The PYD/YPG in the Syrian Conflict: Aspirations for Autonomy in North-eastern Syria

Zafer Kızılkaya, Sofie Hamdi, Mohammad Salman

Brussels School of Governance, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium


The Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (PYD) and its military wings, the YPG/YPJ, are the dominant political and military entities in north-eastern Syria. At present, the declared objectives of the PYD are twofold: the constitutional recognition of Kurdish rights, and democratic autonomy in which local communes govern within the unity of Syria. For Ankara and Damascus, the PYD and its aspirations for autonomy are considered as threatening the unity and territorial integrity of Turkey and Syria. Against this background, this paper explores the PYD’s positioning in north-eastern Syria, its long-term objectives in the territories under its control and the way its administrative model is perceived by Turkey. Until now, the European Union has held back from officially engaging with the PYD/YPG. A more active EU role in north-eastern Syria may help realise durable peace or at least protect the fragile situation and the human rights on the ground in the north-east. This necessitates increased political engagement with all the conflicting actors in the region, the continuation of support at the humanitarian level and addressing Turkey’s concerns about the YPG’s links with the PKK, while supporting the Kurdish people’s democratic struggle to achieve better political, cultural and social rights in both Syria and Turkey.

Keywords: Democratic Union Party, Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, Syrian Democratic Forces, People’s Protection Units, Syrian crisis, European Union.