Conflict in Kurdish-Dominated Regions

Conflict in Kurdish-Dominated Regions

Resumption of conflict in the Kurdish-dominated regions of Turkey and the Middle East


Kurdish areas of the greater Middle East and Turkey could experience intense violence and instability as a result of Islamist militants’ gains in Iraq and the ongoing civil war in Syria.

The al-Qaeda–inspired Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has advanced toward the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq and could threaten its capital, Erbil. Despite significant support from Baghdad and armed Kurdish groups from Syria, Turkey, and Iran, as well as covert military aid provided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Iraqi Kurdish forces have suffered significant losses. In August 2014, the United States carried out air strikes on ISIS militants who had forced an estimated 40,000 Kurdish Yazidis to flee to the Sinjar Mountains. With the help of Kurdish fighters, thousands of Yazidis escaped to safety. 

In Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has forged ties with the militant Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which seeks to establish an autonomous state under the pretext of Syria’s civil war. Syrian Kurds—which constitute about 10 percent of Syria’s population and control a large area of northern Syria—have been fighting the central government in the ongoing civil war and have now secured definitive control of the Kurdish area of northern Syria.

If the Kurds succeed in establishing an autonomous state amid the chaos gripping Iraq and Syria, secessionist movements in other Kurdish areas of the Middle East could accelerate, intensifying ongoing sectarian conflicts in the region.

In Turkey, peace talks between the government and the PKK have stalled since a ceasefire began in March 2013. PKK members are refusing to withdraw from Turkey to Kurdish Iraq.

The United States is deeply interested in restoring stability in Iraq, Syria, and Kurdish areas and maintaining the territorial integrity of states in the region. Heightened terrorist activity by Kurdish separatists is also a growing concern for the United States, which has designated the PKK a foreign terrorist organization. 

Background Information
Breaking News
Primary Sources
Latest CFR Analysis
Related CFR Experts