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Kurdish militia opens office in Geneva to build relations with Europe

Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units militia (YPG)
Members of the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units militia (YPG), 28 February 2015 [Kurdishstruggle/Flickr]

The Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) in north-east Syria are to open an office in Geneva, the Kurdish militia has announced. According to Turkey's Daily Sabah, the YPG is set to open its office in the Swiss city in an effort to establish an official presence in Europe and "develop relations with European countries."

The YPG is also reported to be opening smaller representative offices within European countries such as France, Germany, Sweden, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Over the years, the YPG and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – with which it is affiliated – have long attempted to gain legitimacy as an autonomous force in the territories they control in north-east Syria. That legitimacy has been supported subtly by the US, France, Germany and Sweden, which have backed it during the ongoing conflict in Syria and sent diplomatic delegations to meet with the militias.

There have been rising concerns, however, over the YPG's and SDF's human rights records. Numerous reports have emerged exposing the forced recruitment of child soldiers, shooting into crowds of protestors, and the torture of activists and abuse of ethnic Arabs.

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Furthermore, despite Western support for the Kurdish militias, Turkey has maintained consistently that both the YPG and SDF are the Syrian branch of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Ankara has launched military operations against the YPG for that reason.

Although Western states have not yet designated the YPG as a terrorist group, the EU has recently acknowledged the militia's links with far-left extremist groups based in Europe. In a report by the Council of the European Union in June, titled "EU action to counter left-wing and anarchist violent extremism and terrorism", it stated that some Western volunteers who joined the YPG in the fight against Daesh over the years "are driven by left-wing extremist ideological convictions."

The report added that "Just like Europeans who have joined Jihadist groups, left-wing and anarchist violent extremist fighters in Syria acquire or strengthen combat skills, which could in principle be used in terrorist activities in Europe."

Some European states have also detained and taken action against citizens who were YPG volunteers. The British government, for example, arrested one such person in 2018 and charged the father of another volunteer in 2019 with supporting terrorism.

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