This article attempts to present a comprehensive list of political parties, alliances, and activist organizations, both Kurdish and non-Kurdish, that are active in the territory known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, often known as Rojava. Also included are a few Kurdish parties operating in other parts of Syria and abroad as well as a number of defunct groups. Although several lists and guides of this nature have been published, many are out of date and few (at least those in English) go into much detail. Below I will give a brief introduction to Syrian Kurdish politics, followed by all the parties I could find information on. At the bottom of the article you will find a diagram detailing the history of the original Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria and its offshoots and a list of recommended reading.
Note that I do not always list a party’s ideology; I have found that Syrian Kurdish parties usually have vague platforms and separate themselves from other parties via leadership and organizational disputes rather than ideological substance. Several parties have very similar or even identical names and are often distinguished by the name of their leader. Finally, please note that I am fluent in neither Kurdish nor Arabic and have relied on Google Translate for a great deal of my information. I welcome any corrections, additions, or other feedback.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and its military, the Syrian Democratic Forces, are one of the major players in the Syrian civil war (2011 – ongoing). The AANES/SDF work closely with the United States and have complicated relationships with both the Syrian government and what remains of the rebels. The major political forces making up this faction are largely the product of the unique history behind the Syrian Kurdish people.
Although the geographical and cultural region known as Kurdistan has never been a single polity, many Kurds hoped to have a nation of their own at the end of World War I, but these hopes were dashed. Instead, Kurds found themselves divided by borders created by the League of Nations. The northern parts of Kurdistan, known to Kurds as “Bakur” (meaning “north”), became part of the Republic of Turkey. The southern parts (“Bashur”) were included in the British-sponsored Kingdom of Iraq, while the western parts (“Rojava”) went to the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon. The eastern parts (“Rojhilat”) were already part of Iran. Within Rojava, three Kurdish enclaves, or Cantons, have traditionally been identified: Afrin in northwest Aleppo Governorate, Kobanî in northeast Aleppo, and Jazira in northern al-Hasakah Governorate.
The first Syrian Kurdish political party was the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria, formed in 1957 as a companion to the Iraq-based Kurdistan Democratic Party of Mustafa Barzani. The KDPS suffered from internal strife as well as repression from the Syrian government, especially since the rise of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party in the mid-60s, and split many times over the following decades, resulting in a multitude of parties, many of which use variants of the KDPS name. Of the over 90 parties listed in this article, a third can trace their origins to the original KDPS. These parties largely defined Syrian Kurdish politics in the 20th century, but in the past two decades a new force has displaced their influence.
Formed in 2003, the Democratic Union Party (abbreviated PYD in Kurdish) has taken a leading role in the Syrian Kurdish community since the start of the Syrian civil war. Using popular support and pre-established networks, the PYD has built a series of autonomous administrations in Rojava and nearby territory. Allying with some rebel brigades, fighting off many others, and generally avoiding confrontation with the government, the PYD-led administration has presented an alternative to both the Assad dictatorship and the rebel warlords. But as the sister party to the highly controversial Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), it has struggled to withstand international scrutiny. Turkey refuses to accept any PKK-linked group so close to its own territory and has launched a number of assaults on the AANES. Domestically, the PYD faces opposition from its chief rival, the Kurdish National Council (KNC/ENKS), founded in 2011 as an alliance of several Kurdish parties (most with roots in the KDPS). The KNC accuses the PYD of repression and corruption. However, it arguably enjoys more support from the Kurdish diaspora than in Syria and has been beset by internal conflicts and splits, with some members preferring to work with the PYD. Many non-Kurds who have come under AANES territory are also skeptical of the PYD, though there are also many non-Kurds who support it.
The current political landscape in Rojava and the wider AANES can be broadly divided into two factions: the Kurdish National Unity Parties, which is composed of the PYD and several parties that support it to varying degrees, and the Peace and Freedom Front, made up of the KNC and three non-Kurdish allies. The KNUP and PFF are in talks to discuss reforms of the AANES system and determine a common platform for negotiations with the Syrian government. Other parties include the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party, Democratic Yekîtî, and a host of minor parties with little or no influence.
Kurdish National Unity Parties (أحزاب الوحدة الوطنية الكردية / Partiyên Yekîtiya Niştimanî ya Kurd)
Formed in May 2020, in the midst of PYD-KNC negotiations, as an alliance of pro-AANES administration parties. Effectively composed of four pre-existing alliances (TEV-DEM, KDCK, HNKS, and YHKR) as well as several independent parties.
- Movement for a Democratic Society (حركة المجتمع الديمقراطي / Tevgera Civaka Demokratîk)
Frequently known by the Kurdish abbreviation TEV-DEM. Founded in January 2011 as the PYD’s mass organization. It served to encourage wider participating in civil society and build the local self-governing bodies that the PYD envisioned. From 2013 to 2015, TEV-DEM functioned as Rojava’s de-facto governing body, replacing the Kurdish Supreme Committee (see KNC entry). Upon the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Council, TEV-DEM became the governing coalition. Although several other parties have joined, it has always been led (indeed controlled) by the PYD.
- Democratic Union Party (حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي / Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat)
Often known by its Kurdish initials “PYD”. Secretly formed in 2003 by members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a leftist Kurdish group waging a guerrilla war with the Turkish government. Syria had served as a refuge for these fighters, but in the late 1990s Hafez al-Assad, under pressure from Turkey, ceased his support for the PKK and drove it underground. While many PKK cadres fled to the Qandil Mountains of Iraq, some (including native Syrian Kurds) stayed to create a branch that specifically addressed the problems of Syrian Kurds. The new party played a role in the 2004 Qamishli riots and several demonstrations over the course of the 2000s; for this it faced especially harsh repression from the Syrian government. Nevertheless, the PYD was able to maintain its internal structures and gain support from the Kurdish populace, especially in Afrin and Kobanî. When the first protests in Syria began in early 2011, the PYD generally refrained from criticizing the government and was even accused by pro-opposition Kurdish parties of repressing protests. However, as the Assad government’s forces gradually withdrew from Kurdish areas to focus on the more rebellious parts of the country, the PYD began asserting control. Using the networks it had established over the years and its newly-founded militia – the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – the PYD began building an autonomous government in the cantons. These cantons expanded as the YPG and its Syriac/Assyrian and Arab allies halted and eventually reversed incursions by Islamist and jihadist rebels. The political and military forces of the AANES, in which the PYD plays a dominant role, have garnered much priase domestically and around the world for their encouragement of gender equality, generally good human rights record, and success in fighting the Islamic State. However, the PYD has also come under criticism for political repression of opponents as well as its continued links with the PKK, which continues to fight Turkey. In theory, each of the parties that make up the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) uphold the same ideology but operate independently. In practice, many observers and critics have argued that the PKK leadership in Qandil has at the very least substantial input regarding each KCK party’s activities, leading to concern that PYD-led administration in northern Syria would never be accepted by Turkey or other regional powers. In ideological terms, the PYD’s espouses Democratic Confederalism, the philosophy created by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan, imprisoned by Turkey since 1999, was influenced by libertarian socialists and anarchists like the American Murray Bookchin to abandon the PKK’s earlier Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. The PYD’s governing philosophy emphasizes ethnic and religious pluralism, decentralized democracy, and progressive values, especially feminism. It also presents an alternative to traditional Kurdish nationalism by stressing local autonomy instead of separatism. Critics, such as the KNC, allege that Democratic Confederalism is merely the newest form of a cult built around Öcalan and that the PYD operates an authoritarian police state. Although the AANES is in theory a decentralized direct democracy with multiple parties, the PYD is highly influential if not completely dominant in all levels of government. Furthermore, the police force (Asayish) and the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (the YPG/YPJ) were formed by the PYD and still operate largely as partisan organizations. Non-Kurdish critics also charge the PYD and the wider KCK with secretly retaining Kurdish nationalist and separatist dreams.
- Kongreya Star [see activist organizations section]
- Democratic Peace Party of Kurdistan (حزب السلام الديمقراطي الكردستاني / Partîya Aştîya Demuqrat ya Kurdistanê)
Split from Syrian Kurdish Democratic Accord in 2013. A left-wing party that emphasizes Kurdish unity across international borders. Blames both the Assad regime and foreign powers, particularly Turkey, for the war. Calls for the release of Öcalan and the resumption of the Turkish-PKK peace process (after Turkey withdraws from Kurdish areas in Syria). Calls for the Kurdish National Council to break ties with the National Coalition and Islamist rebels, for TEV-DEM to release KNC prisoners, and for TEV-DEM and KNC to reconcile.
