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 A Rare Glimpse into Kurdish Armed Forces in Syrian Kurdistan

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A Rare Glimpse into Kurdish Armed Forces in Syrian Kurdistan  6.8.2012 

A group of People’s Defence Units (YPG) outside Derik, Syrian Kurdistan, Western Kurdistan. Photo: Rozh Ahmad/Rudaw   See Related Links
August 6, 2012

QAMISHLI, Syrian Kurdistan, — A spokesperson for the People’s Defence Units, known by Kurdish initials (YPG) in Syria's Kurdistan Region [Western Kurdistan], says they have so far stopped several "military interventions" tried by neighbouring Turkey on the borders and have arrested many people who have tried to smuggle weapons into the Kurdish areas.

Founded just after anti-Assad protests took to the streets of Damascus, YPG is now the only popular armed force active in Western Kurdistan, claiming to protect the recently liberated Kurdish cities and towns.

After a short wait in the town of Dirk, a pickup truck belonging to the YPG came to take me to a scheduled interview the armed group had promised earlier in the week.

There were ten members of the group in the back of the pickup. Their faces were covered and they refused to reveal their names and identity. The car then arrived at the outskirts of the town, just several kilometres from the Judi Mountain situated between the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

The leader of the group said he was 21 years old and a native of Dirk. He could be identified as the leader of the armed group because he was giving orders to the rest and was the only one wearing a red patch that displayed the logo of the YPG.

He said they established the group when the Syrian revolution broke out. And, when the revolution turned a full-scale fight between Assad’s forces and the Free Syria Army (FSA), the YPG also began arming itself "to defend the Kurdish areas from the conflict and military interventions by neighbouring countries."

“When the Syrian revolution began to take shape, we wanted to protect our people in Kurdistan,” the leader said. “Then on, neighbourhood by neighbourhood we organized ourselves and began to set up our Units all over the Kurdish areas.”

He said that members of his group are youths from Dirk and as locals they have their daily family duties and live with their parents, “but also, we give the rest of our time to the protection of our communities from instability and violence that can be seen in the non-Kurdish parts of Syria.”

The young leader said that the main priority of his group is to protect the border areas of Kurdistan, and claimed that they have stopped military interventions tried by Turkish army personnel on the border, and have stopped many others who have tried to enter the Kurdish region to either spy for Syrian forces or smuggle weapons to the opposition.

"Border areas is our main priority because the Turkish army sometimes makes a move toward our areas, and we have arrested their military personnel who have crossed the border,” he said. “But we have also arrested people who have tried to bring weapons into our areas for the opposition as well as government's spies."

Recently the YPG also stopped 650 former Syrian soldiers from entering the Kurdish areas of Syria. The soldiers were Kurds who had run away from the army to neighbouring Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They had been trained by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and president Massoud Barzani had personally announced that they were trained for the defence of the Kurdish areas of Syria.

But the YPG leader justified this action by saying, “We refused them entry because basically we have a popular militia here, and if anyone wishes to protect the Kurdish areas, they should join us. We cannot accept any other armed forces outside the YPG, if we did, then the Kurdish areas will become a battlefield between different armed forces.”

Many observers and political analysts believe that YPG is the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the biggest political party in Western Kurdistan. Also, because the PYD advocates the ideology of Abullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), it is often perceived as a PKK affiliate. Hence YPG’s branding as a branch of the PKK in Syria.

However, the YPG leader refused such claims saying they are a “broad popular militia" that does not advocate any specific political ideology.

“Protecting our community is what we are about regardless of political ideology, religion and ethnicity,” he said, adding that they have non-Kurdish members as well as Christians and Kurdish activists from all other parties among them.

“We are not interested in ideological matters; we have members from most of the different Kurdish political parties because they represent our nation in different shapes and form, and therefore, our only objective is to protect our communities,” he said. “Half of the revolution has been done here and without protection it will get nowhere, so it is our duty to protect the people to reach the final victory. And, we are ready to die for our people’s revolution in Western Kurdistan.”

A member of the group seated next to the leader intervened and said they are “a democratic popular militia” because they elect their own officers in their units coming from the different neighbourhoods.”

“We all get together and we run elections from within and then elect who the comrades think is good for the job,” he said. “This system does not exist in any Kurdish political party whatsoever. Therefore, we are organized outside party politics and anyone who makes such a claim, serves their own parties’ political interests. They need to come and see for themselves how we organize and protect our communities then they can make these nonsense claims.”

By Rozh Ahmad

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