Kurdistan: revolution at a crucial juncture


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 114 - August/September 1993

Republished as Chapter 3.4 in The New Warlords: from the Gulf War to the recolonisation of the Middle East, ed. Eddie Abrahams, Larkin Publications, 1994.

Events during the past year: Syria's closure of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases in Lebanon, the joint Kurdish Democratic Party — Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (KDP-PUK) and Turkish army assaults on the PKK in South Kurdistan (northern Iraq), the PKK's unilateral ceasefire and resumption of hostilities in the face of Turkish state intransigence have brought the Kurdish revolution to a critical stage. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

Financial Times: Abdullah Ocalan has agreed to extend his ceasefire. Are you closer to a solution?

Suleyman Demirel: We never hear him, whatever he says. If you start hearing him, then he becomes a party to the problem . . . We should never deal with him. (Financial Times 7 May 1993)

On 17 March 1993 PKK General Secretary Abdullah Ocalan accompanied by Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK from South Kurdistan declared a unilateral ceasefire in the Kurdish liberation struggle to run over the 21 March Newroz (New Year). The ceasefire was extended indefinitely on 16 April when Ocalan made the following demands: an end to the annihilation of Kurdish people and Turkey's military operations; a general amnesty; cultural rights such as Kurdish language radio and television stations, newspapers and books; the right to the unfettered use of the Kurdish language and the legalisation of Kurdish political organisations; the right for displaced persons to return to their homes and be compensated for damage to their houses and loss of livestock; abolition of the system of regional governors and the disarming of the village guards. Ocalan warned that if the Turkish Republic continued its operations then the ceasefire would be meaningless and the guerrilla war would have to be resumed. He appealed to the UN and to the European Parliament to send delegates to Kurdistan to observe the ceasefire.

In an immediate response to the original ceasefire declaration Turkey's Interior Minister ruled out negotiations with the PKK. The army-dominated National Security Council recommended continuing with the big Spring military operations. During the Newroz celebrations the Turkish army killed 41 people, 30 of whom were guerrillas observing the ceasefire. By 24 May, 128 Kurds had been killed since the unilateral ceasefire began, six Kurdish villages had been destroyed and some 2,000 Kurdish civilians were arrested and detained without trial. Turkish sources claimed that 74 PKK guerrillas had been killed including 13 guerrillas murdered with chemical weapons at Silvan. On 24 May 41 Turkish troops were killed by PKK guerrillas at Bingol, in what they described as 'self-defence'. By 8 June when Ocalan announced the unilateral ceasefire over, 44 Kurdish villages had been destroyed since 17 March, 3,500 Kurdish civilians had been arrested and several hundred people had been killed by the Turkish state forces. President Demirel had offered the PKK an 'honourable surrender' with limited amnesty provisions if combatants gave up their weapons, a fate which Ocalan described as 'worse than suicide'. Rejecting the appeal from the PKK to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem the Turkish state showed its determination to crush the liberation struggle militarily. The UN and European Parliament barely acknowledged the ceasefire and the Turkish state felt reassured that it could continue its war unperturbed by international 'concern'.

Ocalan announced the ceasefire over at Bar Elias on 8 June. He said that 'thousands, tens of thousands, will suffer . . . this campaign will be the most ferocious of all our campaigns. We are for a union within the federal rule in Turkey. On that basis we are always ready for a political solution. Until this happens the armed struggle will be escalated . . . '. He warned that Turkey's economy and tourist income would be targeted and blamed Turkish state colonialism which 'bears the responsibility because they have not recognised the minimum of our rights. If they do not recognise the minimum of our rights how can we halt the armed struggle?'

South Kurdistan —uncertainty and hedging

At the beginning of October 1992 the new Kurdish Parliament in South Kurdistan voted for the status of an independent federated state. On 4 October the two leading figures in this parliament - Barzani, leader of the KDP, and Talabani mobilised 15,000 peshmergas to drive the PKK out of their bases on the border with Turkey. By 28 October the commander of Turkey's army General Dogun Gures said that up to 200,000 Turkish troops were in northern Iraq. Together with the KDP and PUK peshmerga they were pitted against the PKK.

Although the PKK claim to have lost no more than 100 guerrillas the combined assault drove them from their bases and rendered a section of their command and logistics inoperable. The KDP and PUK said that the PKK could have a political presence in South Kurdistan but could not use this as a base from which to attack Turkish state forces.

Barzani and Talabani and the Iraqi Kurdish bourgeoisie and feudal leaderships are dependent on Turkey, the US and NATO to preserve their autonomous enclave. Turkey provides the six-monthly renewable mandate for the NATO war planes which patrol the skies of northern Iraq. With the Baghdad embargo of the Kurdish region the enclave is dependent on the UN and routes through Turkey for supplies and currency. Barzani and Talabani have thus far shown that they are willing to sacrifice the PKK and Kurds in Turkey to retain their own positions. The Turkish state does not want an independent Kurdish state in South Kurdistan, but its priority is defeating the PKK and for that reason it is prepared to use Barzani and Talabani as allies.

