MESOP – Syria & Beyond Feature: Mapping “The Kurds” / THE PKK TRUST & THE BRANCHES

Syria and Beyond Feature: Mapping “The Kurds”

PHOTO: Representatives of some Syrian Kurdish factions declare federalism in a conference on Wednesday

Syria’s five-year conflict has brought opportunities for Kurdish groups. They have established autonomy in much of northern Syria as Kurdish-led forces have pushed back the Islamic State and defined territorial control versus the regime and rebel factions. This week, some Kurdish factions, notably the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD), called for federalism and declared a “Federation of Northern Syria”.

However, this is only part of a story of complex relationships. Some Syrian Kurdish factions are opposed to the approach of the PYD, its YPG militia, and its expanding influence. Iraqi Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Regional Government, are hostile to the PYD.

The PYD’s close links to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) raise further tensions. Turkey believes that the PKK, which has waged an armed insurgency for more than 30 years, leads the PYD. Iraqi Kurdish leaders are ambivalent about the PKK, accepting both the group’s presence in northern Iraq and Turkish bombing of the camps.

There is also an Iranian dimension in the Free Life Party (PJAK), although that group has remained distant from the Syrian conflict.

Confused? Alev Erhan and Aaron Stein map the relationships on the website of The Atlantic Council: