What is a Kurd?

Reference guide

Xander Snyder

This is the third part of a short series to help better understand the causes and consequences of Turkey’s recent invasion in northern Syria. You can read/listen to the first two parts here:

  • Part 1: Why do Americans suddenly care about Turkey’s presence in Syria?

  • Part 2 (podcast): Is America’s Syria withdrawal a betrayal of the Kurds?

As promised on the latest ReConsider podcast episode, I’m laying out a short reference guide to all the different acronyms that you're likely to come across when reading about Syria. They are particularly confusing since some are English-language acronyms, some are Kurdish, and some are Turkish

This reference guide is going to be a standalone article but will be followed shortly with an explainer that will put these groups into greater context. You will learn not just who they are, but what they want, and how their interests align or collide. This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide of all groups, but by the end of the explainer piece (coming soon), you will be well-acquainted enough with these groups to read about the latest Syria/Turkey news without being thrown by the preponderance of alphabet soup.

Reference Guide


  • YPG: People’s Protection Units - US allies in Syria. US does not consider them to be affiliated with PKK in Turkey (see below). Turkey does consider them to be affiliated with PKK.

  • YPJ: Women’s Protection Groups - sister outfit of the YPG, comprised only of women fighters who are, unlike in some other countries, fully engaged in front-line fighting.

  • SDF: Syrian Democratic Forces - comprised primarily of YPG/YPJ, but also of Syrian Arab and other fighters. Backed by the US.


  • PKK: Kurdistan Workers’ Party - seeks greater autonomy for Kurdish regions in Turkey. Is considered by the international community to be a terrorist organization.

  • HDP: People’s Democratic Party - political party in Turkey that often advocates for greater Kurdish rights. Leaders have often been jailed by Turkey, which is currently led by the AKP.

  • AKP: Justice and Development Party - ruling party in Turkey. Recently suffered set back in local elections.


  • KRG: Kurdistan Regional Government - semi-autonomous region and government in northern Iraq.

  • KDP/PDK: Democratic Party of Kurdistan - majority party in KRG. Confusingly, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan is often abbreviated as both KDP and PDK.

  • PUK: Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - largest minority party in KRG.


  • PDKI/KDPI: Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan - armed Kurdish militia group that is banned from Iran. It operates from Iraq. As with the Democratic Party of Kurdistan in Iraq, both acronyms are used for the same group.

  • PJAK: Kurdistan Free Life Party - another armed Kurdish militia group banned in Iran, but newer than the PDKI. It also operates from northern Iraq.

  • Note: for more on Iranian Kurdish groups, see my article from last year about the evidence that the US is supporting some of these groups.

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