Redur Khalil is the official spokesperson of the People’s Protection Units, or in Kurdish, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG). This secular-leftist armed faction has been in control of most of the Kurdish areas of northern Syria—which the YPG refers to as West Kurdistan, or Rojava—since summer 2012. It has clashed with the Syrian regime on some occasions, but it is now increasingly embroiled in combat with Islamist rebel factions, which accuse it of atheism and of working for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The YPG collaborates closely with the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Unity Party, or PYD, which held elections for a self-governing Rojava authority in November 2013. Both the YPG and the PYD are widely recognized as proxy forces for Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, but they refuse to acknowledge any such relationship.
Redur Khalil has kindly agreed to answer some questions about the YPG for Syria in Crisis.
Please describe the reason for creating the YPG.
The YPG is an organized military force, formed by the Kurdish sons and daughters of Western Kurdistan. It owes allegiance to the sole Kurdish source of legitimacy, namely the Supreme Kurdish Commission. Its purpose is to protect the Kurdish areas in Syria against any aggression and intervention, whether by the regime or the armed opposition factions. It has managed to seize control over most of the Syrian state headquarters in the cities I mentioned since the Kurdish people staged an intifada, or uprising, on July 19, 2012.
On that date, the creation of the YPG was formally announced, but it had already been organizing itself secretly in the Kurdish areas, and its official founding year is 2011.
Who is the YPG’s supreme commander?
The supreme commander of the YPG is Mr. Sipan Hemo. I am the official spokesperson, but previously it was my colleague, Mr. Khebat Ibrahim.
Could you tell us where the YPG is present?
The YPG is present in the Kurdish areas, or Western Kurdistan. From the northeast, they include the city of Dêrik (Malikia, in Arabic), and stretch past Girkê Legê (Maabada), Jel Agha (Jawadiya), Tirbesipî (Qahtaniyah), parts of Qamishlo (Qamishli) and Amûdê (Amoude), Dirbêsî (Dirbasiye), Serêkanîye (Ras el-Ein), parts of Hassake City and Girê Sipî (Tell Abiyad), Kobanê (Ein al-Arab), and the city Efrîn (Afrin), as well as in Kurdish neighborhoods in Aleppo, like Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafiye.
How many fighters do you have?
The YPG has more than 35,000 fighters from both sexes. The number has increased since the YPG decreed a general mobilization after a vicious attack by the fighters of the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, two jihadist Syrian opposition groups, and some of the battalions of the rebel Free Syrian Army.
What level of support are you getting from the PKK?
The YPG does not coordinate with the PKK. The YPG is a force connected to the Supreme Kurdish Commission. The Supreme Kurdish Commission’s chief source of funding and support is the Kurdish people.
Now that the PYD has announced a self-governing authority, will the YPG become its official armed force?
As you know, the YPG has made the Supreme Kurdish Commission its political reference. This is because the commission represents the majority of the political parties and organizations in West Kurdistan. Despite the disputes that have emerged between the political organizations that make up the Supreme Kurdish Commission, it remains in existence and there has not been a decision to dissolve it yet. Therefore, we still remain committed to our original decision to look to the Supreme Kurdish Commission.
This issue is also connected to implementing the joint civil administration that has been announced among the groups in the area. In the future, we may review it in light of the developments, but our first and final decision will be based on what the interests of the area and its constituents require.
Can you tell us about the YPG’s decision to have mixed-gender forces?
The YPG is made up of both sexes. This is because we take for granted that women are capable of defending themselves and their homeland, side by side with men.
There is a special organization for women in the YPG called the Women’s Protection Units. It takes part alongside mixed-gender units in all the battles, on the different fronts. Many of these women have fallen as martyrs during frontline combat. Kurdish women also assume various leadership positions in the YPG, including as military council leaders and even in the supreme command.