- Kurdistan Communist Party (حزب الشيوعي الكردستاني / Komonistî Kurdistan Partî)
Founded in 1981-1983. It was largely dormant from 1995-2012, when it revived and eventually joined TEV-DEM. The party does not appear to be connected to the Turkish or Iraqi parties of the same name. It retains its original Marxist-Leninist ideology, while being supportive of the PYD.
- Liberal Union of Kurdistan – Syria (الاتحاد الليبرالي الكردستاني / Havgirtina Lîberal a Kurdistanê)
Founded in 2011. A liberal party that supported the original 2011 protests and continues to call for the peaceful end of the Assad regime. It was an original signatory of the pro-opposition Syrian Democratic Gathering, although it has since left that organization (which is currently pro-Turkey). It was among the early supporters of federalism. Respects Abdullah Öcalan and calls for the resumption of the Turkey-PKK peace process (after Turkey retreats from Rojava).
- National Rally Party of Kurdistan (حزب التجمع الوطني الكردستاني / Partiya Kombûna Niştimanî ya Kurdistanî)
Formed sometime by early 2016, in part by former PYD members. It remains very close to the PYD and the PKK, to the point that it does not appear to have much of an independent existence.
- Syriac Union Party* (ܓܒܐ ܕܚܘܝܕܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ / حزب الإتحاد السرياني)
The SUP is a descendant of the Mesopotamia Freedom Party, a secessionist group operating in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and possibly Lebanon. The MFP formulated an ideology known as Dawronoye, which blended Assyrian nationalism with secularism and left-wing politics. It was allied with the PKK and fought mainly against the Iraqi KDP, although MFP-PKK relations worsened for a while in the early 2000s. In 2005 the MFP changed its name to the Mesopotamia National Council and renounced violence, though it maintained the right to resume military operations. The same year, the Syriac Union Party was founded as the MNC’s branch in Syria. The SUP has been closely allied with the PYD throughout the Syrian civil war, although in the early years it was also sympathetic to the opposition. The Syriac Military Council and the all-female Bethnahrain Women’s Protection Units serve as the party’s armed wing alongside the Sutoro, which is an Assyrian equivalent of the Asayish police force. Through the MNC, it maintains links with the Lebanese SUP and several parties in Iraq (one of which, interestingly enough, jointly operates the Ninevah Plain Forces militia with the KDP-leaning Bethnahrain Democratic Party). Alongside the PYD, the SUP was part of the NCC until 2015. [*Although the SUP is part of TEV-DEM, it is not a member of the wider Kurdish National Unity Parties.]
- Yazidi House* [*not part of wider Kurdish National Unity Parties; see Syrian Yazidi Union]
- Assembly for Kurdish Leftists and Democrats in Syria (تجمع الديمقراطيين واليساريين الكرد في سوريا / Kombûna Partiyên Demokrat ên Çep ên Kurd li Sûriyê)
Formed in March 2016 by several left-leaning parties. It supports the federalist system; most members oppose secession from Syria. It also supports a political solution to the civil war. Close to TEV-DEM.
- Kurdish Left Party in Syria (حزب اليساري الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Çep a Kurd li Sûriya)
Founded in 1975 as a split from Salah Bedreddin’s left-wing KDPS after Bedreddin had been outed as sponsored by Saddam Hussein. Another issue behind the split was relations with the PUK in Iraq; the Kurdish Left Party supported friendly relations, while Bedreddin opposed Talalbani’s PUK. Today the party espouses a typical democratic socialist platform. It left the Kurdish National Council in early 2014 and has been close to the PYD since then. It was also a member of the Marxist Left Assembly, a gathering of leftist opposition parties; it may have left that alliance.
- Democratic Green Party (حزب الخضر الديمقراطي / Partiya Kesk a Demokrat)
Formed in May 2015 as the Green Party of Kurdistan; renamed in May 2021. A social democratic and environmentalist party, in vein with other Green parties around the world. In contrast to the pacifism of most Green parties though, this party loudly proclaims support for the PKK. It also advocates for Kurdish independence and unification.
- Kurdistan Renewal Movement – Syria (حركة التجديد الكردستاني في سوريا / Tevgera Nûjen ya Kurdistani – Sûrya)
Founded sometime between 2004 and 2006 as the Kurdistan Democratic Change Movement; it adopted its current name in January 2015. The party supported the original 2011 protests but has opposed the rebels and opposition in exile, instead advocating reconciliation with the Assad regime. Strongly supportive of the PYD and Öcalan. Also seems to support (at least to some extent) the Iraqi KDP and PUK. Possibly connected to the Iraqi-based Kurdistan Renewal Movement.
- Kurdistan Democratic Change Party (حزب التغيير الديمقراطي الكردستاني / Partiya Guhertina Demoqrata Kurdistan)
Founded in 2014. It views the 2011 revolution positively but sees the opposition as having failed the Syrian people. Still opposes the Assad regime.
- Kurdistan Workers’ Union (اتحاد الشغيلة الكردستاني / Yekîtiya Karkerên Kurdistanê)
Split from the Kurdistan Communist Party in mid-2015. Originally known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (no connection to the more well-known PKK); it adopted its current name in 2017. Probably no relation to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that split from the Kurdish Left Party in 1980 and merged into the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria (Democratic Yekîtî) in the early 1990s. Like the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Kurdistan Workers’ Union is Marxist-Leninist but supports the PYD’s governance.
- Kurdish National Alliance in Syria (التحالف الوطني الكردي في سوريا / Hevbendiya Niştimanî a Kurdî li Sûriyê)
Formed in February 2016 by five parties that had previously left (or been expelled from) the Kurdish National Council. These parties were somewhat critical of the PYD’s ideology and practices but accepted and participated in the Syrian Democratic Council and the wider federal system set up by the PYD/TEV-DEM. The HNKS often calls for reconciliation between the PYD/TEV-DEM and the KNC. Its largest party, Democratic Yekîtî, seems to have left sometime before the May 2020 creation of the Kurdish National Unity Parties.
- Kurdish Democratic Left Party in Syria (Salih Gedo) (حزب اليسار الديمقراطي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Çepa Demoqrat a Kurdî li Sûrî)
Split from the Kurdish Left Party in 2012, reportedly over different views of the 2011 revolution. It left the Kurdish National Council in early 2014.
- Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria – al-Parti (Nasreddin Ibrahim) (حزب الديمقراطي الكردي في سوريا – البارتي / Partiya Dîmuqrat a Kurd lî Sûrî (Partî))
Split from the main KDPS in 1998, although some sources put the founding date earlier. Led by Nasreddin Ibrahim, this faction was of a more left-leaning orientation and had friendly relations with the PUK in Iraq. It was one of the original members of the National Coordination Committee. It was expelled from the Kurdish National Council in December 2014 for allegedly favoring the PYD.
- Syrian Kurdish Democratic Accord (الوفاق الديمقراطي الكردي السوري / Partiya Rêkeftina Demokrat a Kurdî li Sûriyê)
Commonly known as “Rêkeftin” or “Wîfaq” (“accord” in Kurdish and Kurdified Arabic respectively). Split from the PYD in 2004. The PYD accused it of being an agent of the Syrian government and engaged in a brief armed conflict with it. In 2009 the party experienced a split, with the minority faction around Hajji Afrini eventually dissolving itself. The party joined the KNC in early 2012 and was expelled in December 2014 for allegedly being too close to the PYD. At one point it merged into the Kurdish Left Party but withdrew some time later. Considered very close to the PUK in Iraq.
- Syrian Reform Movement (حركة الإصلاح – سوريا / Tevgera Çaksazî – Sûriya)
Split from the Kurdish Reform Movement – Syria in 2014. This group’s leader, Amjad Othman, accused Faisal Yousef (KRM-S leader) of perpetrating the same kind of corruption that led Yousef to establish the KRM-S in the first place. Othman is currently the spokesman for the AANES’s legislature, the Syrian Democratic Council.
- Union of Kurdish Forces – Rojava (اتحاد القوى الكردية – روج آفا / Yekîtiya Hêzên Kurdî – Rojava)
An alliance of five small, generally pro-PYD parties formed in August 2019. Based primarily in Jazira canton.
