Tag Archives: Kurds

Life under the Kurdish YPG in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 17, 2017

Uygar Onder Simseki/AFP/Getty Images

Uygar Onder Simseki/AFP/Getty Images

Four days ago, Chapo Trap House, a Left-wing politics and humour podcast, hosted Brace Belden, known to Twitter as “PissPigGranddad,” a 27-year-old from San Francisco who has joined the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It was very interesting and informative on the state of play in northern Syria.

The YPG is run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) front of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The most amusing part of the interview is Belden’s formal maintenance that the YPG, while fraternal comrades to the PKK and admirers of their ideology, have absolutely no organizational links at all, while at the same time letting the audience in on the fact that the YPG and indeed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition that it controls are parts of the PKK structure. Belden describes joining the YPG by first linking up with the PKK at its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, before being spirited across the border into Syria.

Belden gives a very interesting glimpse of the YPG’s method of governance. The YPG calls its rule “libertarian socialism,” says Belden, but it’s “pretty much a Stalinist state”. Belden describes the ascetic nature of the true believers in the PKK’s ideology—of which he, clearly, is not one—and the collectivized nature of life. Among other things, everyone is subjected to struggle sessions of the kind associated with Mao or the Khmer Rouge. Continue reading

Is This the Beginning of the End for the Islamic State?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 8, 2016

Screenshot of an Islamic State video displaying captured materials from the New Syrian Army, 27 July 2016

Screenshot of an Islamic State video displaying captured materials from the New Syrian Army, 27 July 2016

City AM asked for contributions on the above question, and I took the “no” side. As can be seen from the below, however, this was very much a matter of interpretation since both sides gave roughly the same answer: the Islamic State’s statelet is coming to an end, but the group will survive, morphing back into a prior stage.  Continue reading

Of Kurds and Compromises in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 2, 2016

PYD/YPG soldiers

PYD/YPG soldiers

Having written extensively about the authoritarian structure in the areas run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in northern Syria, and the problems of media, local and Western, in covering this, it was very interesting to see a report in The Wall Street Journal underlining some of these points.

The Journal notes that the PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have engaged in a ruthless consolidation of power within a single party, despite claims to be governing in a democratic way. This has included: heavy pressure on all non-pro-PYD media via various Soviet-style accusations of subversion; demographic engineering by a refusal to allow Arab inhabitants to return to homes or actively expelling them; forced conscription, including of children; the imposition of an ideological curriculum in schools; and the suppression and/or expulsion of all opposition. Continue reading

The West’s Kurdish Allies in Syria Can’t Escape Their Authoritarian Legacy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 13, 2016

PYD/YPG fighters

PYD/YPG fighters

The Islamic State (IS) was driven from the city of Manbij yesterday, a key supply route to the Turkish border in northern Syria, the conclusion of an operation launched on 31 May by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a front-group for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), represented in Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The SDF was backed by U.S. airstrikes. It is difficult not to see the defeat of IS as a positive development. It is, however, worth more closely examining the forces that are being enabled by Western power to fasten their rule across northern Syria, whose vision is deeply problematic—even in narrow terms of the fight against IS. Continue reading

What Kurdish Federalism Means for Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 15, 2016

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Thursday morning saw two separate but related incidents.

First, in Turkey, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for the March 13 suicide bombing in Ankara that massacred 37 people.

The second was a declaration in Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), that they were forming a federal zone in the north of the country.

The link is simple: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Continue reading

Is Turkey Responsible for the Islamic State?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 20, 2015

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Turkey concluded its biggest investigation to date into Islamic State (IS) operatives on its territory on Friday, and blacklisted sixty-seven people. This provides a good moment to review what Turkey’s role has been in the rise of IS, especially amid the escalating accusations from Russia that Turkey is significantly responsible for financing IS. The reality is that while Turkish policy has, by commission and omission, made IS stronger than it would otherwise have been, so has Russia’s policy—and Russia’s policy was far more cynical than Turkey’s, deliberately intended empower extremists to discredit the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad. Turkey’s focus on bringing down Assad and Ankara’s fear of Kurdish autonomy led it into these policies and now—having seemingly found the will to act to uproot IS’s infrastructure on Turkish territory—there is the problem of actually doing so, when IS can (and has) struck inside Turkey. The concerns about these external funding mechanisms for IS, while doubtless important, obscure the larger problem: IS’s revenue is overwhelmingly drawn from the areas it controls and only removing those areas of control can deny IS its funds. Continue reading

If Assad Is Not Forced Out, ISIS Never Will Be

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 3, 2015

A version of this article was published at The Independent.

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Yesterday, the British House of Commons voted 397 to 223 to extend airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) into Syria from Iraq. After the vote in August 2013 against military action to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for the massive poison gas attack outside Damascus that killed 1,500 people in a few hours, this is undoubtedly a sign of a recovery in confidence of Britain’s international role, but it is only the beginning. Continue reading