In May the UN began withdrawing its armed guards from northern Iraq claiming that it was short of funds. Throughout the spring there were meetings between the diplomatic representatives of Turkey, Syria and Iran. They appear to have been coordinating attacks on the Kurds. Each state fears the impact that the PKK is having and the implications of an independent South Kurdistan. In April Iranian government forces began bombarding and shelling camps of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran along Iran's border with northern Iraq and adjacent to South Kurdistan. Iranian troop incursions into South Kurdistan followed. Turkey and Syria have agreed to find a 'final solution' to their dispute over the River Euphrates and control over its waters by the end of this year. Additionally with the Soviet Union gone Syria is showing itself more accommodating to the US over Israel and has been willing to close down PKK bases in the Lebanon to win US favour. Syria wants the Golan Heights back and for that it needs US pressure on Israel.

Any rapprochement between Syria, Turkey, Iran or Iraq is viewed with apprehension by Barzani and Talabani. Precisely at the moment when an independent Kurdish entity begins to emerge they transform from being useful tools for the colonial powers to use in their contentions into a potential challenge to that colonialism and status quo. Barzani and Talabani recognise that Turkey has only a conditional need of them and that fulfilment of this need is critical to retaining US and EC protection for their enclave. If they are able to subdue the PKK not only militarily in northern Iraq, but more importantly, politically in its aspirations and methods throughout Kurdistan, they will have earned their keep.

Over the past few years Barzani and Talabani have visited Ankara. Part of the Turkish government's strategy has been to use them to found a Kurdish party to rival the PKK in Turkey. The PKK has attempted to bring other Kurdish political trends in Turkey under its political influence. After the 17 March ceasefire declaration, Ocalan for the PKK and Kemal Burkey, leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Party, signed a protocol ending animosity between the two parties. Representatives from other Kurdish political parties were present at the ceasefire declaration. Between 18-20 June representatives of eleven Kurdish political organisations including the PKK met and agreed to start preparations for a National Front. These parties include representatives of more bourgeois and petit-bourgeois currents in Kurdish society. Their incorporation into the liberation movement is positive in so far as it diminishes the ability of the Turkish state to create a Kurdish entity to rival the PKK, but potentially negative in that bourgeois and petit-bourgeois influences may compete with the socialist forces to determine the political line of the liberation movement and the PKK. This would manifest itself over the methods of revolutionary struggle and the objective of independence, with the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie making concessions to colonialism and imperialism.

Ocalan himself has stated that he does not want 'separatism', but for relations with Turkey to be 'reorganised on a free and equal basis'; 'to be in a state of unity is not contrary to independence'. He does not take the Iraqi Kurdistan development as a model, criticising the endeavour towards federation in Iraq as unrealistic unless put on a basis of democracy and equality with Arab and other people in Iraq. 'What is important here is the Kurdish people being able to guarantee their political and military existence, having the power to do that.' This formulation may appear to be a concession towards autonomy and away from an independent Kurdistan. However, self-determination as a democratic principle is not identical with complete separation. What matters is the role of the working class and peasantry for whom democratic rights and control of the land and means of production would invariably bring them into conflict with the bourgeois colonialist Turkish state. Federalism as Ocalan defines it above necessitates the democratisation of the Turkish state. The dominant elements in the Turkish state, led by the military, assess that the PKK has been strategically and significantly weakened by its expulsion from Lebanon and restriction of its activities in northern Iraq. In this context, an intensified military assault should, they gauge, diminish support for self-determination within Kurdish society as it is rendered unattainable and strengthen the trend towards compromise and ultimately surrender to Turkish state rule.

Hence the significance of Ocalan's 17 March ceasefire declaration in the presence of Talabani, a man whom on previous occasions he described along with Barzani as 'horse-traders . . . who have put our land up for sale'. The expulsion from Lebanon and the attack on its bases in Northern Iraq have increased the pressure from bourgeois elements among the Kurds on the PKK leadership. Barzani and Talabani are favoured by imperialism. The PKK is viewed as dangerous with its working class and poor peasant base of support. There were reports that the ceasefire was opposed by sections of the guerrillas in the mountains. The resumption and intensification of the guerrilla war indicates that the pressure of the mass movement has prevailed over the path towards concessions to colonialism and imperialism.

Unlike the PLO the PKK has no hinterland of bourgeois support to bank roll it and strengthen the position of those who would make concessions to colonialism. The US and EC governments have been pouring weapons into Turkey which will be used to try to destroy the Kurdish struggle. Socialists in Europe must fight against the attempt to isolate the liberation movement and push it onto the path of concessions and subordination to colonialism and imperialism. This means supporting mobilisations such as those of Kurdish communities in 28 cities across Europe on 24 June where they demanded an end to European governments' support for the Turkish state's war effort. That way the attempt to isolate the PKK is fought and the powerful socialist and working class trends within it are strengthened.

After being given permission to take place, the first ever Gay Pride march in Turkey was brutally attacked by the police and all the marchers arrested. The organisers were detained and a number of foreign participants were deported after a failed attempt was made forcibly to test them for HIV.

■ In April 1993 the Turkish Human Rights Association stated that over the previous fifteen months 400 Kurdish settlements had been burned down, 1.5 million Kurds had been forced to move to western Turkey, that there were hundreds of unsolved street killings including 40 Kurdish activists from legal political parties, 5 human rights workers and 13 journalists. During that same fifteen months the cities of Sirnak, Kulp, Varto, Cizre and Nusaybin have been subject to intense bombardment by Turkey's armed forces.




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