- Free Patriotic Union Party – Rojava (حزب الاتحاد الوطني الحر في – روج آفا / Partiya Yekîtiya Niştimanî Azad – Rojava)
Also refers to itself as the Free Patriotic Union Party – Syria. Split from the main KDPS in 1999; it went by the name “Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria”. Led by Tawfiq Hamdoush, who lives in Germany. The party experienced a number of defections in the mid-2000s and Hamdoush merged it into the Modernity and Democracy Party of Syria. Sometime later it re-emerged and in 2014 the party adopted its current name. Another of the early callers for federalism. Although it has supported reconciliation between the PYD and the KNC, it is much closer to the former and distrustful of the latter. It views Abdullah Öcalan positively.
- Kurdistan Democratic Party – Syria (Abdul Karim Sko) (البارتي الديمقراطي الكردستاني – سوريا / Partî Dîmuqratî Kurdistanî – Sûrî)
Split from the now-defunct Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria led by Abdul Rahman Alluji in 2012, shortly after Alluji died. Unlike the other parties using the KDPS name, the KDPS of Abdul Karim Sko strongly supports the PYD and praises Abdullah Öcalan. Before helping to form the YHKR, it was a member of TEV-DEM.
- Kurdistan Brotherhood Party (حزب التآخي الكردستاني / Partîya Biratî ya Kurdistanê)
Founded by Suleiman Gero, a former journalist. He started political life in the Communist Party of Syria, which he left in 1998 out of disgust for its appeasement of the Assad regime. He later joined the Kurdish Freedom Party (Azadî) of Mustafa Cumma. After that party merged into the KDPS, he helped to form the Free Kurdistan Brotherhood Party, which later merged with another remnant of the Azadî party; sometime soon after he left, citing endless partisan scuffles. He seems to have formed his current party in 2016. The party is critically supportive of the PYD, and it also views the KRG in Iraq positively. On the other hand, it views both the Syrian government and the opposition very negatively. It is particularly skeptical of the ability of the various components of Syrian society to live together and supports Kurdish secession and the formation of an independent Kurdistan.
- Democratic Struggle Party (حزب النضال الديمقراطي / Partiya Tekoşîna Demoqrat)
Formed in May 2017. Very supportive of the PYD; appears to share its ideology. Accordingly, it is very critical of the KNC. Led by Khanaf Mulla.
- Kurdistan Republican Party – Syria (حزب الجمهوري الكردستاني- سوريا / Partî Komarî Kurdistanî li Sûrî)
Formed in February 2016. Supports Öcalan and opposes the KNC. It blames Turkey for corrupting the opposition and forcing it to give up territory to the Assad government. Linked to the Kurdistan Republican Party in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Other members of the Kurdish National Unity Parties include:
- Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (حزب الديمقراطي الكردي السوري / Partiya Demoqrat a Kurdî ya Sûrî)
Split from the main KDPS in 1974. Close to the PYD and the PUK. It was one of the original members of the National Coordination Committee. Despite being a former member of the Kurdish National Council (it left in early 2014), it has historically been considered close to the Assad government and it views the Syrian revolution negatively. Led by Jamal Sheikh Baqi.
- Kurdish Democratic Sun Party in Syria (حزب روچ الدیمقراطي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Roj ya Demuqrata Kurd li Sûrya)
Seems to have been formed in January 2017. The party has not put out much in terms of platform. Most of its statements focus on supporting the SDF and condemning the Turkish government.
- Kurdistan Freedom Party – al-Hurr (حزب أزادي الكوردستاني – الحر / Partiya Azadî Kurdistan – Azad)
Split from the Kurdistan Freedom Party – Syria in mid-2017. Led by Aziz Othman, who represented the party at a Socialist International meeting in 2018. The party appears close to the HNKS.
- Kurdish National Party in Syria (حزب الوطني الكردي – سوريا / Partiya Niştîmanî Kurd li Sûrya)
Originally founded (sometime in 2013 at the latest) as the Kurdistan National Party. Supports both federalism and the right for Syria’s Kurds to an independence referendum. It is supportive of both the KDP and PUK in Iraq, and has generally maintained neutrality in the PYD-KNC dispute. Led by Shafiq Ibrahim.
- Kurdistan Future Movement (تيار المستقبل الكردستاني / Şepêla Pêşeroj a Kurdistan)
Split from the Kurdish Future Movement (the faction currently led by Fadi Mehri) in February 2018. Led by Nahrain Mattini, who at that time was the leader of that KFM faction. She accused the KNC of being soft on Turkey’s invasion of Afrin Region. The party supports federalism and views both the YPG and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga positively.
Peace and Freedom Front (جبهة السلام والحرية / Eniya Aştî û Azadiyê)
Formed in July 2020, amidst ongoing PYD-KNC negotiations, as an alliance of parties that are critical of the PYD’s governance. It identifies as part of the opposition to the Assad government, but all four members are heavily critical of the Turkish intervention. It endorses decentralization but not necessarily federalism.
- Kurdish National Council in Syria (المجلس الوطني الكردي في سوريا / Encûmena Niştimanî ya Kurdî li Sûriyê)
Formed in October 2011 to unite Kurdish parties that were not aligned with the PYD. Most of the notable Syrian Kurdish parties joined it. Iraqi KDP leader Massoud Barzani sponsored the initiative, and the KNC has always been closely associated with the Kurdistan Regional Government. In June 2012, Barzani helped the KNC reach a governing agreement with the PYD-led People’s Council of Western Kurdistan, resulting in the formation of the Kurdish Supreme Committee. But disagreements between the PYD and the KNC continued, and in late 2013 the KSC collapsed, with the PYD and its allies establishing a new government through TEV-DEM. Some KNC were becoming unformfortable with what they saw as the KDPS’ domination and intransigence regarding cooperation with the PYD; over the course of 2014 the organization experienced several defections and expulsions. The KNC has been member of the Turkey-based National Coalition since 2013 and expressed some sympathy for the armed opposition in the early years of the war. But as the conflict grew more violent and more sectarian, the KNC became increasingly critical of the mainstream opposition, accusing it of working with extreme jihadis and refusing to recognize Kurdish cultural and political rights. The KNC denounced the 2016 Turkish intervention as well the 2018 invasion of Afrin. Nevertheless, it retains National Coalition membership, and some of its members have participated in the pro-Turkish local councils in Afrin. The PYD and its allies often accuse the KNC of being Turkish puppets and have refused to let the KNC’s official militia, the Rojava Peshmerga, into Syria from Iraqi Kurdistan. The KNC, for its part, accuses the PYD of authoritarianism and corruption and has thus far refused to participate in the Syrian Democratic Council. In ideological terms, the KNC is distinguished from the PYD by its traditional Kurdish nationalism. It supports the idea of a federal Syria, but with autonomy specifically for the Kurdish cantons. Some member parties see independence and unification with the other parts of Kurdistan as a long-term goal.
- Kurdistan Democratic Party – Syria (Saud al-Mulla) (حزب الديمقراطي الكوردستاني – سوريا / Partiya Demokrata Kurdistan – Sûriya)
The original KDPS was founded in 1957 as a Syrian branch of the Iraqi party, which was founded over a decade earlier. As a “big tent” Kurdish nationalist party, it incorporated figures from various political movements. Ideological infighting began almost immediately. Two major wings emerged: a right wing, which was strongly anti-communist and somewhat conservative and wanted to change the name of the party to the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Syria; and a left wing, which was influenced by Marxism and emphasized social justice and Kurdish nationalism within the Syrian framework. The split formalized in 1965, with the right wing eventually renaming itself as the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria. This wing was affiliated with Jalal Talalbani, a major Iraqi KDP leader and rival of KDP founder Mustafa Barzani who would later found the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Meanwhile, the left wing would eventually disassociate itself from Barzani’s KDP. A third “neutral” faction of the original KDPS inherited the official affiliation with the Iraqi KDP. A unity initiative sponsored by Barzani in the early 1970s only made the splits worse. Eventually the Barzani-endorsed KDPS became the largest party still claiming the KDPS name. Today this KDPS is led by Saud al-Mulla.
- Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria – al-Parti (Khalil Ibrahim) (حزب الديمقراطي الكُردي في سوريا (الپارتي) / Partiya Dîmuqrata Kurd li Surî (Partî))
Split from the KDPS of Nasreddin Ibrahim in April 2015 and rejoined the KNC in May, from which Nasreddin Ibrahim’s party had been expelled the previous December. This party is currently led by Khalil Ibrahim (relation to Nasreddin unknown). Unlike Nasreddin’s party, Khalil’s KDPS generally views the PUK negatively.
- Unity of Kurdistan Party – Syria (Yekîtî) (حزب يكيتي الكردستاني – سوريا / Partiya Yekîtî Kurdistanî – Surîya)
Originally known as the Kurdish Unity Party in Syria, more popularly known by the Kurdish word for Unity – “Yekîtî”. It split from the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in 1998-2000. Yekîtî disagreed with the decision by Democratic Yekîtî to tone down its pro-Kurdish demonstrations and agitation in response to the Syrian government’s crackdown. Yekîtî continued to loudly push for Kurdish rights, sometimes advocating outright autonomy. It was one of the major parties involved in Kurdish protests during the 2011 revolution. Within the KNC, it helped to form the Kurdish Democratic Political Union, which aimed at unifying its members and countering alleged PYD interference with the KNC’s affairs. But Yekîtî accused the KDPS of dominating the KDPU and left in mid-2013. Like other KNC parties, Yekîtî is harshly critical of the PYD. Its long-time leader, Ibrahim Biro, is the spokesman of the KNC and probably the most visible Syrian Kurdish critic of the PYD. He was forced into exile in August 2016 and operates from Europe. In late 2018 the party adopted its current name and elected Suleiman Oso as chairman, though Biro continues to serve as KNC spokesman.
- Kurdish Democratic Equality Party in Syria (حزب المساواة الديمقراطي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Wekhevî a Dîmuqratî a Kurd li Sûrya)
Split from the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in 1992, becoming closely allied with the main KDPS. It continued to use the KDPP name until adopting its current name in 2008. Currently led by Nemat Dawoud.
- Syrian Kurdistan Future Movement (Rezan Shaykhmus) (تيار مستقبل كردستان سوري / Şepêla Pêşeroja Kurdistan Sûriyê)
The original Kurdish Future Movement was founded in 2005 by activist Mashaal Tammo. Tammo spent more than three years in jail for his ardent promotion of Kurdish cultural and political freedoms; the government released him in mid-2011 as a gesture of goodwill towards the Kurds. Nevertheless, Tammo and his party were one of the major forces involved in Kurdish protests during the Syrian Revolution, along with Yekîtî and the two Azadî factions. In October 2011 Tammo was assassinated by unidentified gunmen, suspected to have been acting on orders of the Assad government. KFM members alleged that the PYD was involved. The Kurdish Future Movement has often been considered the closest of the Kurdish parties to the exiled Syrian opposition; unlike nearly all other parties, it generally rejected any plans for federalism or Kurdish autonomy, although it eventually came to support the latter. It also refused to join the KNC at first. In July 2012 it split, with some members declaring Jangidar Muhammad as chairman and others retaining allegiance to chairman Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus. The Shaykhmus wing was representative of the party’s presence in the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. This wing elected Siamand Hajo as chairman in 2014 and decided to create a party militia to protect members from persecution by the PYD, but this militia never materialized. The party (both factions, it seems) joined the KNC in 2015 after several KNC members had left. In February 2018 Hajo made statements in support of the Turkish-led rebel seizure of Afrin Region; his party and the KNC as a whole subsequently announced that he had been expelled, and he went on to form a new party (see Kurdistan Freedom Movement). Shaykhmus returned to the chairmanship and the party adopted its current name in October 2019.
- Kurdish Future Movement in Syria (Fadi Mehri) (تيار المستقبل الكردي في سوريا / Şepêla Pêşeroj a Kurdî li Sûriyê)
This is the faction that declared Jangidar Muhammad chairman in 2012, representing the more domestic wing of the party. It was less stridently anti-PYD than the above faction. Fadi Mehri is its current leader.
- Kurdistan Freedom Movement (تيار الحرية الكُردستاني / Şepêla Azadî ya Kurdistanî)
Formed in October 2019 as a merger of Siamand Hajo’s followers and remnants of the Unified Kurdistan Azadî Party (see defunct section). Hajo, the new group’s leader, is notable for maintaining the anti-PYD KurdWatch website for many years. Pro-PYD sources have accused him of being close to al-Nusra and even for defending IS. Hajo was expelled from his faction of the Kurdish Future Movement in February 2018 for statements he made in support of the Turkish invasion of Afrin. He backtracked shortly thereafter, but his new party maintained a largely positive view of the Turkish invasion. Nevertheless, it criticized the behavior of Turkey’s allied rebel factions. Recently the party has become more critical of the Turkish operation as a whole. It was admitted to the KNC in May 2020. [Note: the party link above is the Facebook page for the party’s European organization, which appears more active than the page for the party itself.]
- Kurdish Reform Movement – Syria (حركة الاصلاح الكردي – سوريا / Tevgera Çaksazî Kurdî – Sûriya)
Split from the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria sometime between 2010-2014; formerly known as the KDPP-Reform Movement. Its leader, Faisal Yousef, accused the KDPP of corruption and of stifling dissent, charges which would be aimed at Yousef himself in 2014 (see Syrian Reform Movement). In April 2018 Yousef was detained by the Asayish, who charged him and several other KNC leaders with treason for the KNC’s allegedly soft response to the Turkish-led rebel invasion of Afrin.
- Kurdish National Democratic Party in Syria (حزب الديمقراطي الوطني الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Welatparêz a Demokrat a Kurdî li Sûriyê)
Split from the Kurdish Democratic Equality Party in 2008. Led by Tahir Safouk.
- Kurdistan Democratic Unity Party (حزب الوحدة الديمقراطي الكردستاني / Partiya Yekîtî ya Demokrat a Kurdistanê)
Split from the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria of Sheikh Ali in January 2015. This faction, led by Kameran Haji Abdo, represented the Qamishli wing of the party. Abdo accused Sheikh Ali of authoritarian policies and denounced him as too close to the PYD. Abdo’s faction then rejoined the KNC, from which the original party had been expelled the previous month. Fasla Yusuf is the current chairwoman.
- Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria (Hajjar Ali) (حزب الوحدة الديمقراطي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Yekîtî ya Demokrat a Kurd li Sûriyê)
Split from the Kurdistan Democratic Unity Party in March 2016. Led by Hajjar Ali (no relation to Sheikh Ali). The reasons for the split are unknown.
- Kurdish Democratic Left Party in Syria (Shallal Gedo) (حزب اليسار الديمقراطي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Çepa Demoqrat a Kurdî li Sûrî)
Split from the party of the same name led by Salih Gedo in early 2014 when Salih’s party left the KNC. This faction, led by Shallal Gedo, chose to remain. The two Gedos do not appear to be related.
- Kurdistan Left Party – Syria (حزب اليسار الكردستاني – سوريا / Partiya Çepa Kurdistanê – Sûriya)
Split from the Kurdish Left Party sometime after it defected from the KNC. This faction is led by Mahmoud Mulla. It does not appear to have any social media or even a logo.
- Kurdish Democratic Forces in Syria (القوى الديمقراطية الكردية في سوريا / Hêzin Demokrat ê Kûrdi le Sûriya)
Formed in December 2011 as the Union of Kurdish Democratic Forces in Syria. It positioned itself as a “third force” between the PYD’s People’s Council of Western Kurdistan and the KNC, and it initially included several other parties under its umbrella, such as the Kurdish Future Movement, Syrian Kurdish Democratic Accord, the now-defunct Kurdistan Yekîtî Party, and possibly Nasreddin Ibrahim’s KDPS. Most of these other affiliates soon joined the KNC though, and the Union seems to have been mostly inactive until 2014. It adopted its current name in 2015; at some point, some pro-Turkish members split and later established the Syrian Kurdish Independents League. For a time the KDFS was a member of the Syrian Democratic Gathering and the Syrian National Assembly, minor opposition groups (the latter is listed further down). It seems to have joined the KNC sometime in 2017-2018. It strongly identifies with the 2011 revolution. It also supports federalism, though like the other KNC parties it is harshly critical of the PYD’s governance.
- Kurdish Vanguard Party – Syria (البارتي الطليعي الكردستاني – سوريا / Partya Pêşenga Kurdistana Sûryê)
Founded in 2011. Like many KNC parties, it supports the Barzani family and the Iraqi KDP.
- Syrian Yazidi Council (مجلس إيزيديي سوريا / Encumena Êzdiyên Sûrî)
The most prominent pro-opposition Yazidi organization. Founded in 2012 in Germany; it soon experienced a split, with members supporting the PYD’s administration leaving and eventually forming Yazidi House (see Syrian Yazidi Union). The Syrian Yazidi Council became a member of both the KNC and the National Coalition, but in September 2016 it left both, citing the dominance of Arab nationalist and Islamist views in the Syrian opposition. It accused the KNC of ignoring this unbalance; it felt marginalized within the KNC and neglected by KRG sponsors in Iraq. The KNC eventually met some of the SYC’s demands, including an endorsement of a secular state with official recognition for the Yazidi religion, and the SYC rejoined the KNC sometime between Februaury and May 2017. Like the rest of the KNC, it criticizes the PYD for what it sees as abuse of power. It views the initial 2011 protests positively but says the revolution was hijacked by warlords and Islamists.
- Assyrian Democratic Organization (المنظمة الآثورية الديمقراطية / ܡܛܟܣܬܐ ܐܬܘܪܝܬܐ ܕܝܡܩܪܛܝܬܐ)
Formed in 1957. It is primarily composed of Western Assyrians, as opposed to the Eastern-based Assyrian Democratic Party. The ADO has long been an opponent of the Syrian government, and was among the founders of both the Syrian National Council and the Syrian National Coalition. The party has also reached something of an understanding with the PYD-led AANES, participating in the formation of the Syrian Democratic Council in late 2015. In January 2020 it helped form the Syrian Democratic Meeting, a secular opposition coalition which has a generally neutral stance on the rebel/SDF conflict. With the founding of the Peace and Freedom Front, it is unclear if the ADO is still part of the SDM.
- Syria’s Tomorrow Current (تيار الغد السوري)
Formed in March 2016; sometimes known as the Syrian Democratic Society. Emphasis on pluralist democracy. Led by Ahmad al-Jarba, prominent Shammar tribe leader and former president of the National Coalition. Jarba is close to Egypt and the UAE, as opposed to the pro-Turkish orientation of many Syrian opposition groups, and has been open to working with the PYD. His party gained representation in the SDC in late 2016. The party also has a military wing, the Syrian Elite Forces, which at various time has been stated to be either part of the SDF or simply closely cooperating with it. The SEF operates mainly in Deir ez-Zor, where it has been beset with defections and is practically defunct.
- Arab Council in al-Jazira and the Euphrates (المجلس العربي في الجزيرة والفرات)
Formed in 2017 to represent Arab tribes in al-Hasakah, Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zor Governorates. Despite its frequent criticsm of the SDF’s alleged abuses, the Council generally cooperates with it. Close to Syria’s Tomorrow Current.
Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria (حزب الديمقراطي التقدمي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Dîmoqratî Pêşverû Kurd li Sûriyê)
Split from the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria in 1965. This was the original KDPS’ “right wing”, led from its official founding by Abdul Hamid Darwish until his death in late 2019. The party is the Syrian affiliate of Jalal Talalbani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Iraq. Though the PUK today is considered center-left and social democratic, the KDPP has always maintained a flexible centrist ideology. Darwish was seen as an ambitious and pragmatic leader, maneuvering the party this way and that depending on which way the wind blows. Before the war began he was often accused of being connected to the Mukharabat head in Qamishli. The party was a member of the Kurdish National Council but left in mid-2015 in protest of the KNC’s ties with the National Coalition. It supports reconciliation between the KNC and TEV-DEM.
Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria (Democratic Yekîtî) (Sheikh Ali) (حزب الوحدة الديمقراطي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Yekîtî ya Demokrat a Kurd li Sûriyê)
Founded around in 1990 as a split from the Kurdish Popular Union Party in Syria. Over the next three years it absorbed several other smaller parties. Usually known as “Democratic Yekîtî”, it was very active in Kurdish protests and demonstrations in the 90s, which resulted in a harsh crackdown by the Syrian government. The party decided to tone down its approach to avoid repression, although it still participated in protests occasionally. It was one of three parties expelled from the KNC in December 2014 for allegedly being close to the PYD. The Qamishli wing of the party then broke off and rejoined the KNC, eventually renaming to the Kurdistan Democratic Unity Party. That wing split a year later, meaning that there are now three “Democratic Yekîtî” parties. This party, led by Sheikh Ali and representing the Afrin wing of the original party, seemed to be the largest of the three, at least prior to the Turkish-led invasion of Afrin. It helped create the HNKS and was its largest party until leaving sometime before the May 2020 creation of the Kurdish National Unity Parties. It is close to the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party.
Arab National Coalition (الهيئة الوطنية العربية)
A catch-all Arab party. It advocates cooperation between the Assad government and the SDF against Turkey and its rebel allies.
Democratic Conservative Party (حزب المحافظين الديمقراط)
Founded in September 2017 as the political wing of the Shammar tribe’s Al-Sanadid Forces. The Shammar were the only major Arab tribe not to participate in the 2004 crackdown on Kurds after the Qamishli uprising. The leader of the Shammar in Syria, Humaydi Daham al-Hadi, allied himself with the PYD/YPG after the Syrian government largely abandoned al-Hasakah. He has also served as co-president (governor) of Jazira Region. The Democratic Conservative Party advocates for the preservation of traditional tribal interests and culture, while also denouncing religious fundamentalism. It favors closer relations between the AANES and the Assad government, though it remains closer to the former. In July 2018 security forces raided the party’s headquarters.
Assyrian Democratic Party (حزب الآشوري الديمقراطي / ܓܒܐ ܐܬܘܪܝܐ ܕܝܡܘܩܪܛܝܐ)
Split from the Assyrian Democratic Organization in 1978. Whereas the ADO is made up primarily of Western Assyrians and has been part of the repressed political opposition to the Assad regime, the ADP represents Assyrians in the Khabour valley in al-Hasakah Governorate (Jazira Region) and has traditionally been pro-government. When the civil war broke out, many ADP members joined pro-government militias. The Khabour Guards, founded in 2013 to fight ISIS, became the unofficial military wing of the party, alongside the more recently formed Nattoreh. The ADP and its militias have had an uneasy and sometimes downright hostile relationship with the PYD and Syriac Union Party, but in 2015 it joined the newly-established Syrian Democratic Council. In January 2017 the YPG handed security responsibilities for the Khabour Valley to the Khabour Guards and Nattoreh. The two ADP militias then formally joined the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Khabour Guards have since established closer relations to the SUP and severed affiliation with the ADP, triggering more tensions between the ADP and the PYD/SUP.
Modernity and Democracy Party of Syria (حزب الحداثة والديمقراطية في سوريا / Partiya Nûjenî û Demokratik li Sûrya)
Founded in 2001. A liberal party with emphasis on progressive values and support for federalism. Praises Öcalan as a “freedom fighter” and calls for his release. Very critical of the Assad government and blames it in part for the rise of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups.
Syrian Yazidi Union (اتحاد إيزيديي سوريا / Yekîtya Êzîdiyen Sûriyê)
Formed in April 2019 by five Yazidi organizations, the most important of which was Yazidi House, which is the Yazidi element in TEV-DEM. More Yazidi groups have since joined. It is less sympathetic to the opposition than the KNC-aligned Syrian Yazidi Council.
Kurdistan Popular Union Party (حزب الاتحاد الشعبي الكردستاني / Partiya Hevgirtina Gele Kurd)
Originally formed in 1975 as Unity of the People; renamed in 1980 to the Kurdish Popular Unity Party in Syria. It was led by Salah Badreddine, one of the early leaders of the Left Wing in the original KDPS. After ousting Osman Sabri from the leadership of the Left KDPS, Badreddine sought alliances with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah in Palestine and later Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party in Iraq. Many Kurds saw him as a sellout, and the KDPS Left split. Baddreddine’s faction experienced a major loss with the defection and subsequent formation of the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria in 1988-1990. The party dwindled into obscurity, and Badreddine resigned his chairmanship in 2003 in favor of his long-time assistant Mustafa Cumma. In 2005 the party merged with Khair al-Din Murad’s Kurdish Left Party faction to form the Kurdish Freedom Party in Syria (Azadî). Some of the Popular Union members disagreed with the merger and reformed the party (with a slightly adjusted name) in March 2006. It has remained a small party based in the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. The party values the SDF’s fight against ISIS in defense of Kurdish territory, but it strongly opposes the PYD and criticizes the expansion of its governance to Arab-majority areas. Its leader is Mustafa Othman.
Kurdistan Freedom Party – Syria (Kurdistan Azadî) (حزب آزادي الكوردستاني / Partiya Azadî Kurdistanî – Sûrya)
Split from the main KDPS in October 2015. The previous year had seen three parties merge into the KDPS – both factions of the Kurdish Freedom Party in Syria (Azadî) and the Kurdistan Unity Party (aka Kurdistan Yekîtî; see defunct section). But some members of these parties felt unsatisfied with the merger, saying their hopes for the merger had not been met and they had not been adequately consulted in party decisions. Consequently, members of the Azadî faction formerly led by Mustafa Osso came together with members of Kurdistan Yekîtî and a few other KDPS members to form the Kurdistan Freedom Party, or Kurdistan Azadî. The new group criticized the KNC for “not offering anything”. They praised TEV-DEM and the SDF for pushing back against IS, yet maintained a fairly skeptical stance on the PYD and called for reconciliation between the PYD and KNC. It also viewed the Iraqi KDP positively. The ex-Osso faction left in February 2016, but in January 2017 it reunited with Kurdistan Azadî and a smaller group called the Syrian Communication Current to form the Unified Kurdistan Freedom/Azadî Party. This formation only lasted a few months before falling apart, and Kurdistan Azadî has been an independent party since. It added “Syria” to the end of its name in November 2020. The party continues to be vocally opposed to the Assad government and supportive of the 2011 revolution, while also opposing the Turkish-led rebels. It has been invited to at least one Socialist International meeting. [Note: alternative link]
Kurdish Democratic Future Party in Syria (حزب المستقبل الديمقراطي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Pêşeroj a Kurd a Demokrat li Sûriye)
Formed in December 2018. Sometimes omits the “Democratic” in its name. Supportive of the KNC; strongly identifies with the Iraqi KDP and Barzani. It views the opposition as having strayed from the values of the revolution, but it still expresses the desire to find common ground with both the rebels and Turkey.
National Democratic Meeting in Syria (قاء الوطني الديمقراطي في سوريا / Hevdîtina Niştimaniya Dîmoqrat li Sûriyê)
Originally founded in 2012 as the Kurdish National Democratic Meeting in Syria. Emphasizes Kurdish-Arab harmony and unity within Syria. It has generally supported the KNC and is critical of the PYD and PKK. The party maintains a close working relationship with the Republic Party, a small opposition group formed in 2014.
Free Kurdistan Unity Party (حزب يكيتي الكردستاني الحر / Partiya Yekîtî Kurdistanî ya Azad)
Split from Yekîtî in June 2019. It accused the Yekîtî leadership of arbitrarily dismissing officers and being soft on the Turkish occupation of Afrin. The party is critical of both the PYD and the KNC.
Kurdistan Hope Party (حزب هيوا الكوردستاني / Parti Hewayi Kurdistan)
Founded in November 2017. Somewhat left-leaning. The party sees federalism as the first step for Syrian Kurds to achieve independence and then unity with the other parts of Kurdistan; it also recognizes the right to self-determination for other Syrian ethnicities. It fiercely criticizes the main Kurdish parties (including the PYD and the KNC) as tools of the Assad regime and traitors to the Kurdish people.
Independent Arab Current (التيار العربي المستقل)
Formed in April 2019 to represent Arabs in SDF-controlled areas of Raqqa, Hasakah, and Deir ez-Zor Governorates. It generally supports the AANES government but maintains a distance between itself and the PYD. Opposes Iran and Turkey and is critical of the Assad government, but the party has been leaning towards Russia. In November 2020 it signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the Popular Will Party, which is part of the government’s “loyal opposition” and close to Russia. (Popular Will also signed a similar document with the Syrian Democratic Council.)
Democratic Gathering of the People of al-Bukamal and its Countryside (تجمع أبناء البوكمال وريفها الديمقراطي)
Formed in September 2020 by Arabs in and around the town of al-Bukamal in southern Deir ez-Zor Governorate, on the border with Iraq. Generally supports the SDF and opposes Iran. Close to the Independent Arab Current.
Democratic Socialist Arab Ba’ath Party (حزب البعث الديمقراطي العربي الاشتراكي)
Formed in 1970 by supporters of Salah Jadid. Representing the Ba’ath Party’s radical left-wing faction, Jadid had led Syria from the establishment of the Ba’athist regime in 1966 to 1970, when Hafez al-Assad ousted him and launched the Corrective Movement. The DSABP no longer supports one-party rule and instead upholads democratic socialism in addition to Arab nationalism, much like many modern Nasserist parties do. It was part of the NCC until 2015 and is also part of the National Democratic Rally, a left-wing opposition group founded in 1980. The DSABP was part of the Assembly for Kurdish Leftists and Democrats in Syria (which was originally formed without “Kurdish” in its name) but has not been listed in recent press coverage. The party does not appear to have any social media.
Syrian National Democratic Alliance (التحالف الوطني الديمقراطي السوري / Hevbendiya Niştimanî ya Demokrat a Sûrî)
Formed in September 2014. Mainly composed of Arabs. It emphasizes secularism, pluralism, and opposition to authoritarianism and extremism; it shares much of the PYD’s democratic confederalist platform. The party has essentially functioned as the PYD’s surrogate governing party in the “Shahba region” east of Afrin since that area’s liberation from IS by the SDF. Many FSA components within the SDF, such as Jaysh al-Thuwar and the Northern Democratic Brigade, have endorsed the SNDA. The party also has a good relationship with the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current, an anti-Assad revolutionary socialist group with Trotskyist and anarchist influences, and the Syrian Front, a liberal opposition group that has traditionally opposed federalism but came to support the SDF.
Future Syria Party (حزب سوريا المستقبل / Partiya Sûriyeya Pêşerojê)
Formed in Raqqa in March 2018. It stresses its support for a democratic and pluralistic Syrian society, as well as for a non-military, negotiated solution to the war. Like the Syrian National Democratic Alliance, it operates in predominantly Arab areas under SDF control and has good relations with FSA elements within the SDF, such as the Northern Democratic Brigade. Unlike the SNDA, however, the FSP does not explicitly endorse Democratic Confederalism and generally avoids using the word “federalism”, instead preferring “decentralization”. The party was founded amid an increasingly chilly atmosphere between the United States and Turkey, and the US apparently had some input in the formation. There is some speculation that the FSP was formed to assuage fears of separatism from Turkey and other regional actors, as well as to further dispute the notion that the SDF is dominated by the PYD. The party made headlines in October 2019 when its Secretary General Hevrin Khalaf was dragged from her car, beaten, and shot dead by Ahrar al-Sharqiya fighters during the Turkish-led Operation Peace Spring.
Syrian National Assembly (الجمعية الوطنية السورية)
Formed in 2014. A small Syrian opposition group composed mainly of Arabs. Emphasizes liberal democracy and an internationally-mediated political solution to the war. It helped to found the Syrian Democratic Meeting in January 2020 but left to join the SDC in June.
Kurdish Truth Movement – Syria (حركة راستي الكوردي – سوريا / Tevgera Rastî ya Kurd li Sûriyê)
Formed in 2012 as the Kurdish Democratic Truth Movement in Syria. It emphasized Kurdish unity and declared its support for “Barzani’s approach”. In January 2020 it absorbed the Kurdistan Peace Movement (see below), but the KPM appears to have left a few months later. The party’s status is unknown, as the most recent social media page I could find for it was last updated in 2013.
