23 July 2015

The demise of state authority in Syria is creating an unprecedented opportunity for Kurds in the region, but their long-term success will depend both on the actions of regional powers and their ability to cooperate with each other.


Cengiz Gunes, Associate Lecturer, Open University, UK

Robert Lowe, Manager, Middle East Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)


Photo: Ahmet Sik / Stringer / Getty Images.
Photo: Ahmet Sik / Stringer / Getty Images.



  • The demise of state authority in Syria is creating an unprecedented opportunity for Syrian Kurds, who have acted with speed to organize themselves politically and militarily. Across the region, Kurds seem to sense that their moment has arrived.
  • In 2014–15, the battle for Kobane created a new Kurdish nationalist myth of heroism and liberation. Kobane will endure as a famous victory – regardless of the devastation caused – of huge symbolic value for Kurdish sentiment across the region.
  • However, Syrian Kurds do not on their own have the political or military power to determine the outcome of the conflict or their own future trajectory. Both will hinge on their relations with other sections of the Syrian opposition, as well as on the actions of regional powers.
  • The long-term success of the Kurds as a force in regional politics will also depend on their ability to create cooperative relations among various Kurdish political movements. While Kurdish politics in Syria is marked by deep fractures and rivalries, exemplified in the split between the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC), recognition of the need to cooperate is increasing.
  • None the less, the persistence of significant differences between Kurdish political parties makes it difficult to determine whether military cooperation between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, the PYD’s People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and the peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq will lead to closer political cooperation.
  • Turkey, the KRG and the international community will play a major role in determining the future of the Rojava experiment in Syria. The KRG–Turkey relationship places significant constraints on the KRG’s ability to cooperate with the PYD and the Rojava administrations. The KRG has been careful to protect its relationship with Turkey from being impacted by developments in Syria’s Kurdish regions.