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Will Russia play the Kurdish card?

Russia’s connections to the region’s Kurdish communities present both opportunities and risks for Moscow’s interests in the Middle East.
Kurdish girls wearing traditional clothes shout as they march in Moscow March 6. About 1,000 Kurds marched in the Russian capital, demanding freedom for jailed guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan.

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On Sept. 27, the People's Protection Units (YPG) claimed responsibility for killing Abu Omar al-Chechen, a leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and 15 other members of the group. It could have been just another report on the never-ending skirmishes of the Syrian conflict if it hadn’t echoed miles away from the Middle East in another hotbed — the North Caucasus.

Conflicts, insurgency and terrorism plaguing the region since the breakup of the Soviet Union have always been aggravated by a complex ethnic mosaic. While Chechens and Circassians are probably the most well-known North Caucasus ethnic groups outside the region — due to their large diasporas abroad as well as two wars in the first case and the genocide issue in the latter — there’s one group whose regional profile is practically unknown but rising, which may have surprising implications for Russia’s Middle Eastern policy: the Kurds.

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