Kurdistan Peace Movement (حركة السلام الكوردستاني / Tevgera Aştîwazên Kurdistanê)
Split from the Free Patriotic Union Party – Rojava in May 2017. It merged into the Kurdish Truth Movement – Syria in January 2020, but the merger seems to have fallen apart within a few months. In addition to proclaiming the right to self-determination for Syria’s Kurds, it emphasizes Kurdish unity in the face of hostile entities in Syria and the region. As such, it views both the YPG and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga positively, though in political terms it appears closer to the KNC than the PYD. Opposes the Assad government. [Note: alternative page]
Syrian Kurdish Independents League (رابطة المستقلين الكرد السوريين / Kombenda Kurdên Serbixwe yên Sûryê)
Based in Afrin. Originally formed in late 2011 as the Union of Kurdish Democratic Forces in Syria. At some point the organization split, with most of its members continuing with a slightly adjusted name (see Kurdish Democratic Forces in Syria in the KNC section). Others reorganized under Turkish patronage and adopted their current name in 2016. Many members were formerly associated with the Kurdish Future Movement, including its leader, Abdul Aziz Tammo, who had been part of the Siamand Hajo-led wing. Another of its leaders, Azad Othman, was part of Mustafa Cumma’s faction of the Kurdish Freedom Party (before it merged with the KDPS) and has had connections with several Kurdish FSA brigades over the years. Strongly supportive of Turkey and its FSA allies. Criticizes the Kurdish National Council of being a tool of the PKK. Since the Turkish-led invasion of Afrin, it has replaced the KNC as the favored representative of the Kurds in the National Coalition.
National Initiative for Syrian Kurds (المبادرة الوطنية للاكراد السوريين)
Formed in 2009 and led by Omar Osei, a member of the Syrian People’s Assembly (parliament). In its founding statement, the group pledged to fight for Kurdish cultural freedom and democratic rights for the wider population, while respecting the Arab character of the nation as a whole. It has remained loyal to the government throughout the war, calling for rapproachment between the government and the SDF and criticizing the PYD for allying with America. The Initiative does not appear to have much support outside Damascus.
Youth Party for Development and Change (حزب الشباب للبناء والتغيير)
Formed in 2003, though it remained underground until 2012. It seems to have participated in some of the 2011 protests, but it opposed the armed uprising and supported the Assad government’s limited reforms. It is part of the Damascus Platform, an informal grouping of “loyal opposition” parties that express very mild criticism of the government and participate in international negotiations. Active in several areas across Syria, including the government-controlled sectors of Qamishli. Its leader, Kurdish woman Berwin Ibrahim, is close to Russia and wants to use Russian influence to improve Kurds’ social and cultural freedom and resolve cases of Kurdish citizens wanted by state security. After her party failed to win any seats in the 2020 parliamentary elections, she and two other party members were briefly arrested for protesting in Damascus.
Kurdish Tribal Council in Syrian Jazira (مجلس العشائر الكردية في الجزيرة السورية)
Formed in March 2013 in Jazira Canton. It places an emphasis on inter-tribal and inter-ethnic harmony and has played a role in reconciling tribal disputes. It also strongly supports reconciliation between TEV-DEM and KNC. In June 2018 then-chairman Fahad Dagouri was arrested by the Asayish, an incident which the Council described as “politically motivated” following Dagouri’s suggestion that PYD policy blunders played a role in the Turkish invasion of Afrin.
Kongreya Star (مؤتمر ستار)
Founded in 2005 as Yekîtiya Star (“Star Union”); it changed its name to Kongreya Star (“Star Congress”) in 2016. Sometimes spelled Kongra Star. Serves as the branch of the PYD specializing in feminism and women’s affairs, specifically the theories of women’s liberation formulated by Abdullah Öcalan and known as Jineology. Formally it is separate from the PYD and enjoys its own representation in TEV-DEM, the SDC, etc.
Kurdish Women’s Union in Syria (الاتحاد النسائي الكردي في سوريا / Hevgirtina Jinên Kurd li Sûrîyê)
Formed in 2012. Affiliated with the KNC. A number of splits and offshoots have formed, some of which also enjoy recognition by the KNC.
Rojava Youth Union (إتحاد شبيبة روج آڤا / Yekîtiya Ciwanên Rojava)
The official youth wing of the PYD.
Syrian Revolutionary Youth Movement (حركة الشبيبة الثورية السورية / Tevgera Ciwanên Şoreşger ê Suriyê)
A youth movement very supportive of the PYD, although it does not seem to be officially affiliated. Appears to be the Rojava affiliate of the PKK’s Revolutionary Youth Movement. Critics of the PYD have accused the RYM of attacking anti-PYD activists and vandalizing their property, while allowing the PYD plausible deniability.
Kurdish Youth Movement (حركة الشباب الكورد / Tevgera Ciwanên Kurd)
Formed in 2005 following the first anniversary of the failed Qamishli uprising. Considers the traditional Kurdish political parties out of touch with the younger generations; hopes to bridge the gap between the two. Some of its members secretly established the Kurdish Freedom Movement (not to be confused with Siamand Hajo’s Kurdistan Freedom Movement), an underground organization that conducted assassinations of Mukhabarat officers in the late 2000s. The KFM fell apart due to government infiltration, but the KYM remained active. It participated in the 2011 protests. It supported the creation of the Kurdish National Council and was one of its non-party affiliates. It was also an initial member of the Kurdish Youth Coordination Union in Syria, though it later left. In 2014 the movement split for unknown reasons; the smaller faction appears to have disappeared or merged back into the larger faction after a year or two. The movement severed its relationship with the KNC in March 2018 after the Turkish invasion of Afrin; however some members disputed this. The official Facebook page and website backed the separation, but the former is inactive and the latter is offline; a new Facebook page appears to identify with the KNC.
Islamic Democratic Society Conference (مؤتمر المجتمع الإسلامي الديمقراطي / Konqira Civaka Islama Demoqratik)
A pro-PYD religious association formed in April 2019. Focuses on non-sectarianism and feminism. [Note: the link above is for the group’s female branch, as its main website is offline.]
People’s Council of West Kurdistan (مجلس شعب غرب كردستان / Meclîsa Gel a Rojavayê Kurdistanê)
A government body formed by the PYD in December 2011 in the areas under its control. The People’s Council was composed only of the PYD itself and PYD-affiliated groups, including Yekîtiya Star (later renamed Kongreya Star) and TEV-DEM, although some smaller parties would declare support for it. Although it declared support for the revolution, the PCWK in effect formed a third, neutral side in the rapidly conflagrating civil war. In June 2012 the PCWK signed an agreement with the KNC to create the Kurdish Supreme Committee (see below). After the KSC collapsed, the PCWK was effectively succeeded by an expanded TEV-DEM.
Kurdish Supreme Committee (الهيئة الكردية العليا / Desteya Bilind a Kurd)
A government body for Rojava formed in June 2012. It was a coalition between the PYD’s People’s Council of West Kurdistan and the KNC, created with the encouragement of then-Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. Starting in 2013, the government was sometimes called the Interim Transitional Administration. Although both sides had equal seats in the Committee, the PYD increasingly dominated politics on the ground, leading to the collapse of the KSC in November 2013. De-facto governance then fell to TEV-DEM, the PYD’s mass movement, which was expanded to include allied parties.
Kurdish Democratic Party – Syria (Abdul Rahman Alluji) (بارتي الديمقراطي الكوردي – سوريا / Partî Demuqratî Kurdî – Sûrya)
Split from the KDPS of Nasreddin Ibrahim in 1998, soon after Ibrahim had split from the main KDPS. Led by Abdulrahman Alluji. At some point it joined the main KDPS, then split again in 2007. After Alluji died in 2012, a faction under Abdul Karim Sko split to form a pro-PYD party, and the rest of the party rejoined the main KDPS in 2013.
Kurdish Freedom Party in Syria (Azadî) (حزب آزادي الكردي في سوريا / Partiya Azadî ya Kurd li li Sûriyê)
Founded in 2005 as a merger between ex-members of the Kurdish Left Party led by Khair al-Din Murad and most of Salah Badreddine’s Kurdish Popular Union Party in Syria. Azadî, as it was commonly known, was one of the major parties involved in Kurdish protests during the Syrian Revolution, along with Yekîtî and the Kurdish Future Movement. In 2011 old rivalries between former members of the Kurdish Left and former members of the Popular Union resurfaced and led to a split, with each faction using the Azadî name. The faction led by Mustafa Osso (first of the two logos above) represented the old Kurdish Left members, while Mustafa Cumma led the old Popular Union members. Cumma’s faction was more sympathetic to the rebels and was linked to a Free Syrian Army group called the Salah al-Din Ayyubi Brigade, which was defeated and dissolved after clashes with the YPG in 2013. Both factions merged into the main KDPS in 2014, but many members of Osso’s faction became dissatisfied with KDPS policy and left to help form the Unified Kurdistan Azadî Party in January 2017, though Osso himself declined to go with them and eventually retired from politics. Some of these same members would eventually end up as part of Siamand Hajo’s Kurdistan Freedom Movement.
