PKK: The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been the real winner in Syria so far. The instability in the region has been a godsend to the group. The Turkish government blames the current wave of attacks in Turkey on the group’s ability to take advantage of the weak borders and ￼refugee flows from Syria to infiltrate Turkish territory.
There are reports, almost undoubtedly true, that Syria has begun to heavily support the group with transfers of arms and money in retaliation for Turkish support for the Syrian National Council (SNC) and other Syrian opposition groups. The PKK has also benefited from the souring of relations between Iran and Turkey. Iran has reported been providing the group with arms as well.
The PKK is in an excellent position to pursue its goal of autonomy for the Kurdish region and respect for Kurdish rights. The PKK has strong state support (Note the support provided is strong, not the state itself. It would be a little hard to argue that Syria is a strong state at this point.) and an increased operational area and opportunities due to border porousness.
PYD: The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is a bit tough to categorize. The group is widely seen as synonymous with the PKK. The groups share goals and there are close links between the leadership of both. Both favor armed struggle to attain their goals, the PYD has a near monopoly of force in the Syrian Kurdish regions with the KNC lacking a true armed faction. When Assad pulled troops out of the northern areas to concentrate forces for the battle of Aleppo, the PYD asserted control of several Kurdish majority border towns and there is an agreement with the KNC to share the administration of these areas. This has raised the specter of another semi-autonomous or even independent Kurdish region in northern Syria.
KNC: The Kurdish National Council (KNC) is a conglomeration of Kurdish parties in northern Syria that are not the PYD. The group was founded in Irbil and is a vehicle of influence for KRG President Massoud Barzani who is the head of the organization. The group is fairly weak, with many of the same control and decision issues that the SNC has been dealing with, and practically no armed force to speak of. A measure of the groups weakness is that a power-sharing deal with the PYD split administration 50-50 despite the fact that the KNC contains fifteen parties and the PYD is just one group.
The SNC and the KNC are at lager heads over the ultimate shape of the Kurdish areas of Syria. The SNC, with the full support of Turkey, has called for a centralized state with full authority over all Syrian regions. The SNC has “already refused to offer written guarantees for political decentralization and the right to self-determination for Syrian Kurds,” (quote source). The KNC wants some level of autonomy for Kurdish areas and guarantees of Kurdish rights.
The power-sharing deal is largely meaningless, the PYD is armed and in physical control of the area and it’s doubtful this agreement will generate any real authority for the KNC or their Iraqi sponsors. The KNC, as well as the PYD, tolerate Assad‘s government. Abdulhakim Bashar, leader of the KNC, has been at pains to stress that they are not acting against the government even if they are not pro-Assad.
KRG: The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been placed in a difficult situation by the Syrian civil war. The KRG’s major ally in the region is Turkey, but the dynamics of the conflict are pulling the KRG in opposite directions over Syria. Barzani, while a major Kurdish figure with some influence, and the KNC have been marginalized after “downgrading formal links” to court Ankara. The ability of the KRG to influence events in a favorable direction is minimal.