The British parliament has debated the UK’s relations with Turkey and specifically the listing of the PKK as a terrorist organisation, which is considered out-dated by many MPs. The Kurdish political movement, and of course the PKK too, have been advocating the removal of the PKK from the list of terrorist organisations as well. And even though de-listing is inevitable, the question remains whether now is the time.
Let me first make clear that I don’t think the PKK is a terrorist organisation. It is an armed political movement, and as such a party in an armed conflict ignited by a state that doesn’t respect the human rights of part of its population. This problem, the Kurdish issue, can only be solved politically, not militarily.
The listing of the PKK as a terrorist organisation, is a geo-political matter. In many journalistic articles, it is mentioned that the EU and the US have listed the PKK as terrorist, but it is never added that several other powers have not, like China and Russia. The listing of the PKK, that much is clear, says more about the relations between Turkey and other countries, than about the PKK. It’s important to acknowledge this, and to be aware that there is no conclusive definition of what a ‘terrorist organisation’ exactly is.
That the listing of the PKK as terrorist has historically been a tool in geo-political relations, logically means that de-listing is also a matter of geo-politics. In other words: only when the Turkish state agrees with the removal of the PKK from the list of terrorist organisations will it happen. Judicial arguments may be convincing as such, but putting the PKK on the list has never been a judicial issue so legal arguments won’t help. Arguing that even according to international law, an armed struggle is considered legitimate when human rights are consistently denied won’t convince the EU and the US to delist the PKK either.
This may sound contradictory to my statement in the beginning of this column that the de-listing of the PKK is inevitable. The Turkish state is never going to actually agree on it, right? But I think it will. No war lasts forever. Eventually, the tide will turn. Not under Erdogan’s rule, but trust me, he’s not gonna be around forever, and some future government will want to stop the bloodshed, acknowledge that radical change is required for that and start a genuine peace process.
Release from jail
Unrealistic? Only as long as it doesn’t happen. If you would have said in South Africa in 1985 that in five years time, Nelson Mandela would be free and the ANC would be legalized and de-listed as a terrorist organisation, nobody would have believed you – yet, it happened. Turkey is not South Africa, the Kurdish issue is not the same as apartheid, Öcalan is not Mandela, the PKK is not the ANC, but the similarity is that there was an armed conflict based on deeply rooted, fundamental violations of the most basic human rights, and those violations need to be solved to end the violence. The armed movement will only agree to lay down its weapons when there is a political deal, and the leader of the movement will only agree to release from jail when the peace process has entered the point of no return. That is – also other peace processes show this – also the moment that the countries that have listed the armed movement as terrorist, will delist.
This doesn’t mean that I consider it useless to campaign for the delisting, or for the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan, for that matter. On the contrary: it’s essential to keep that goal in mind, exactly because those two issues are directly connected to the freedom of the Kurdish people. But it’s just as essential to always keep in mind that there is a route to this final stage, and between where we are now and where we need to go, a peace process must unfold. Every call for delisting of the PKK done by any parliament, any political party, any alliance in the European Parliament, has to come with a call on the Turkish state to start a peace process.
And, please, with more than just lip-service to human rights. The boycott against South-Africa was essential for justice there, just as increased US pressure was to reach the Good Friday Agreement to end the conflict in Northern-Ireland. Some future Turkish government will listen – I consider the chance that this will happen during Erdoğan’s rule close to zero.
Everything that happens now, including the extremely dirty war in the mountains and the extreme suppression of peaceful Kurdish politics, will one day be part of the story of how eventually, the Kurdish issue was solved. Look at how fast things suddenly changed!, we will one day say. Look at how agonizing the situation still was in 2021, look at how we never stopped the struggle, and look at us now!
Don’t lose hope. Keep up the pressure. Never stop campaigning.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.