By June 2016, the Kurds of Syria (just 12 percent of the country's total population) controlled almost all of the 822-kilometer Turkish-Syrian border and advanced against Manbij and Raqqa — the Islamic State's resupply center and capital, respectively. How did the Syrian Kurds grow from pariahs to kingmakers in northern Syria? This essay surveys the strategy of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the most powerful organization among the Syrian Kurds, from 2011 until the first half of 2016, and shows how the PYD's realpolitik secured the party's survival and, eventually, success in the midst of a vicious sectarian civil war.

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