Till F. Paasche
Dr. Paasche is a lecturer in political geography at Soran University in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.
Historically the role of the Kurds and Kurdish parties in Syria has been shaped by the Syrian government's regional power politics. Within Syria, the status of the Kurdish population ranges from being tolerated to being actively oppressed. At the same time, the Syrian government used the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a proxy to wage war in response to Turkey's "water-dam politics" that left Syria vulnerable to droughts. Within this complicated and ever-changing power landscape, the Kurds and the PKK had to adapt their aims and strategies.1 However, with the loosening grip of the Assad regime in 2011, the situation changed, and Syria's Kurds were able to take control of the Kurdish-majority areas. In particular, parties affiliated with the PKK were able to make the most of the situation. In late 2014, the Kurdish-controlled areas, with the exception of the besieged town of Kobane, are some of the few parts of Syria that show relative stability.2 Apart from being an effective force against the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS), the Kurdish-led autonomous government is also the only one offering a political alternative to the repressive Assad regime and the violent Islamic State.
However, despite introducing a progressive democratic alternative, the Kurdish areas (now called Rojava, "the West") are widely misunderstood and consequently deprived of international support. In order to understand present day Rojava, it is necessary to go back to the late 1990s and the eviction of Abdullah "Apo" Ocalan, the PKK's leader, from Syria, which ended with his incarceration in Turkey.
Based in Syria throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, the PKK was a state-centered, Marxist-Leninist national liberation movement subject to Syria's mercy. However, with his incarceration, Ocalan — and with him the PKK and its affiliates — changed his paradigm from a separatist struggle to a rejection of the nation-state as an institution in favor of "democratic confederalism," a multiethnic and multiconfessional grassroots democracy.3 For today's Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, and all parties within their coalition, this means not questioning the territorial integrity of the Syrian state. They demand instead an autonomous area in which to practice their own innovative form of democracy. Similarly, in Turkey, the PKK no longer clamors for the break-up of Turkish territory to allow for an independent Kurdish state. This paper therefore highlights that support for the Yekineyen Parastina Gel (YPG, YPJ [Jine] for women) would not be a threat to the territorial integrity of the NATO member state of Turkey. There is no evidence of any action by the YPG that contradicts their official paradigm. However, this change in the PKK's and PYD's understanding is rarely acknowledged in the public discourse about potential allies in the war against the Islamic State.
Moving on to the present-day situation in Rojava, Syria, it is argued below that while the PKK, PYD and YPG are indeed strongly interlinked, they are not the same organization. They share a similar political understanding based on Ocalan's writings, and individual members might move between parties. Furthermore, the PKK's armed wing, the Hezen Parastina Gel (HPG), is training the YPG and maybe even fighting with them. Nonetheless, the PYD and PKK are different entities. This fact is again essential when considering possible support. On a simple legal level, the difference matters. Unlike the PKK,4 neither the PYD nor YPG has ever been on any Western list of terror organizations, also unlike the Iraqi-Kurdish Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which the West is heavily supporting.5
This difference is also more important on a deeper level. Due to its history and nature, the PKK has always been an elitist organization that tolerates little or no deviation from its official line. Operating as a guerrilla organization in harsh mountains and with limited communication requires a certain level of uncompromising rigor. The PYD, by contrast, is active in large heterogeneous urban and rural areas where it operates in alliance with various other political parties, religions and ethnicities. The PYD is working within a parliamentary system with other parties and governing over a million people, not all of whom are sympathizers. This forces them into pragmatic compromises that guerrillas in the mountains do not need to make. Recent PYD meetings in Dohuk with opposing parties representing a more Western and Iraqi-Kurdish style of democracy serve as evidence of the ability and willingness of the PYD to compromise.6 Planned elections, something potential Western allies should encourage, will further balance Ocalan's relatively strict paradigm with Western forms of democracy.7
This also affects the status of YPG/YPJ forces as effective proxies on the ground in Syria, which Western powers are currently looking for. The PYD is a political party, while the YPG/YPJ is the armed forces of Rojava. Indeed, the YPG/YPJ is closely tied to the PYD, especially when it comes to the command structure of the armed forces. The YPG/YPJ is supported not only by the PYD but by a variety of parties and individuals. Instead of being seen as a one-party militia, the YPG/YPJ prefers to defend the theory of "democratic confederalism." This includes several other parties (although there might be a large number of locals right now who would support any army that is fighting IS). The PYD more recently signaled its willingness to respect another force besides the YPG/YPJ in Rojava, prehaps an attempt to legitimize democratic rule there. In particular, this refers to a Peshmerga-trained shadow army of the Syrian-Kurdish opposition parties based in an area between Fish Khabour and Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan.
For the first two decades after its founding in 1978, the PKK followed a clear and uncompromising Marxist-Leninist national-liberation agenda.8 The only solution for the "Kurdish question" was a Kurdish state on Turkish territory and nothing else.
Our history has shown the following: by leaving Ankara we became a party, by going into the Middle East, we became an army; when we go out into the world, we shall become a state.9
To Ocalan and the guerrillas, the answer to the Kurds' cultural, linguistic and historical oppression had to be a Kurdish state, a demand the Turkish state was not willing to consider. With both sides unwilling to compromise, the fronts hardened, and a civil war erupted that cost the lives of thousands. While national liberation was a dominant discourse among the international left at the time, Ocalan had to adopt the theme of national liberation from Turkey for political and strategic reasons, as he was being hosted in Syria by the Assad regime, keen to control its own Kurdish population. Thus Ocalan had to tread very carefully to ensure that he did not promote any form of pan-Kurdistan.
The interest of the Assad regime was to use the PKK as a proxy against Turkey, which was increasingly building dams in an attempt to control Syria's precious fresh-water supply. For the Assad regime, the benefits of causing trouble for a regional competitor outweighed the fact that Syria itself had a substantial Kurdish minority in the north of the country, which it has unremittingly suppressed.10 The deal between the Assad regime and the PKK was to use Syria as a logistical base and headquarters to wage war on Turkey, but to avoid any nationalistic or pan-Kurdish tendencies among the Syrian Kurds. Consequently, in 1996 Ocalan resorted to the problematic position that the Syrian Kurds are a product of Turkey's repression and are refugees originally from Turkey. Although historically not entirely incorrect, Ocalan thereby denounced the fact that the Kurds had found a new home in Syria and that many saw themselves as part of that country.11 While Syrian Kurds could join the ranks of the PKK to fight Turkey, under the PKK they were not allowed to fight injustice within Syria.
The PKK attacks on the territorial integrity of one of the earliest NATO member states, in combination with applied military strategies at the time, caused the European Union (EU), NATO, the United States, Canada and many EU member states to declare, or list, the PKK and its direct affiliates as terror groups.12 However, as will be relevant later on, neither the PYD nor the YPG/YPJ appears on any of those lists.
By the mid-1990s, the PKK, as an organization, was stuck in an ideological trap. As an ideological relic of the 1970s, the PKK depended on the mercy of the Syrian regime, and it was caught in an internecine fight in its attempt to secure its bases in northern Iraq.13 At the same time, it was engaged in a brutal guerrilla war with Turkey, with neither side able to make concessions without looking weak.14 Turkey could not give up territory without being seen as the loser to a guerrilla organization. The PKK, within their national liberation struggle, could not accept anything less than a state of its own. The PKK could not break with this paradigm; any non-state solution could have been perceived as a threat by their hosts in Syria, who were always wary of their own Kurdish population.15 If the PKK had pushed for any form of Kurdish autonomy within the boundaries of the Turkish state, Syria would have been alarmed, since this is a goal that the Syrian Kurds would have aspired to and claimed for themselves. Ocalan's imprisonment changed the situation, enabling the PKK to devise a way out of this conundrum.
In 1998, the deal between the PKK and the Syrians ended with the Turkish-Syrian Adana Agreement, preventing the Syrians from allowing the PKK in their territory. In consequence, Ocalan was arrested after an odyssey through Europe and parts of Africa; he was imprisoned on the Turkish island İmrali, where he is serving a life sentence.16 As this paper argues, imprisonment, although traumatizing for him and for many Kurds, turned out to be an advantage for the PKK strategically and ideologically.17
Although limited by his incarceration, for the first time he could speak freely without taking Syrian geopolitical views into consideration. This finally enabled him to abandon the nationalist discourse and create the base of a sustainable peace process with Turkey. He, the supreme head of the PKK, was imprisoned; therefore, the PKK no longer had physical headquarters. Removing Ocalan from the landscape of chaotic regional power struggles and ever-changing alliances to an isolated prison island meant that the PKK's ideas could be expressed outside the consideration of territorial allegiances. Indeed, the military command structure was now in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, and the Turks exerted much effort to fight them there. However, the PKK's real problem, the ideological one-way street, could now be changed, and Ocalan did so immediately.
Shortly after his incarceration, Ocalan published a new paradigm that presented solutions for the ideological stalemate with Turkey. At the theoretical core of those guidelines was a democratic solution that later became "democratic confederalism," a theory that not only rejects the nation-state but identifies it as the root cause of many societies' problems. From his prison cell, Ocalan promotes a grassroots democracy that applies to all Kurdish areas, not only the Turkish ones, regardless of national boundaries.18 The applied-governance form of "democratic confederalism" is a bottom-up committee structure including absolute gender equality and a multireligious/multiethnic approach:
[T]his is a dynamic political process which needs direct involvement by the sovereign, the people. The people are to be directly involved in the decision-finding process of the society. This project builds on the self-government of the local communities and is organized in the form of open councils, town councils, local parliaments, and larger congresses. The citizens themselves are the agents of this kind of self-government, not state-based authorities. The principle of federal self-government has no restrictions. It can even be continued across borders in order to create multinational democratic structures.19
However, it is essential to understand that, although the new paradigm rejects the nation-state, it tolerates it at the same time. The strict rejection of the state emphasizes the PKK's own ideological turn from a separatist movement. As Ocalan outlines, the practical rejection of the state also means toleration of existing national boundaries, while ignoring them in daily life. Unlike many anarchist theorists who want to abolish the state, the new PKK just wants autonomous life within the different national boundaries. In essence, the new paradigm is no threat to any state's territorial integrity. Having been in an ideological and military stalemate, the new paradigm provides Turkey and the PKK with room for maneuver. In the past, however, this was not possible. The Syrian government would not have tolerated these ideas, as they meant a loss of power and control for any central government.
While at first critics might have argued that the new paradigm is nothing but lip service, the peace talks that started in 2013 and the PKK's demands strongly suggest otherwise. Even now, there is no indication of any ongoing separatist claim. Furthermore, thousands of Kurds have suffered and died for the idea of an independent state. Changing the paradigm completely is a step no one took lightly. Discussions with PKK activists and sympathizers about this period of theoretical change revealed that the process, in the early 2000s, was painful for many of those involved.20 The intellectual cadres, however, had seen the changes in the paradigm coming. For them, it was a logical process that had started in 1988 with Ocalan's critique of existing socialism and continued throughout the 1990s. Being embedded in an institutional structure, where politics and their own theory is discussed extensively, most of the cadres understood and accepted the change as the right move. The often poorly educated base of sympathizers accepted the change with an almost religious trust in Ocalan, as one cadre explained in an interview. Having turned towards secularism, so the cadre claimed, Ocalan, to a degree, took on the role of a savior for many, especially in the Kurdish areas of Turkey and Syria. Consequently, everything Ocalan does is being accepted as the right way.
Today the PKK presents no threat to Turkey's, or any other nation's, territorial integrity. The new paradigm does indeed imply the weakening of the central government, but not the fundamental structure of the state. However, as in the case of the Turkish-PKK peace talks, the level of autonomy can be negotiated. For the past 10 years, the PKK has not been fighting for a state anymore; it is not a separatist movement. However, many analysts, as well as the official terror lists, still portray the PKK as a separatist organization.21 By being affiliated with the PKK, the Syrian Kurdish resistance to the Islamic State is thus often also perceived as a nationalist and separatist movement. This, as outlined above, is incorrect.
First, any potential support for the current Syrian-Kurdish struggle against IS does not mean that forces aiming for the break-up of Turkey are being supported. Second, supporting the PKK affiliates in Syria does not risk the break-up of Syria either. As the next section will show, support for the Syrian Kurds will not create more territorial turmoil. Instead, in conjunction with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a far-reaching zone of democracy and stability could be made possible, stretching from the Iraq-Iran border to Aleppo. However, by not acknowledging the change in the PKK paradigm, the only effective fighting force in Syria is weakened, and this plays into the hands of the Islamic State.
THE PKK AND ITS SYRIAN AFFILIATES
With the end of the PKK's bonds with Syria, Kurds who were heavily influenced by Ocalan's ideas were able in 2003 to introduce their own party, the PYD, based on his writings. Given its official founding date in the early 2000s, the PYD's agenda was at no time a separatist one. The party never questioned the territorial integrity of Syria but always promoted the idea of "democratic confederalism." However, as it posed a significant threat to the ability of the regime in Damascus to control territory, during its first 10 years, the PYD operated covertly to avoid repression, though it was involved in various Kurdish uprisings and demonstrations.22 With the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the weakening of the regime's grip over the Kurdish terroritories and the establishment of Rojava, the PYD began operating openly in the Kurdish-dominated areas. Today the PYD is one of the strongest Kurdish parties.
Ideologically, both the PYD and PKK draw on Ocalan and his writings, and many members of the PYD were also close to, or were members of, the PKK. However, they are not the same party or organization.23 Also, so far, the PYD has not given any Western country reason to list it as a terrorist organization, unless it is being judged "guilty by association." On the contrary, PYD representatives travel to Europe frequently in an attempt to build relationships and connections.
The story of the YPG/YPJ is similar to that of the PYD. The PKK's armed wing, the People's Defense Force/Hêzên Parastina Gel (HPG), trained the YPG/YPJ, and many members have served in both forces; the HPG is fighting alongside the YPG/YPJ in Syria. But, again, the YPG/YPJ and the PKK's HPG are not the same. The YPG/YPJ is dominated by PYD members, and the YPG/YPJ is largely controlled by the PYD. However, there are a variety of other parties and ethnicities involved in the armed forces. Given the YPG/YPJ's resistance, its forces also enjoy much support among the population, and various non-Kurdish groups and ethnicities have joined their ranks. Not all of them joined to defend Ocalan's paradigm, but to defend their villages and families. However, the YPG/YPJ is far more heterogeneous than the HPG and, for that matter, the KDP and PUK Peshmerga of the KRG. Unlike many international commentators,24 the Syrian-Kurdish opposition is well aware of the fact that there is room for negotiations when it comes to the YPG/YPJ-PYD relationship.
While the PKK and its immediate affiliates are on most relevant terrorist lists or are regarded as a terror organization (the United States, Canada, NATO, the EU and many individual member states), neither the PDY nor the YPG/YPJ appears on any of those lists (also unlike the KDP, the West's closest ally in its fight against the Islamic State, which until recently remained listed as a third-tier terror group by the U.S. government25).
To function and survive, the PKK was always an organization with strict hierarchy. Its roots are in Marxist-Leninist ideology, but it never had the opportunity to engage openly with its target group, the Kurdish people in Turkey. It was ousted and based in Syria, where it operated under the watchful eye of the regime. Ocalan's dislike for internal opposition or deviation from his ideas26 and his people's existence in desolate mountains supported its strict cadre structure. Furthermore, when operating for decades in harsh terrain, high levels of discipline were needed against engaging one of the world's largest armed forces. While the PKK controls wide areas of the northern Iraqi mountains, including strategically vital positions, these areas are scarcely populated.27 Until now the PKK has had little experience in governance and the implementation of "democratic confederalism" beyond the villages of Qandil.
The way the PYD functions could not be more at variance from that of its sister organization. Since the establishment of Rojava, the PYD operates openly and engages in governing millions of people in a rural and urban environment of multiple faiths and ethnicities. Every day, the PYD faces a population that is not necessarily supportive, along with political opposition in and outside the parliament.
The PYD's most powerful opponents in Rojava are the pro-Barzani parties. While Mullah Mustafa Barzani is regarded as a hero by most Kurds beyond the party boundaries,28 and his portrait can be found in PYD offices next to Ocalan's, his son Masoud, the current leader of the KPD and the president of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, is judged as a threat to the PYD's agenda. The PKK and KDP have a violent past, having fought over territory and power in the northern Iraqi mountains.29 This old feud also affects the PYD, many of whom fought with the PKK. More recently, the conflict shifted from the military to the political-ideological arena. While the KDP claims that it represents Western-style democracy, the PKK rejects the capitalist nature of those politics. As a senior member of the PKK told me, the KDP is a mere caricature of capitalism.30 In contrast and in personal conversations,31 KDP members refer to the PKK, and the PYD in extension, as brainwashed extremists. In particular, the recent oil deals between the KDP-led Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and the Turkish government, as well as the heavy Turkish investments in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, have deepened the ideological gulf between the two factions and rekindled the old feud in the post-2003 period.
What the PYD is specifically concerned about is the KDP Peshmerga-trained shadow army of pro-Barzani Syrian Kurds that is currently based somewhere between Fish Khabour and Dohuk, the KDP-controlled Iraqi-Syrian border. Official statements on the size and purpose of this army are scarce. Being questioned about this shadow army in late 2013, a senior KDP official member told me that they had problems with bored single males among the refugees so they gave them military training.32 Although he admitted to the existence of these forces, he was clearly reluctant to elaborate on their envisioned mission or purpose. After this conversation I spoke to members of the army or their relatives and confirmed its existence; however, its exact purpose is still unclear.33 The PYD's and the YPG/YPJ's concern regarding those forces is an inter-Kurdish fight for power (this issue brings up memories of the bloody Kurdish in-fighting in the mid-1990s). Individual PYD and PKK members express concerns over Barzani's eyeing the rich Derik oil field close to Fish Khabour and only a few kilometers from the new KRG-Turkish pipeline. In a personal conversation with the author in March 2014, a YPG representative repeated the official line of the YPG/YPJ: if you want to defend Rojava against IS and protect Kurds and other minorities who want to live in peace, you should join them. Two armies is one too many.
Tensions also exist within Rojava. While the PYD was only founded in 2002, the KDP has had a Syrian branch since 1957 (although the party has been through various changes and divisions since then34). Under the initiative of Iraq's KDP, the KDP-S and other pro-Barzani parties converged in 2011 into the Kurdish National Council (KNC) to establish a unified opposition to the PYD.35 The main problem of the KNC is that most of the politicians involved, as well as their "shadow" army, are currently based outside Rojava and thus lack practical influence. However, when it comes to the first general elections in Rojava, the KNC has considerable power to influence their legitimacy through its ability to boycott them. Although their differences are vast, we can see some developments easing those inner Kurdish tensions, allowing a careful resurrection of the pan-Kurdish idea.36 Western military, technical or political support for Rojava could secure the democratization process to find a compromise between the factions.
Organizations, particularly those close to the KNC, continually accuse the PYD, the Asayish (Rojava's police force) and the YPD/YPJ — all of which they conflate — of human-rights abuses, the imprisonment of political opponents, and other acts characteristic of an authoritarian one-party system.37 Given the character of the feud between the Barzani group and the PKK/PYD, it is difficult to judge accusations from an objective position. The KDP tends to respond in a similar fashion, including closing offices of PKK affiliates in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq through their own Asayish.38 One opposition politician in Rojava with whom I spoke, whose party is currently not part of the PYD government, vehemently rejected many of the accusations.39 Although difficult to judge, the Human Rights Watch40 report on Rojava indicates that there are some grounds for the accusations.
Those accusations, as well as the threat from IS and the fighting in Kobane, have forced the Kurdish factions to realize that compromises need to be found. While attempts to compromise have been made in the past with little success, a more recent meeting in Dohuk (Kurdistan Region of Iraq, or KRI) between the various Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish parties appears to be more promising.41 Initial meetings were held in the KRI and negotiations continue in Qamishli in Rojava (as many people in Rojava reiterate, a solution for Rojava needs to be found in Rojava). In particular, the deployment of the KRG Peshmerga, with heavy weapons, to Kobane is a strong indicator of the rapprochement of the factions.42 A further indicator of the willingness to compromise is the above-mentioned possibility of tolerating armed forces beside the YPG/YPJ and so creating a military structure less dominated by the PYD, referring to the Peshmerga-trained "shadow" army currently based around Dohuk. While this might not be an ideal solution, the KRI Peshmerga, currently being equipped and trained by the West, show that armies divided along party lines can indeed effectively engage an enemy. However, responsibilities have to be clearly divided, and a certain level of mutual trust must exist (attempts are being undertaken to unite the Peshmerga and limit party influences). A member of the opposition to the PYD, with insight into the ongoing negotiations in Qamishli, told me that, currently, even a merging of different armed forces under a new name and joint command structure is being discussed.
To reinforce the growing relationships between the factions and legitimize Rojava as a democratic structure, general elections initiated by the PYD faction, with the KNC parties participating, would be required. Given the ongoing fighting with IS, the PYD and associated political parties delayed the elections due to the situation in Kobane.43 A question should be raised, however: Would it be more rewarding for Rojava in general if elections could be held in the two cantons of Afrin and Cizre, despite the current difficulties? Elections would legitimize Rojava and enable support to be given. As a member of an opposition party argued, elections would also create a compromise between the extreme positions of Qandil (the pro-Ocalan faction) and Erbil (the pro-Barzani position). However, both factions need to accept that a compromise of competing ideas is needed, a step the two are still reluctant to take. Both need to understand that a continuing postponement of the elections will undermine their credibility and jeopardize the entire Rojava project. Those elections will have to be held during the war, as peace in Syria is unlikely in the near future. Waiting for peace would eventually weaken the credibility of any self-labeled democratic movement that commands armed forces. It is important to note that this section not only refers to the PYD-led faction, but also to the KNC. Currently, parts of the KNC are considering participation in the elections. A boycott, however, could defeat their purpose.
Elections would create an autonomous region in Syria that has the most progressive women's rights in the Middle East and is multiethnic and multireligious — a model for the region. In addition, it has armed forces that are effectively engaging the Islamic State. Such a government would also not present a threat to Turkey's territorial integrity. Indeed, a close Turkish ally, the KDP, would be indirectly represented by this government. For Turkey to "like" any government with PYD representation is unrealistic. However, a Turkey that is not even indirectly threatening to attack Rojava and that is enabling some support to pass through its territory should be sufficient to enable regional stability.
THE WESTERN PERSPECTIVE
None of the organizations that draw on Ocalan's philosophy are separatists; they do not want to change the existing boundaries of Turkey or Syria. Nor do they aim to expand their territory through violence. Furthermore, the PKK, the PYD and the YPG/YPJ have different histories and spaces. Developments in October and November 2014 demonstrated the PYD factions' motivation for compromise, specifically, their willingness to welcome other Kurdish forces, even if under extreme pressure. These developments are confirmed by my own observations. Transecting the Cizre Canton of Rojava, one encounters several ethnic and religious groups, including Arabs and Christians, controlling the checkpoints. While they are part of the PDY-influenced Asayish command structure, they control their own villages. When conducting interviews in Amude, where the canton's parliament is based, one can talk to key ministers without speaking to a PYD representative. The PYD does not control everything; there is room for other actors in politics and on the ground.
Particularly when searching for potential partners in Syria, the West would do well to acknowledge these realities and differences. The misinterpretations of some international analysts paint a false picture that could lead to Western reluctance to support the processes underway in northern Syria. The West should take the hand that the PYD has been holding out. More can be gained by supporting the entirely inexperienced Asayish police force than by complaining about the transgressions of untrained officers who used to be guerrilla fighters (the regime's force was dismissed for repressing minorities). By recognizing Rojava's potential, the West could gain a viable democratic partner. While Western countries might have difficulty dealing with a leftist grassroots project, elections would merge this distinct form of democracy with a Western-style one. Western allies of the KRG, in particular the KDP, should remind them of their role in the process as well. A boycott of KNC factions would miss the objective of any election. Along with the KRG, Rojava could help create a stable democratic region stretching from the Iranian border above Baghdad to the north of Aleppo (with some gaps in northern Syria). If the West is serious about the war against the Islamic State, this would be a significant humanitarian and strategic achievement.
1 For details of the complex history of the Syrian Kurds, see Jordi Tejel, Syria's Kurds: History, Politics and Society (Routledge, 2009).
2 Thomas Schmidinger, Krieg und Revolution in Syrisch-Kurdistan. Analysen und Stimmen aus Rojava (Mandelbaum, 2014); Michael Gunter, Out of Nowhere. The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War (Hurst, 2014).
3 Abdullah Ocalan, Democratic Confederalism (Transmedia Publishing, 2011); Abdullah Ocalan, War and Peace in Kurdistan: Perspectives for a Political Solution of the Kurdish Question (International Initiative, 2012); Abdullah Ocalan, Gefängnisschriften: Die Roadmap für Verhandlungen (Pahl-Rugenstein, 2013); Schmidinger, Krieg und Revolution in Syrisch-Kurdistan; and Gunter, Out of Nowhere.
4 European Union, "Council Decision 2009/1004/CFSP of 22 December 2009," Official Journal of the European Union Legislation 346/58 (2009); Government of Canada, Public Safety Canada, currently listed entities, accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt…; Home Office, "Proscribed Terrorist Organisations," accessed November 11, 2014, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fi…; North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), "Weekly Press Briefing by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai," accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.nato.int/nato-welcome/index.html; and U.S. Department of State, "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," accessed November 11, 2014, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm.
5 Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government, "Statement of KRG-US on Tier III Designation of KDP and PUK," http://new.krg.us/statement-of-krg-us-on-tier-iii-designation-of-kdp-an….
6 "Divided Syrian Kurds Reach Deal in Face of ISIS Threat," Rudaw, October 22, 2014, http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/221020141.
7 Although all parties close to the PYD plan elections, they have delayed them repeatedly due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State. This has been communicated to the author in several interviews with Syrian Kurdish politicians in Rojava, Syria.
8 Ali Kemal Ozcan, Turkey's Kurds: A Theoretical Analysis of the PKK and Abdullah Ocalan (Routledge, 2006); and Paul White, Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Modernizers: The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in Turkey (Zed, 2000).
9 Ocalan, in White, Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Modernizers, xii.
10 The repression by the Syrian government culminated in 1962, when 120,000 Kurds were stripped of their citizenship. See Tejel, "Syria's Kurds"; and Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds Ascending: The Evolving Solution to the Kurdish Problem in Iraq and Turkey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
11 For a detailed account of the Syrian-Kurdish relationship, see Tejel, Syria's Kurds. But also see Christian Sinclair and Sirwan Kajjo, "The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria," Middle East Research and Information Project, August 31, 2011, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero083111; and Kerim Yildiz, The Kurds in Syria: The Forgotten People (Pluto Press, 2005).
12 European Union, "Council Decision"; Government of Canada, "Public Safety Canada"; Home Office, "Proscribed Terrorist Organisations"; NATO, "Weekly Press Briefing by NATO Spokesman"; and U.S. Department of State, "Foreign Terrorist Organizations."
13 For a detailed analysis of the inner Kurdish fighting in the 1990s, see Michael M. Gunter, "The KDP-PUK Conflict in Northern Iraq," Middle East Journal 50, no 2 (1996): 224-241; and Aliza Marcus, Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence (NYU Press, 2007).
14 Marcus, Blood and Belief.
15 Tejel, Syria's Kurds; and Yildiz, The Kurds in Syria.
16 Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds Ascending: The Evolving Solution to the Kurdish Problem in Iraq and Turkey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Marcus, Blood and Belief; and Ozcan, "Turkey's Kurds."
17 This was after a first phase of confusion and orientation, as outlined in Gunter, The Kurds Ascending, and Marcus, Blood and Belief.
18 Ocalan, Democratic Confederalism; Ocalan, War and Peace in Kurdistan; and Ocalan, Gefängnisschriften.
19 Ocalan, War and Peace in Kurdistan, 32.
20 Several conversations with PKK, cadres of the PYD and other affiliated organizations, Rojava Syria, March and October 2014.
21 Dan Bilefsky and Alan Cowell, "Three Kurds Are Killed in Paris, in Locked-Door Mystery," New York Times, January 10, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/world/europe/three-kurdish-activists-…; "Four Anti-Islamic State Kurds Arrested Entering U.S. from Mexico," Reuters, October 9, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/09/us-usa-security-kurds-idUSKCN…; and Michael Stephens, "Analysis: YPG — The Islamic State's Worst Enemy," Janes, September 11, 2014, http://www.janes.com/article/43030/analysis-ypg-the-islamic-state-s-wor…; Jonathan Krohn, "Kurdish Separatist: Turkey Bombed Peace Process," USA Today, October 15, 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/10/15/kurds-pkk-turkey-pe…; Home Office, "Proscribed Terrorist Organisations"; The National Counterterrorism Center, Kongra-Gel (KGK), http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/kgk.html; and Max Boot, "The U.S. Strategy to Defeat ISIS," Middle East Forum, October 23, 2014, http://www.meforum.org/4859/isis-airstrikes.
22 Rodi Hevian, "The Main Kurdish Political Parties in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey," Gloria Center, August 19, 2013, http://www.gloria-center.org/2013/08/the-main-kurdish-political-parties….
23 An anonymous source close to the KRG's president, Masoud Barzani, told the author's close colleague that most of the PYD's decisions are being confirmed with the PKK leadership in the Qandil Mountains, making negotiations difficult.
24 Günther Seufert, "Kurden: Der Angriff des IS zeigt, welch wichtige Rolle Erbil in der Region spielt," Zeitschrift IP, September/October 2014, https://zeitschrift-ip.dgap.org/de/article/25809/print#Kurden; Marie Harf, Daily Press Briefing, U.S. Department of State, October 17, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2014/10/233114.htm; "West Still Wary of Contact With Syria's Kurds," Voice of America, September 8, 2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/west-still-wary-of-contact-with-syrias-k…; Frederike Geerdink, "ISIS Advance: 200,000 Syrian Kurds Find a Cold Reception As They Flee Kobani across Border into Turkey," Independent, October 19, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/200000-syrian-kurds…; "Kurdish People's Protection Unit YPG," Global Security, accessed November 12, 2014, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/ypg.htm; and John Irish, "Syrian Kurdish Leader Fears Kobani Massacre If Weapons Don't Arrive," Reuters, September 30, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/30/us-mideast-crisis-syria-kurds….
25 Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government, "Statement of KRG-US on Tier III Designation of KDP and PUK."
26 Marcus, Blood and Belief.
27 Based on several visits to Qandil Mountains throughout 2014 and interviews with a senior PKK commander in early 2014.
28 Rodi Hevian, "The Resurrection of Syrian Kurdish Politics," Middle East Review of International Affairs 17, no. 3 (2013): 45-56.
29 John Bullock and Harvey Morris, No Friends But the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds (University Press, 1992); and Marcus, Blood and Belief.
30 Interview with a senior PKK commander in early 2014.
31 Interviews with senior KDP members and an elderly KDP Peshmerga member.
32 Interview with senior KDP members in November 2013.
33 Different interviews near Dohuk (Kurdistan Region, Iraq) in early 2014.
34 For a detailed analysis of the history of the pro-Barzani parties in Syria, see Christian Sinclair and Sirwan Kajjo, "The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria," Middle East Research and Information Project, August 31, 2011, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero083111; and Rodi Hevian, "The Main Kurdish Political Parties in Iran. Iraq, Syria, and Turkey: A Research Guide," August 19, 2013, http://www.gloria-center.org/2013/08/the-main-kurdish-political-parties….
35 Hevian, The Main Kurdish Political Parties; Hevian, The Reconstruction of Syrian Kurdish Politics; and John Caves, Syrian Kurds and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) (Institute for the Study of War, 2014).
36 "Divided Syrian Kurds Reach Deal," Rudaw.
37 Interviews with several KDP members and sympathizers in 2014.
38 Ekurd, "KDP Security Forces Target KNK, PCDK in Iraqi Kurdistan," Kurd Net, May 20, 2014, http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2014/5/state7999.htm.
39 Interview with opposition politician in Rojava, Syria, October 2014.
40 Human Rights Watch, Syria, "Abuses in Kurdish-Run Enclaves," June 19, 2014, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/18/syria-abuses-kurdish-run-enclaves.
41 "Divided Syrian Kurds Reach Deal," Rudaw.
42 Constanze Letsch, "Kurdish Peshmerga Forces Arrive in Kobani to Bolster Fight against ISIS," Guardian, November 1, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/01/kurdish-peshmerga-kobani-i….
43 Interviews with several regional politicians in Rojava, Syria, March and October 2014.