Unified Kurdistan Freedom Party (Unified Azadî) (حزب آزادي الكوردستاني الموحد)
Formed in January 2017 as a merger of three parties, two of which were remants of the original Kurdish Freedom Party in Syria (aka Azadî). It placed emphasis on unity between various ethnic, religious, and political forces; it also desired an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan, with the right to proclaim independence. The party supported reconciliation between TEV-DEM and KNC and had applied to join the KNC, but was denied. It fell apart later in the year.
Kurdistan Unity Party (Kurdistan Yekîtî) (حزب يكيتي الكوردستاني / Partiya Yekîtî Kurdistanî)
Split from the main Yekîtî party in 2009. This group’s leader, Abdul Baset Hamo, wanted to take a more overtly Kurdish nationalist stance by changing “Kurdish” in the party’s name to “Kurdistan”. The Yekîtî leadership around Ibrahim Biro disagreed and Hamo split; his organization became known as Kurdistan Yekîtî. (Ironically, Biro’s Yekîtî would make this name change in 2018). After Biro’s Yekîtî left the Kurdish Democratic Political Union (a unity project within the KNC led by the KDPS) in mid-2013, Hamo’s Kurdistan Yekîtî took its place. In April 2014, the KDPS absorbed the other members of the KDPU, namely Kurdistan Yekîtî and the two Azadî factions. The Kobanî section of Kurdistan Yekîtî refused the merger and instead announced its support for the PYD-led government; some other disgruntled members later left the KDPS and (possibly together with the Kobanî section) helped to form the Kurdistan Freedom Party – Syria (aka Kurdistan Azadî).
Kurdistan People’s Party (حزب الشعب الكوردستاني / Partiya Gelê Kurdistanê)
Formed in 2001 as the Kurdish Intellectual Movement in Syria. Most of the party disolved in 2008, with members joining either the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria or the Kurdish Future Movement, but a few members remained. In 2012 it absorbed some smaller groups and became the Kurdistan People’s Movement – Syria. The most recent name was adopted in 2016. The party strongly supported the 2011 revolution and for a time favored cooperation between the KNC and the Turkish-based opposition, but by 2015 it had come to oppose Turkey and the rebels. It also harshly criticized the PYD and the PKK. The group appears to have been based primarily in exile. Its activity slowly dwindled, with its Facebook page’s last update in May 2019; the party’s newspaper went offline a few months later, with the Facebook page following by the end of 2020. [Note: the old page for the party’s Turkey branch is still up.]
Kurdish Leftist Party in Syria (Reform Movement) (حزب اليساري الكردي في سورية (تيار الاصلاح) / Partîya Çepa Kurdên Sûriyê (Şepola Çaksazî))
Split from the Kurdish Left Party in Syria in late 2012, acussing the leadership of mishandling various duties as well as alleged indifference to the Syrian revolution. Seems to be based in Lebanon. The party supported the FSA and other rebel groups in the first years of the war, and it was initially a member of the pro-opposition Syrian Democratic Gathering, but it opposed the Turkish intervention. It also supported eventual Kurdish independence and identified strongly with the Iraqi KDP. It views the PYD as an agent of the Assad regime. Its most recent post was in May 2019.
Kurdish Youth Coordination Union in Syria (اتحاد تنسيقيات شباب الكورد في سوريا / Hevgirtina Hevrêzên Ciwanên Kurd li Sûrî)
Formed in July 2011 as a merger of several Kurdish youth groups. It was very active in the 2011 protests. It was critical of the KNC, accusing it of trying to appropriate Kurdish youth activists. Factionalism became a problem and in November 2013 many of its members left to form the Kurdish National Youth Organization (Soz). Several of its social media pages remained active for a few years.
Kurdish National Youth Organization (Soz) (المنظمة الوطنية الشباب الكورد (سوز) / Rêxistina Niştimanî ya Ciwanên Kurd (Soz))
Formed in October 2013. It was close to the KNC but was never affiliated with it. Soz focused much of its activity on protesting the detainment (and in some cases, “disappearance”) of Kurdish activists, including some of its own members, by the PYD-controlled Asayish and by the Assad government. Its last statement was in April 2019.
Syrian Kurdistan Movement (حركة كوردستان سوريا / Tevgera Kurdistana Sûriyê)
Founded in 2011 with the name “Qamishli Youth Revolution for Freedom”. It was one of the more prominent Kurdish youth groups supporting the revolution. Politically, it usually supported the KNC, although it also seemed somewhat supportive of the PYD. For the past few years its activity has been limited to sharing videos from other sources. Its last Facebook activity was in October 2018.
National Action Front of the Syrian Kurds (جبهة العمل الوطني لكرد سورية / Yek Xebata Niştimani Kurdê Sûriyê)
A religious association formed in 2012. It supported the Syrian National Council and the FSA and was critical of the PYD; it also praised the formation of the Islamic Front. As the rebels increasingly came into conflict with the YPG and the latter cracked down on pro-rebel Kurdish groups, the National Action Front’s activity dwindled. Its last statement was made in May 2014.
Kurdish Brotherhood Coordination (تنسيقية التآخي الكوردية / Hevrêza Biratî ya Kurdî)
Formed in November 2011 as a merger of several Aleppo-based activist organizations. Sometimes known simply as “Biratî” (“Brotherhood”), it supported Kurdish rights within a unified Syria. It was harshly critical of the PYD, which it accused of being an agent of the Assad regime. It also criticized the KNC for trying to impose itself on the grassroots Kurdish opposition. Biratî generally supported the armed opposition but opposed jihadis and criticized more mainstream rebels for failing to support Kurds. The group was defunct by 2017.
Independent Kurdish Movement in Syria (حركة المستقلين الكورد في سوريا / Tevgera Serbixwin Kurd li Sûriyê)
Another Kurdish opposition group. Seems to have been formed in early 2013. Focused mainly on activism, though it may have had a small armed contingent. It was close to the KNC, particularly the KDPS, and was fiercely opposed to the PYD. It appeared moribund by 2015 and defunct by 2016, though in April of that year the PYD accused it of being behind a shooting in Qamishli.
Teyar al-Qameh (تيار قمح)
Formed in March 2015; officially known as the “Law – Citizenship – Rights Movement”, but “Teyar al-Qameh” (“Wheat Stream”) is more common. A secular, mainly Arab group led by Haytham Manna, prominent Syrian writer and activist. He and his party were initially part of the National Coordination Committee and the Cairo Platform (an informal gathering of mainly secular opposition parties that rejected armed confrontation with the Assad government). He later participated in the formation of the Syrian Democratic Council in late 2015. Manna served as the SDC’s first chairman but resigned and took his party out of the SDC in March 2016 in protest of the SDC’s declaration of federalism and the formation of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava (currently AANES). Manna criticized the annoucement as “unilateral”, allegedly taken by the PYD and TEV-DEM without consulting other parties in the SDC. Although he welcomed de-centralization as a temporary solution to the war, he saw TEV-DEM’s federalist project as going too far, too fast. In April 2017 Manna helped to from the Syrian National Democratic Convention, which opposes both the SDF and Turkey and its allied rebel groups. Teyar al-Qameh has now largely been absorbed by the SNDC.
Honor and Rights Convention (تجمع عهد الكرامة والحقوق)
Formed in September 2011. A secular, mainly Arab group. Possibly left-wing. Like Teyar al-Qameh, it participated in both the Cairo Platform and the Syrian Democratic Council; it also left the SDC in protest of the federalism declaration in March 2016. The group seems to have gone defunct sometime after that.
Syrian National Resistance (المقاومة الوطنية السورية)
Formed in 2016. Claiming membership from across northern Syria’s ethnic spectrum, the SNR advocated for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the SDF and cooperation against Turkey and the rebels. Very anti-Turkish, at times delving into racism. It was linked to the Kafr Saghir Martyrs Brigade, a small group of mostly Kurds and Arabized Kurds that fought under Syrian government control. The SNR’s leader, Rezan Hedo, announced the group’s dissolution in Feburary 2017, citing a lack of understanding between the government and the SDF, but the party may have reactivated, with Hedo releasing a statement on the group’s behalf in February 2020 saying that they were putting themselves “at the disposal” of the Syrian Arab Army to fight Turkey and its allied rebels.
Appendix: Visual History of the KDPS
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