Tag Archives: People’s Protection Units

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

How the Islamic State Claims Terrorist Attacks

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 4, 2017

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With the attempted terrorist attack using machetes at the Louvre museum in Paris yesterday by Abdullah Reda al-Hamamy, whose social media history shows statements at least sympathetic to the Islamic State (IS), it raises once again the question, making no assumptions about al-Hamamy’s motives, of how connected the organization headquartered in Raqqa is to the attacks taking place around the world under IS’s banner—and how we would know.

As IS’s attacks outside of the statelet it has built in Iraq and Syria increased in frequency over the last year, a rather routinized mechanism has developed for attributing blame: IS claims the atrocities—or attempted atrocities—through Amaq News Agency. 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

One Man’s Terrorist …

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 30, 2016

Polat Can, 2014, head of the YPG's information centre (source)

Polat Can, 2014, head of the YPG’s information centre (source)

Over the last twenty-four hours, as fighting has escalated between Turkey and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in northern Syria, an YPG/PYD operative has taken to Twitter to protest. Polat Can is the YPG’s representative to the American-led international coalition ranged against the Islamic State (IS), and his missives have sought to inform the coalition who and what terrorism is, which can be broadly summarized as: the Turkish government. Can himself, however, might easily be considered a terrorist since he is an allegedly-former member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a registered terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, and Turkey. Continue reading

Turkey’s Intervention in Syria Improves the Prospects for Peace

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2016

Picture put out by Faylaq al-Sham of Jarabulus soon after the Islamic State was expelled (Telegram, 24 August 2016)

Picture put out by Faylaq al-Sham of Jarabulus soon after the Islamic State was expelled (Telegram, 24 August 2016)

After a horrific suicide bombing by IS at a Kurdish wedding in eastern Turkey had slaughtered more than fifty people on Saturday, Turkey moved to expel the Islamic State (IS) from Jarabulus in eastern Aleppo Province at about 4 AM on Wednesday morning. IS was swept from this last major border town in Syria, a key gateway for resources to the outside world, around ten hours later.

Operation EUPHRATES SHIELD saw Turkey put troops and tanks over the border publicly for the first time, and allow the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-branded and other mainstream Syrian rebels who have been battling IS for years to use Turkish territory to launch the assault. It was supported by airstrikes from the international anti-IS coalition.

For Turkey, this is a strong indication of a change in her threat-perception vis-à-vis IS, but it is also about a (correctly) perceived threat of what was to follow IS. 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

America Picked the Wrong Allies Against the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 17, 2016

PYD/PKK fighters after they took over the Mannagh airbase on February 10, 2016.

PYD/PKK fighters after they took over the Mannagh airbase on February 10, 2016.

Over the last six weeks the regime of Bashar al-Assad—which by this point means in most areas Iranian-run ground forces and Russian air power—have made territorial gains in northern Syria that threaten the existence of the armed opposition in the area. This threat has been compounded by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and allies, which have also drawn on Russian airstrikes to attack the rebellion in the same areas. The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) has made the PYD its main proxy inside Syria—the only force that can call in coalition airstrikes. This policy was obviously flawed given the view of the PYD by necessary anti-ISIS allies like Turkey and the demographic realities of ISIS, which require Sunni Arabs to be able to police their area, and ensure that ISIS begins to look like a protector of Sunnis if Kurds occupy Arab areas; the PYD now attacking the crucial anti-ISIS demographic in alliance with the regime underlines that fact. Continue reading