By Aramie Louisville Vas – Everyone understands that there are significant problems in Syria but mostly what we hear about are the problems and how they were created. Yet every revolution has its strongholds that spring from its ash, and for the indigenous peoples of what is now Syria; that force is the YPG.
The YPG, or People’s Protection Unit, are armed Kurdish fighters of Syrian Kurdistan. They are well-known for their large percentage of female fighters; 35% of the force are women. YPG numbers 40,000–50,000 Kurdish troops total in Syria. Incidentally, many accounts hold that ISIL fighters are largely very frightened when they see female fighters holding guns. To them, a women fighter is haram – forbidden by Islamic law – and an extremely disturbing sight. Well. Strong bonus, then! YPG is a major opponent of ISIL though they do not engage the Syrian governmental forces.
The Kurds are the fourth-largest indigenous population of the Middle East. They inhabit what is now south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, north-western Iran, south-western Armenia, and north-eastern Syria. They do not have a permanent nation-state. The Kurdish people number 25 to 35 million.
In Syria, Kurds were ignored by the government and in 1962 many were stripped of citizenship and registered as foreigners: newer nations nearly always hate their indigenous populations, it is how humans roll. Syria then attempted to rectify things, if one can call it that, as tensions escalated in 2011 by granting all Kurds citizenship. Curiously, only 6,000 of 150,000 stateless Kurds were actually offered citizenship and discriminations such as the ban on teaching the Kurdish language made Syria’s offer both laughable and insulting. Then the Syrian Civil War began and Syria was no longer in a position to enforce much of anything, be it law or restitution.
Is it any wonder the Syrian Kurds banded together to fight?
Here is more about the Syrian Civil War, and why it is a big deal: 11 million people have been displaced, 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced. The Assad regime conducted warfare on its own people during Arab Spring in 2011, killing some 220,000, at least half of who were civilians. The use of chemical weapons, banned under the Geneva Protocol, was involved. In case you are wondering, the sarin gas, mustard gas and VX nerve gas came from the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
Many believe Assad cannot be part of any effective solution in the Middle East. He waged war upon his own people, violated the Geneva Protocol with the use of chemical weapons, and is accused of at least 56 incidents of ethnic cleansing massacres, according the Syrian Network for Human Rights. A smear campaign was recently highlighted where the YPG was accused of ethnically cleansing Sunni Muslims. The accusations were never backed up with evidence, as they were in the case of Assad’s.
The YPG is currently in favor with the U.S. as they are seen to be strategically targeting ISIL, while not attacking the Assad regime itself. It’s not that the U.S. wants Assad left alone; it seems to be more an issue of approval regarding fight priorities. Al Jazeera notes that “in the PR war, public sympathy in the West has tended to view the Kurds as the most forward-thinking rebel group in the battle against extremism.”
Here’s a good bit of info to wrap your head around: the possible breakup of Syria and Iraq. According to many political analysts, the longer ISIL stays in power the better the chance for Syria and/or Iraq to disintegrate. The U.S. right now says it wants Syria to remain Syria. But by supporting YPG, the U.S. may inadvertently be encouraging the dissolution of Syria, as indigenous Kurds might be poised to take over. Also, by supporting YPG (who is a Turkish enemy), the U.S. risks pissing off a NATO ally. Again, according to Al Jazeera, by taking sides “the U.S. may be signalling that it is preparing for all contingencies, including the fracturing of Syria and the complete collapse of the state.”
The U.S. cares about Syria because they care about oil, and the Kurds inhabit most of the oil-heavy regions. I’m no political analyst, but the routes of history and logic say that of course the U.S. wants to support YPG: they’ll help get rid of ISIL, then the U.S. can turn around and try getting rid of YPG in order to maintain control of the oil. Naturally, though, this gets complicated: shortly after the U.S. voiced support of the YPG, the U.S. then made a deal with Turkey wherein ISIL was targeted, but so were the Kurds. Because Turkey doesn’t like the Kurds, but the U.S. brought them into the mix anyway..
The Obama administration has vowed “not to abandon” the valuable Syrian Kurds, but you know how that goes. For now, let’s keep the focus on an astonishingly successful YPG. Stealthy, speedy and strategic, here is how the YPG describes itself:
“A national legitimate, multi-ethnic and multi-nationality military institution of sons and daughters of the components of the region, the Kurds, Arabs, Syrians, Assyrians, Turkoman and Armenians, who adopt the right of legitimate self-defense in accordance with international laws. YPG’s mission is to protect Western Kurdistan and all its ethnic, national, and religious components, and to provide security and safety to citizens wherever they are; to deter any military force aimed at de-stabilizing civil peace and stability; it pledges to defend the gains and the values of freedom and social democracy, and the legitimate aspirations of the Kurdish and Syrian people in their revolution against dictatorship and the forces of terror and darkness.”