Kurdish Military Formations in Middle Eastern Battlefields

Wall with PKK tags Wall with PKK tags

23 November 2017

Our new publication Kurdish Military Formations in Middle Eastern Battlefields, written by Vicken Cheterian, provides an overview of Kurdish history, of current dynamics of the Kurdish question, as well as of Kurdish forces and armed groups in the Middle East. It also analyses how recent developments in the region, including the emergence and fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), are impacting on Kurdish armed groups and alliances.

This publication will form part, along with other analysis of conflict situations, of the War Report 2017 which will be published at the beginning of 2018.

‘Kurdish armed groups are currently parties to several armed conflicts across the Middle East, notably in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Understanding the origins of Kurdish military formations, their dynamics and how the different groups are interlinked is essential to grasp with the complexity of these armed conflicts and the geopolitical equilibrium of the Middle East’ underlines Dr Annyssa Bellal, Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law at the Geneva Academy and Editor of the War Report

 A Mosaic of Kurdish Political-Military Groups

Today, five distinct political-military groups dominate the Kurdish space: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Democratic Union Party (PYD)/ People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Peshmergas, with a number of smaller guerrilla groups originating from Iran but based in northern Iraq, such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I) and the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan. These groups represent distinct interests and have contradictory alliances with regional and global powers.

A Key Role in the Syrian Armed Conflict

Since 2012, Kurdish armed groups have emerged as a major force in northern Syria. The withdrawal of Syrian governmental troops from the area in July 2012 created a power vacuum, which two separate Kurdish political forces tried to fill: the PKK and its associate PYD/YPG, and the Iraqi KDP and its allies in Syria.

Yet, it was the PKK–PYD who would emerge as the masters of northern Syria, impose their military dominance over the Kurdish areas there and become the barrier that stopped ISIS wave that spread through Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, and would later, with the help of the US-led coalition, roll back ISIS gains.

‘Any peace solution in Syria will have to integrate the Kurdish armed groups involved in the conflict and take also into account their links with other groups involved in other conflicts in neighbouring countries’ stresses the author of the study.

Ideological Shift in the Region

The publication highlights that the most fundamental challenge for all Kurdish political forces is the ideological shift in the larger Middle Eastern environment, triggered by the influence of jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda and more recently ISIS.

‘Today, the Kurdish nationalist phenomenon is an anomaly in a region where the nation-state is collapsing, and where neo-Islamism is widespread, influenced by salafi-jihadism and sectarian divides’ underlines Vicken Cheterian. ‘The influence of jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda and more recently ISIS has largely been taboo, although there is enough circumstantial evidence concerning the important influence of salafi-jihadism in all four areas of Kurdish political reality’ he adds.

Kurdish Armed Groups in the Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts Online Portal

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC) online portal identifies the Kurdish Protection Units (YPG) as a party to the non-international armed conflicts in Syria, the Kurdish Peshmerga as a party to the non-international armed conflicts in Iraq against ISIS and associated groups, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a party to the non-international armed conflict in Turkey.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

View of Sinai News

New War Report Article Discusses the Ongoing Armed Violence in Sinai between Egypt and Wilayat Sinai

15 November 2019

Our new War Report article Non-International Armed Conflict To Continue in Sinai? discusses the non-international armed conflict between Egypt and Wilayat Sinai, an armed non-state actor that has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State group.

Read more

Cover page of the book News

Two Alumni Edit a New Book on IHL and Non-State Actors

3 December 2019

Two alumni of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Ezequiel Heffes and Manuel Ventura are the editors, along with Marcos Kotlik, of a new book on international humanitarian law and non-state actors.

Read more

Photos taken from the Norse Attack Map.     The map shows in realtime attacks that happen on the Norse honeypots. Event

ESIL Lecture: Disruptive Military Technologies

26 February 2020, 14:00-16:00

Robin Geiß, Swiss Chair of IHL at the Geneva Academy, will explore the disruptive potential of new military technologies with a focus on those areas where these technologies could fall through the cracks of the international legal order.

Read more

Short Course

The Law of Non-International Armed Conflicts

2 April - 8 May 2020

This short course discusses the protection offered by international humanitarian law (IHL) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) and addresses some problems and controversies specific to IHL of NIACs, including the difficulty to ensure the respect of IHL by armed non-state actors.

Read more

Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

27 February - 19 March 2020

This short course discusses the extent to which states may  limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

Read more

Libya, Misrata, Tripoli Street. After a battle between members of the armed opposition and government forces. Project

The War Report

Started in December 2013

As an annual publication, The War Report provides an overview of contemporary trends in current armed conflicts, including key international humanitarian law and policy issues that have arisen and require attention.

Read more

Screenshot of the RULAC webpage Project

Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC)

Started in May 2007

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts project (RULAC) is a unique online portal that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL). It is primarily a legal reference source for a broad audience, including non-specialists, interested in issues surrounding the classification of armed conflicts under IHL.

Read more

Cover of the publication Publication

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

published on December 2019

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

Read more