Who are the Lions of Rojava?

In the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (DAESH) in Northern Syria an influential group of Kurdish forces known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) nicknamed by themselves the Lions of Rojava has emerged and played an essential part in the liberation of much of northern Syria. They exist in stark contrast to their DAESH enemies as a far left, feminist, democratic, multi-religious, multi-ethnic organization.

The YPG is made up of Moslem Kurds, Syriac Christians, and Yazidis (a pre-Islamic Iranian religion). It consists of a Kurdish majority with Arab, Turkish and other foreign nationals including US, Canadian, UK,and Latin American nationals of various ethnicities. It is the only organization in the region with dedicated groups of women fighters called the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ), and is the only far-left group in the region to have gained substantial ground in the conflict.This is their story:

It begins with the division of historical Kurdistan between 4 states (Iraq,Syria,Iran and Turkey)at the end of World War 1 and the rise of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in 1978. The PKK was a Marxist-Leninist party that sought national liberation and unification of the Kurdish majority regions in all 4 states. After Turkey threatened to go to war with Syria in 1998 due to the PKK presence in their country Syria expelled the party and Turkey arrested their leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 with the support of the CIA. From prison Ocalan began to incorporate more libertarian socialist ideological planks to the PKKs platform, specifically from the works of Murray Bookchin’s Social Ecology and Libertarian Municipalism.

In 2003, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish opposition party in the Syrian parliament with ties to the PKK, was formed and in 2004 they supported the Qamishli Uprising. The YPG is considered by international organizations to be the military wing of the PYD, and has likely been organizing militias in Northern Syria since 2004. After the uprising, the PYD was repressed by Syrian forces until the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.

At the start of the Syrian Civil War the YPG took a defensive position to protect Kurdish majority regions in the country; however, after a 2012 stand-off between the Syrian Government forces and attacks on Kurdish towns by Al-Qaeda affiliates Al-Nursa Front and Ghuraba Al-Sham they began to take the offensive against the fundamentalist groups and reached an agreement with the Syrian government. By July, 2013 the YPG has won victory against the fundamentalist groups and taken control of around 15% of Syria. The land that they now hold is known as the Federation of Northern Syria-Rojava and is a recognized autonomous region.

In 2014, after the rise of DAESH, the YPG in conjunction with the Free Syrian Army/Syrian Opposition Forces began an offensive on the large tracts of land held by the self proclaimed caliphate. They were supported by both US and Russian forces. In 2015 the YPG made ally agreements with a number of Syrian Democratic Forces and supported the ousting of DAESH held territory outside of Rojva proper including a joint Free Syrian Army-YPG operation called Euphrates Volcano and the Tishrin Dam Offensive.

In mid-2016 the YPG moved into territories held by the Free Syrian Army and the Turkish military began an offensive on them that has killed many YPG members as well as Kurdish civilians. Both US and Turkish forces now demand that the YPG withdraw back to Rojava, likely in order to prevent other regional groups of Kurds in Turkey and Iraq from joining them.

Solidarity with the Lions of Rojava!