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As a result, the Turks have launched the Afrin offensive, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to wipe out the Kurdish forces throughout northern Syria all the way to the easternmost areas. “Step by step, we will clean our entire border,” the Turkish president said in a speech at the end of January, overlooking the inconvenient fact that American forces are active in northern Syria, as allies of the S.D.F.
As anyone who has worked in Syria knows, paperwork is an obsession here. The paper chase was a way of life when the regime of Bashir al-Assad ruled this area, and it seems just as obsessive where the S.D.F., dominated by Syrian Kurds, is in charge.
We had entered Syria by ferry across the Tigris River from Iraq, at a place called Fishkabour. The ferry was an oversized, open motorboat with a 150-horsepower Evinrude outboard motor, and it made the crossing in about 3.5 seconds.
Our first stop in Syria was the Kurds’ Semalka customs post, an ornate building that looked out of place in a mostly muddy lot. Inside was the affable representative in charge, Aziz Ahmad, as well as an official rubber stamp, a printer and a photocopier — all of which would prove common in official spaces here, even where electricity was scarce and heat spotty.
The above-mentioned document, issued after the customary cups of tea and Turkish coffee, declared that the Democratic Self-Administration Government of the Al Jazeera Canton of Rojava (Western Kurdistan), office of media and nongovernmental organization affairs, had granted each of us permission to enter Rojava.
Alas, that did not include permission to move along Rojava’s roads. For that we had to go to the city of Qamishli, which in any case had the nearest hotels, and apply to the State Security office, known here as the Asayish.
Unfortunately, the Asayish could not issue such a permission until we were registered as journalists with the Self-Administration Government’s High Media Council, and to do that we would have to proceed to the city of Amuda, about an hour’s drive west of Qamishli. Since the office there closed at 2:30 p.m., that meant a wait until the next day.
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Bright and early in the morning, we climbed the five flights of stairs, strewn with peeled paint, to the media council’s suite of offices. The head of administration, Arsheikh Baravi, sat in front of a laptop in an office with a wood stove converted to burn oil from a scary-looking, suspended drip tank. (It’s hard to explain.)
There we presented passports, our white customs entry slips, press cards and our letter of introduction from The New York Times.
“This is not correctly addressed,” Mr. Baravi said.
What was the problem?
“It says ‘To Whom It May Concern.’ That is not my name.” But after some discussion Mr. Baravi agreeably agreed to overlook the issue, this one time.
Once back in Qamishli, inside the Asayish compound, getting our road permit required visits to two more offices and one photocopier. That allowed us to proceed west back to Ainissa, a four-hour drive. The S.D.F. media office added to our growing sheaf of paperwork a permit that allowed us to work in military areas of Rojava.
Just when we thought we were done, a friendly official named Ali in the S.D.F. media office informed us that we would have to come back the next day, and every day, to renew that permission. Since the nearest hotel was an hour and a half away in the town of Kobani, that meant potentially three hours of daily paper-chase commuting lay ahead.
Not so quick, though. Since we were staying in Kobani we would also need to register there and get another permission slip. That office was now closed, so we would not be able to do that until it opened at 9 a.m. the next day.
At the hotel late that night we learned that the office’s employees were going into hiding, fearing Turkish airstrikes. So instead of opening at 9 a.m., the Kobani office would be closed all day, and then again the next day when a mass demonstration was called to protest the Turkish assault on Afrin and all public offices emptied out to join it.
The day after that (now four days since our initial arrival in Syria), the head of the media center in Kobani, Ghosn Rajb, finally issued the Kobani paperwork, but only after scolding us for failing to register all week.