The evolution of Kurdish struggle in Syria

Between Pan-Kurdism and Syrianization, 1920–2016

Authored by: Jordi Tejel

Routledge Handbook on the Kurds

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  August  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138646643
eBook ISBN: 9781315627427
Adobe ISBN:


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As the Syrian army pulled out of several towns in the north and northeast of the country in July 2012, Kurds seemed to emerge “out of nowhere” 1 and found themselves masters of their own destiny after more than 40 years of dictatorship and political marginalization. Ever since, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – a Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting the Turkish state since the 1980s – and its military force, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), have been exercising state-like power in the Kurdish regions of Syria. In addition, the establishment of de facto autonomy in Syria’s Kurdish majority areas has seen the Kurds become the key actors in the conflict at a national level. At the time of writing, the YPG are actively taking part in military operations alongside the United States against the Islamic State (ISIS) around Raqqa, the “capital” of its self-proclaimed Caliphate in 2014. More significantly, the PYD/PKK has become a regional actor able to challenge states such as Turkey, as well as competing Kurdish leaders such as the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massud Barzani.

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