As the Syrian Civil War endures, Syrian Kurdish militias continue to develop as formidable forces against the self proclaimed Islamic State (IS). In this context, Syrian Kurdish forces have achieved greater autonomy and gained territory in the Syrian Kurdish Region (SKR). The SKR under Kurdish control consists of three non-contiguous administrative Cantons: Jazira, Afrin, and Kobani.
Currently, Syrian Kurdish militias and allies are in the midsts of an offensive against Islamic State (IS) and gaining significant territory. The most Kurdish notable force in the SKR is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), considered ideologically and perhaps logistically aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), created in Turkey. PYD fighting units include the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). Throughout the complexities of the Syrian Civil War, Kurdish militias have also battled with Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), and other rebel groups. Furthermore, infighting amongst Kurdish groups has been prevalent sporadically.
The Kurdish offensive against IS is primarily taking place in the Cizre and Kobane cantons. Furthermore, the bulk of the fighting in Cizre is taking place in the East and South while in Kobane it is pushing West and South. The advanced made the by PYD and allies in Syria is bringing a form of Kurdish autonomy closer and in a westward direction. This outward direction, if sustained, would unite the Cizre and Kobane cantons. Meanwhile, on the eastern side of Syria a historic Kurdish milestone has been achieved, two autonomous Kurdish regions neighboring, Cizire in the SKR and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.
A long consequence of Kurdish territorial expansion and consolidation is phenomenon of Kurdish autonomy in the direction of the mediterranean. The lack of Kurdish sea access is the most significant geopolitical disadvantage facing the greater Kurdish Region. Close geographic approximation to the Mediterranean would carry unprecedented Kurdish economic opportunity and political leverage for the Kurdish national movement. As it stands, Kurdish imports and exports are highly reliant on the countries of the greater Kurdish region: Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. Assuming that territorial expansion continues in the SKR, it would bring the greater Kurdistan region closer to sea access and less reliable on the neighboring countries.
In the coming months, Kurdish factions will likely push to gain more territory and continue to administratively consolidate the existing de facto Kurdish areas.As the control of territory is consolidated in Kobane and Cizire, the strategic importance of the Afrin canton will undoubtedly increase.