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Syrian Kurds: U.S. Allies, but Followers of Leader Jailed as Terrorist

Many independent observers disagree about the Y.P.G. “Everybody knows with a wink and a nod that it’s the P.K.K.,” said Joost Hilterman, a longtime observer of the Kurds with the International Crisis Group. “The Y.P.G. is an integral part of the P.K.K. command structure. They may be mostly Syrians, though not exclusively, but all are part of the P.K.K.”

Salih Muslim, the foreign affairs representative for the coalition representing the civilian side of the Kurdish movement, denied that. “We belong in Rojava, we have organized our people in Rojava, but it doesn’t mean we are P.K.K. also,” he said. “We decide for ourselves.”

But he also defended the P.K.K. and refused to describe it as a terrorist organization, one implicated in attacks that killed civilians. “That is not true now, maybe during the ’80s or ’90s, but then they agreed internationally to protect civilians and since then I didn’t hear of any attack on civilians.”

Syrian Kurds: U.S. Allies, but Followers of Leader Jailed as Terrorist
Syrian Kurds: U.S. Allies, but Followers of Leader Jailed as Terrorist

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For now, Syria’s Kurds and their American allies are doing their best to manage an awkward situation, and not all signs are bleak for the future of Rojava. Many Arabs say they are happy with the new authority, even in Arab areas. Younger Arab women have eagerly joined gender equality initiatives and even volunteered for the Y.P.J., the Kurdish women’s military force.

At the Hassan al-Amin High School in Manbij, a group of Arab teenage boys gathered outside after classes were dismissed, so that people could join demonstrations in town against the Turkish attack on Afrin. All of them said they looked forward to joining the Manbij Military Council as soon as they were old enough to fight. While the council is majority Arab, its leadership is Kurdish and it is under the ultimate control of the Kurdish military and part of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Ali, 14, said his father had joined; Thebet, 13, said the same of two of his brothers. “I will be the first to join, as soon as I graduate,” said Ahmed, 16, the tallest, while several of the other boys objected that they would be. “We will go and fight the Turkish colonizers.”

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