The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) is a Syrian affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It is one of the most important Kurdish opposition parties in Syria as well as a charter member of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change and the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan.
The PYD calls for the constitutional recognition of Kurdish rights and “democratic autonomy,” rejecting classical models such as federalism and self-administration. While condemning authoritarian rule in Damascus, the PYD is responsible for disrupting Kurdish efforts to form a united opposition front.
Saleh Muslim Mohammed: chairman
Asiyah Abdullah: co-chairman
Founded in 2003 as an offshoot of the PKK, the PYD suffered years of violent repression at the hands of the Syrian regime, following the signing of the Adana agreement with Turkey (1998) and the expulsion from Syria of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Following the start of the uprising in Syria, the PYD joined the Kurdish Patriotic Movement in May 2011, but declined to join the bulk of Kurdish opposition parties that formed the Kurdish National Council in October 2011. Since July 2011, it has played a limited role as a founding member of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change and has joined the PKK opposition body known as the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan, which was founded on December 16, 2011.
While critical of the regime, the PYD has adopted an ambiguous stance toward the revolution. It stands alienated and hostile to the large majority of the organized opposition; it accuses the Syrian National Council
of acting as Turkey’s henchman, while also disapproving of the Kurdish National Council due to long-standing tensions between Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and an eminent supporter of the Kurdish National Council, and Abdullah Ocalan. Furthermore, following its violent attacks against Kurdish demonstrators in Erbil and Aleppo and its alleged role in the assassination of Mashaal Tammo (leader of the Kurdish Future Movement), the PYD has been accused of tacitly cooperating with the Syrian regime and acting as its shabiha
(thugs) against Kurdish protesters.
However, as the Assad regime gradually weakens, the PYD has been increasingly willing to negotiate with its Kurdish opponents. On June 11, 2012, the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan signed a cooperation agreement with the Kurdish National Council, forming a joint Kurdish Supreme Council. A supplementary agreement initialed on July 1 committed both sides to establishing security committees and unarmed civilian defense forces to protect Kurdish areas. Despite these agreements, the Kurdish National Council has accused the PYD of attacking Kurdish demonstrators, kidnapping members of other Kurdish opposition parties, and setting up armed checkpoints along the border with Turkey.
Chemical engineer Saleh Muslim Mohammed became chairman of the party in 2010. He was originally based in Iraq to avoid political persecution, but returned to Syria in order to take direct part in unfolding events. His leadership was reconfirmed at the extraordinary fifth party congress of the PYD, held on June 16, 2012, at which the party’s Central Committee was expanded and dual leadership was introduced. Asiyah Abdullah was elected co-chairman of the party.
Policy Toward the Crisis
- Rejects external military intervention
- Rejects arming the opposition
- Supports dialogue with the regime
- Supports the Annan peace plan
- A pluralist democracy
- Constitutional recognition of Kurdish rights and “democratic autonomy” for the Kurdish people
Foreign Policy Issues
- Open hostility toward Turkey for its imprisonment of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, its denial of Kurdish rights, and its influence over the Syrian National Council
- Strained relations with Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish Regional Government for negotiating with Turkey at the expense of the PKK