Nov 8 (6/14): Alphabet Soup


Thanks for keeping us informed Rev.

Earlier you kinda asked it there were any requests, right? Or did I imagine that? Either way, I have one.


You did not imagine it.


It might be a rather mundane task for you, so feel free to ignore it. I would love to see a list of all the players involved, with a brief synopsis of their backers, motives, strengths, vulnerabilities, etc. I find it hard sometimes with all the abbreviations and the various power struggles taking place.

OK… maybe! It depends what you mean.

If you mean, like, a grouped lists of the major players with their major “umbrella organizations” and affiliations, such as SNA/FSA/TFSA and SDF/YPG/YPJ/SDC and so forth, I can probably do that if it would be useful.

If you want a list of all the various fucking acronyms for each group, NFW (see below).


One simple example is how the Syrian Democratic Forces is usually abbreviated to SDF, though sometimes HSD or QSD. Then sometimes I’m reading something and wondering to myself if they are entirely allied with the SAA or if there are dynamics I fail to understand.

It’s just a fact: Everything has like 2-5 different acronyms. It’s frustrating. But you’re completely not wrong.

It sorta makes sense, but only if you think of it for awhile and think about the language issues.

Take town names in northern Syria. Each town has an Arabic and a Kurdish name. Now, Arabic uses a different alphabet and Kurdish might as well since the letters all dressed in their finery and have fancy hats and pants and stuff. So you get two or three spellings of an Arabic name (Ras al-Ain, Ras al-Ayn, etc.), and Lord knows how many in Kurdish (Sari Kani, Sari Kaniye, Sarikanîyê, etc.) which I’m not even sure is fully standard and Google translate cant even identify it half the time—Those are all the same place.

[Fun Fact: Google Maps accepts place names in Arabic, anglicized Arabic names, but not the Kurdish place names. Though the names are on the map, you can’t search for them. That basically sounds like an ancient proverb or a clue to some sappy treasure hunting movie, I know. but there you have it.]

It gets worse when acronyms come around. Like, the acronym at what phase? What some of these end up is, like, take a three word English phrase with an acronym and it’s also a memory aid, right? But if you take those words, then translate them into a different language with a different alphabet, then grab the initial SOUND of each word in the other letter language, and then just translate those initial sound/letters back to English, and there’s your acronym even though it may not have any direct relationship to a name in any fucking language in known existence.

I’m serious. This took me forever to figure out—and then I realized how it must work and looked on Wikipedia and it’s all right there.

Like, check it: What is the acronym for Syriac Military Council? MFS.



MFS. It’s basically, with apologies to Will Hunting, Fuck You That’s Why.

Romanticized Syriac! Of course! It’s so obvious!!

Indiana Jones Jehovah

Now, add to that the fact that the militias are often named after their leaders (the eastern way, if you will, for tribes, religions, and other social systems, etc.). So the closer to the ground someone is or the more granular they are getting, the more often you get an acronym that is a specific militia—SNA is actually like 30 militias under one brand. And then there might be some slang.

I like it when there are pictures of women in fatigues with guns. Then I know it’s the YPJ.

Don’t even get me stated as to whether or not it’s possible to figure out which SNA militias are NOT Daesh at this point or something like that.

Really Fun Fact: The reason SDF seems so easy compared to some of the others is it’s because it’s actually in English; and, if you’ll recall, it’s in English precisely because the USA told the YPG they needed a new name, and they came up with Syrian Democratic Forces for our benefit.


Know what I mean? Maybe I’m just dumb in this area (abbreviations often confuse me) but I wonder if anyone else is having trouble keeping all the players straight.

Maybe I’m alone on this and you shouldn’t waste your time.

It’s definitely not you.

In fact, per above, there are at least two levels where that makes sense.


Rev, you are our own Claire Varrens. Thank you.

I think you might be underselling just how rough it is to keep track of these organizations. There’s a good primer on page 11 here of the components of the TFSA and their past alliances. Take Jaysh al-Islam. They have received CIA, Saudi and Turkish support. They will fight anyone and have no problems with war crimes. At times fighting against ISIS, the Assad regime, the YPG/PKK and al-Nusra (al-Qaeda). They have also been allied with al-Nusra in the past. The SDF will probably call them ISIS because that’s a good way to get them bombed. These are definitely not the good guys, but they are some sort of mercenary force with waxing and waning Islamist tendencies that will hold land. They remind me a bit of the medieval mercenary bands that liked to pillage their way through the Italian states switching from one benefactor to another. The one constant for them though is they hate Assad.


And you still got me.

And wow. Yeah, @teddywingman , what he said.

Cool link too. Need to check that out. Thank you.

Edit: Heh.

This just happened:

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