IRAQ: Kurdish leader talks about Turkey and the prospects for peace
The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has been battling Turkey for an independent Kurdish state since the 1970s. Now Turkey has promised to come up with a plan to give Kurds more political rights in a bid to end the conflict. At the PKK's main camp in the remote Qandil mountains in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region, the PKK leader, Murat Karayilan, spoke to Babylon and Beyond about the PKK's suspicions of the Turkish offer.
Q: Turkey has shown a willingness to resolve the Kurdish issue. How do you read the situation?
A: We are serious, and we want to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey, and we are working towards peace. We want to solve the issue by dialogue, away from violence and the use of weapons. If Turkey is serious and has true intentions about peace, there must be an initial step of good faith to stop the ongoing military operations against our soldiers and our bases inside Turkey. To begin with, there should be a halt to military operations against us, then dialogue and negotiation, and then we will start talking about giving up our weapons. Any solution or peace initiative to give up our weapons will be considered at the end, not the beginning.
I see a number of politicians demanding that we should abandon our armed struggle, but they do not talk about the Turkish side and the military operations they carry out against us. On the ground, we feel their agenda is unclear and they don't have a road map.
Q: What is the PKK's stance at the moment?
A: At the present time, we are not satisfied and we doubt the policy of Turkey … and whether they are committed to peace. Within the ranks of our party we are keen to take all necessary measures to preserve our survival. We have long experience with Turkey, we fear they will attack our bases, but we also have enough strength to confront them.
Currently in Turkey there are many ways to resolve the issue. In a poll by an independent organization, 55% of citizens supported the idea of solving the Kurdish issue through dialogue and peaceful means. In the past, when they had a poll on the same subject, the number did not exceed 10%.
Q: How do you view the policy of the United States on the Kurdish issue? The U.S. has asked Turkey to resolve the issue peacefully.
A: I am doubtful of this policy by America. When [President] Obama visited Turkey he met with Ahmet Turk, the Kurdish parliamentary bloc representative in the Turkish parliament. The meeting had implications, but America does not want to resolve our cause for their own interests in the region. They want to put pressure on us to make more compromises.
Q: How do you manage to stay in Iraq? Do you get any assistance from the Kurdish Regional Government?
A: We have no relations with the KRG, we are not in need of their assistance, we rely on our own finances from our people in Turkey and our supporters abroad. The Kurdish people in Kurdistan sympathize with us and support us morally, but not materially. At the same time, we believe the current situation of the Kurds and their role in the political equation in the region is becoming weaker day after day.
-- Asso Ahmed in the Qandil Mountains
Photo: Murat Karayilan in 2006. Credit: Asso Ahmed