The People’s Defense Units (YPG) and the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) are the armed wing of the PYD. They were founded in 2012 after the start of the Syrian civil war. The YPG is commanded by PKK cadres who in turn receive their instructions from the military leadership based in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Current statistics of the YPG on fighters killed in Syria suggest that more than fifty percent of the fighters of the YPG are from Turkey [further information]. Only some of them have joined the YPG and YPJ voluntarily, many were forcibly recruited. This forcible recruitment has led to a mass exodus of males fit for military service to Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and Europe [further information]. An estimated one-third of the combatants of the PYD are women.
Currently, the YPG controls the predominantly Kurdish areas Jazirah, ʿAyn al-ʿArab (Kobanî) and ʿAfrin in northern Syria. Additionally, the YPG controls the predominantly Arab region around the city of Tall Abyad since the summer of 2015.
The victory of the YPG over the Islamic State (IS) in ʿAyn al-ʿArab (Kobanî) in January 2015 and in Tall Abyad in June 2015 has contributed significantly to its international recognition. It was as early as Kobanî that the YPG was supported by US-led coalition air strikes. Meanwhile, direct military aid from the United States is provided to the YPG as well as to the »Syrian Democratic Forces« [further information]. The latter is an alliance between the YPG, YPJ and Arab militias, set up in October 2015 and dominated by the YPG.
Within the Kurdish regions, the YPG, together with the Asayiş, the security service of the PYD, abuses its position as the only armed militia in order to enforce the PYD’s or rather the PKK’s exclusive claim to authority. Independent activists and journalists as well as members of oppositional Kurdish political parties are systematically kidnapped and tortured. Moreover, demonstrations critical of the PYD are frequently banned or dissolved and offices of oppositional parties are closed down. Furthermore, since 2012 more than thirty political critics of PYD have been killed. Activists call the PYD’s rule as »Baʿth rule under Kurdish auspices«.