As well as the PYD’s avowed secularism, the fact that its territories were not subjected to Assad’s scorched earth campaign inoculated them against penetration by transnational jihadists. The PYD’s political innovations, meanwhile, won the admiration of many leftists and anarchists in the West. Sadly this support was often uncritical, and generally ignored similar democratic self-organisation experiments in the liberated but heavily bombed territories beyond PYD rule. At first, the PYD governed Syria’s three Kurdish-majority areas – the Afrin, Kobane and Jazira cantons. These areas (collectively called Rojava, or Western Kurdistan, by the Kurds) are non-contiguous. A degree of Kurdish autonomy could work there, but not statehood. The PYD, however, was able to take advantage of both Russia’s war on the rebels and the American-led coalition’s war against IS to join up and expand its territory. In February 2016, in alliance with Russia, the PYD captured Tel Rifaat, Menagh, and surrounding areas close to Afrin. These Arab-majority towns were governed by civilian local councils and defended by non-jihadist rebels. But both civilians and rebels were driven out by Russian air power – Russian bombs destroyed all three of Tel Rifaat’s health centres during the assault – accompanied by the PYD’s troops on the ground. Next, in July 2016, the PYD captured the Castello Road leading into Aleppo, assisting the Assad regime’s siege on the city and eventually its fall (in December) to Assad’s Iranian-backed militias. By now rebranded (on American advice, as if Turkey would be fooled) as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and incorporating Arab fighters alongside Kurds, the PYD fought valiantly against IS, advancing under American air cover.
Robin Yassin-Kassab in Kurdish autonomy within a united Syria does not undermine the revolution (NewArab)