulted into a worldview crafted by the guerrilla

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrilla members on an armed patrol in the countryside of Makhmur in Iraq.

Fighters of YJA-Star (the Free Women’s unit) from left to right: Evîndar Cûdî, Shevjîn Herekol, Hêja Botan, Nûdem, and Berçem Penaber.

Silava and Berivan of the Yazidi Women’s units (YJÊ) share a laugh in an abandoned ISIS base in Sinjar.

Fighters of the YJÊ gather outside their base for military training.

Evîndar and Nûdem, PKK guerrillas.

A YPG fighter takes a break during an operation to get a drink of water. Tel Tamir, Jazira canton, Rojava, in Syria, on 7 March 2015. Right: Ahmed Zakwan, a rebel fighter of the Army of Revolutionaries, reloads his PK machine gun in a farmhouse facing a small hamlet under the control of Isis. Ain Issa southwestern front, Raqqa governorate, Syria, 11 December 2015.

Jîn, a YPJ fighter, with rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Agid, a YPG fighter, sits atop a destroyed ISIS tank in Kobane.

Clothes hang to dry in uncompleted concrete structure lived in by Yazidi refugees in Zakho, Dohuk governorate, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kurdish women in cultural clothing dance at International Women’s Day celebration in Rojava; and right: a camera operator streaming footage to a local Kurdish channel films the scenes. 7 March 2015

I feel honoured to have spent time among the free people of Kurdistan. Through their sacrifices, their struggle is being recognised around the globe

Using binoculars and scopes, SDF fighters watch for Isis infiltration and suicide vehicles on the frontline in Raqqaon 16 November 2016.

A family watches from their rooftop as firefighters struggle to extinguish walls of flames creeping closer to their home in Qayyarah.

Nader Yassim coordinates hoses running water to firefighters. Qayyarah, Nineveh governorate, Iraq, 26 October 2016.

Newal, a fighter of the YJÊ, and Shêbo, a volunteer policeman for a Yazidi refugee camp in the Sinjar mountains.

Idris, a student of the new self-administrated school system, is learning in his native language – Kurdish – for the first time in Kobane.

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