Syria and the Kurdish West

Who are the Syrian Kurds?

October 21, 2016

Who are the Syrian Kurds?

1. In war-torn Syria, the Kurdish population is probably between one and two million.

2. Although the ongoing war and population displacement within and outside of Syria makes estimates difficult, this means the Kurdish population is likely between 4% and 9% of all Syrians.

3. The prewar Kurdish population of Syria might have been about 11%, but all ethnic minorities together are now less than 10%.

4. Before the war, Syria’s government had sometimes supported Kurdish militants as a counterweight against enemies or rivals, including Turkey.

5. The Syrian government remained suspicious of its Kurdish population due to Kurdish officers’ involvement in multiple coups early in Syria’s independent period.

6. During the current war, Kurdish militants established a largely autonomous northern zone of control.

7. By avoiding direct clashes with regime forces, they have been largely left alone to fight ISIS (with U.S. support) and various other anti-Kurdish forces. Turkey has bombarded both ISIS and Kurdish positions within Syria.

8. The four Kurdish populations in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran live largely contiguous to each other across the respective national borders of those countries.

9. This proximity sometimes encourages cooperation between separatist groups within the Kurdish population – but not always.

10. Such groups have also often been bitter rivals for local control or influence of the overall separatist movement.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, Syrian Studies Association Bulletin, MinorityRights.org, World Factbook, Atlantic Council, BBC

Takeaways

The prewar Kurdish population of Syria was 11%. Now, all ethnic minorities together are less than 10%.

The four Kurdish populations in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran live largely contiguous to each other.

During the current war, Kurdish militants established a largely autonomous northern zone of control.