Mapping Militant Selfies: Application of Entity Recognition/Extraction Methods to Generate Battlefield Data in Northern Syria
As the Middle East goes through one of its most historic, yet painful episodes, the fate of the region’s Kurds have drawn substantial interest. Transnational Kurdish awakening—both political and armed—has attracted unprecedented global interest as individual Kurdish minorities across four countries, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, have begun to shake their respective political status quo in various ways. In order to analyse this trend in a region in flux, this paper introduces a new methodology in generating computerised geopolitical data. Selfies of militants from three main warring non-state actors, ISIS, YPG and FSA, through February 2014 – February 2016, was sorted and operationalized through a dedicated repository of geopolitical events, extracted from a comprehensive open source archive of Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, and Farsi sources, and constructed using entity extraction and recognition algorithms. These selfies were crosschecked against events related to conflict, such as unrest, attack, sabotage and bombings were then filtered based on human- curated lists of actors and locations. The result is a focused data set of more than 2000 events (or activity nodes) with a high level of geographical and temporal granularity. This data is then used to generate a series of four heat maps based on six-month intervals. They highlight the intensity of armed group events and the evolution of multiple fronts in the border regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.