Run-Down: The Kurds

Who are the Kurds in the Syrian Civil War?

The Kurds are a Middle Eastern ethnic group that descended from the Iranian people. They are not united by a specific language or religion—though many follow Sunni Islam—but they do share a race and culture. Indigenous to the plains and highlands of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia, the Kurds mainly live in an unofficial state by the name of Kurdistan today.

Their efforts to actualize Kurdistan as an autonomous state have been ongoing for generations, with considerable turmoil and bloodshed to show for it. They have been repressed and attacked by various governments for decades, particularly after rallying for autonomy.

The idea of Kurds having their own state arose in the early twentieth century. Western allies agreed to the official establishment of Kurdistan in the post-WWI treaty, the Treaty of Sevres, but it was never formed due to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The latter failed to acknowledge Kurdistan and the Kurds, and therefore they were separated as minorities into other countries.

The Kurds been fighting for their state ever since, but there is only one semi-autonomous region to-date: Iraqi Kurdistan, which borders Iran, Turkey, and Syria and is run by the Kurdistan Regional Government. More independence is desired by Kurds across the Middle East.

So where do they come into the Syrian Civil War? The Kurds, for the most part, are battling ISIS in the ongoing conflict in Syria. The armed conflict between ISIS and the Kurds began in 2012, when the two sides started fighting over ownership of the Syrian city, Ras al-Ayn. The conflict stretched on without a definite winner until July, when the Kurds expelled ISIS and took control of the border crossing to Turkey.

Since then, similar battles have been taking place between the two forces. Like most wars, they are competing for power and territory.

On an international scale, the Syrian Kurds have received weapons and air support from the U.S., Canada, Britain, and France. Of course, Iraqi Kurdistan and the Turkish Kurds have also provided assistance. The U.S. is helping the Kurds solely in their fight against ISIS, but will likely withdraw if they attempt to recede from the Iraqi state. This is because a Kurdish autonomous state would mean that America’s long-developed relationship to Iraq would be split.

It’s somewhat of a paradox, seeing as part of the reason why the Kurds are fighting ISIS is for land and control, which they could then use to gain autonomy. In any case, for now they will continue to receive American military support.

It is impossible to say who has the upper hand in the Syrian Civil War, but the Kurds have reclaimed most of the territory that ISIS took from them. While they also oppose the horrific crimes committed by Assad and his regime, they are only in active combat with the jihadists.