A few weeks ago we had decided as an editorial team at Medya News, that we wanted to ask the leadership of the PKK some direct questions from Medya News regarding some specific issues and developments of the Kurdish issue – and so as an editorial team we collectively put together some questions that were then sent off to the Qandil Mountains for consideration.
We had no idea if our questions would be responded to or not. So we were delighted when just a few weeks later, we received a video response from the top commander of the PKK, Murat Karayilan answering all of our questions.
Murat Karayılan, born in 1954 is one of the co-founders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and has been the PKK’s acting leader ever since the original founder and leader of the organisation – Abdullah Öcalan – was captured in 1999 by Turkish intelligence agents with the aid of an international conspiracy.
In 2014, Karayilan left the PKK leadership position and was assigned as the new commander-in-chief of People’s Defence Center, the HSM.
In part one of the interview, Karayılan shared his views on issues ranging from the recent situation created by the incursion of the Turkish armed forces into Iraqi Kurdistan to the problems regarding ‘Kurdish unity’, and from Turkey’s alleged use of chemical weapons to the impact of the shifts in the Middle East policies of the United States.
What is the latest situation regarding the military operations Turkey launched in April of this year? And what are the implications of these intensifying Turkish attacks against Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava for the Kurdish freedom struggle?
There are constant threats by the occupying forces in the territories of Kurdistan, targeting the achievements of the Kurdish people.
Currently, the biggest threat, the biggest blackmail, has been posed by the Turkish state. Now, almost six months have passed since the attacks by the Turkish state started on 23 April. In the last six months, a fierce battle has taken place and it’s still ongoing. It is very difficult to express our thoughts on this battle in just a few sentences. Actually, the Turkish state had made a big plan for the year 2021.
According to this plan, the goal was to take over all our bases in South Kurdistan, or Iraqi Kurdistan, to force the guerrilla out of the areas and eliminate them by destroying our headquarters in those areas, thus leaving the movement without coordination.
It can be compared with the year 1998 when an attack against our leader Abdullah Öcalan was carried out in Syria by the Turkish state and the forces of the conspirators, as a result of which our leader was captured and there was an attempt to destroy our movement. The plan for 2021 is similar. And again, this last battle has been supported by hegemonic powers like the United States, Germany, and England.
Earlier this year, the Turkish war minister visited Baghdad and then Erbil, so that the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Democratic Party was involved in the attack. They planned to take over all guerrilla headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan, including those in Qandil and Gare, within two or three months. It was their original plan.
In order to achieve this, they first launched a surprise attack on 2 February against the guerrilla forces at Gare, but were eventually defeated. Then they concluded: ‘Since the garrisons at Gare are far from the Turkey-Iraq border, there are more PKK guerillas, and if we first launch attacks at the border strip, we will succeed.’
The following attack was launched based on this assumption. In a territory of about 100 kilometres in length, from the river of Khabur to the town of Şemdinli, they attacked from three points, both on land and from the air, targeting the guerrilla bases. After six months, the Turkish army troops are now still in the same area they’ve been in the first and second day of the attacks; that is to say, the battle still continues in the same areas. They could not go any further in accordance with their plans. Even in areas where their troops landed, they are not able to establish dominance. So the situation is like, in some places, they advanced six or seven kilometres, and in some others, only three or four.
The battle has been raging so far. The Turkish army uses all modern technologies. To be frank, they particularly conduct airstrikes all the time. They bomb everywhere. They constantly bomb.
They aim to conquer and move forward this way, but so far, they have not succeeded. Why? Because the guerrillas have been adopting and developing themselves for some time now. They have created new combat methods. They act in coordination as a number of small teams and each has a particular expertise. They use the territory creatively. So these small teams have been more effective.
Another thing is that the guerrillas have developed their own style and methods of tunnel warfare. These two methods, used by the guerrilla, have resulted in high performance and in tactical superiority. It seems that the Turkish state did not expect that much. And they remain stunned by this.
It is significant that in the first week of the battle, they worked hard in utilising the media, making statements, and trying hard to create a success story, but after that, they stopped, and wherever they arrived, they faced danger and defeat, and got stuck.
They currently conceal this battle from the world and from the eyes of the Turkish public. I mean, they do not like to say that there is such a big and wide-ranging battle. In order for the Turkish state to save itself from this catastrophe and defeat, as it has already collapsed in the region, they’ve now started using modern chemical weapons to advance. They violate all international laws of war. They want to save themselves from defeat in this way. The battle in Metina, Zap and Avaşin goes on, as they continue using chemical weapons.
Is it possible to take positive steps towards Kurdish unity while certain areas in the Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava have turned into a battle zone of foreign powers? What are the stances of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan? And what is your response to the accusations by the KDP against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that PKK is responsible for the damage suffered by civilians in war?
As a matter of fact, the states which have occupied Kurdistan, despite the disagreements and conflicts they normally have with each other have come together on the issue of Kurds and Kurdistan whenever it has been required. They make joint plans, take collective decisions and develop new policies targeting Kurds.
Yet unfortunately, the Kurds from four parts of Kurdistan are not able to come together against these occupying states in order to take collective decisions and act in unity. There are obviously different reasons for this situation. But the necessity for national unity as well as collective and coordinated policies amongst Kurdish forces is essential and urgent.
Sad to say, but occupying and colonialist states have long had their fingers in Kurdish politics. I mean, those states which colonise Kurdistan have certain roles to play in Kurdish politics. They have, to some some degree, an influence on the policies of the Kurds. At the moment, the stance of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is relatively normal.
But the Kurdistan Democratic Party has got involved in this move by the Turkish State to eliminate the PKK and gain control over all the accomplishments of the Kurdish people. So the attacks by the Turkish army have been carried out in accordance with moves by the Kurdistan Democratic Party to encircle the guerilla controlled territories, to impose embargoes against them, and intercept their routes. It executes a complementary role in the occupation of the Turkish state. It turns out that the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Turkish State have reached a compromise over the current battle so that the KDP has not reacted in any way to the Turkish invasion of their sovereign territory.
The source of the damage the villagers suffer is the battle for occupation and the attacks by the Turkish state. The Turkish State is especially and consciously targeting, and trying to scare the civilian population in this region in order to disrupt their relations with the PKK and to discourage them from living there.
The Turkish State sets fire to the vineyards, farmlands and fields of the villagers, inflicting great losses. While it has carried out this policy deliberately, and even though the Kurdistan Democratic Party is aware of the situation, it constantly blames us. This is not right. It’s a dirty policy. It is quite clear who’s inflicting the losses and hurting our people.
Let me ask what the Turkish State is doing in these territories and why it’s trying to advance. They inflict damages on the villagers on purpose. Instead of responding against the incidents caused by the Turkish State, the KDP tries to hold PKK responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.
The necessity of acting in accordance with Kurdish national liberation movements at this phase is particularly vital since the colonisation on Kurdish lands tends to advance further and enhance its influence. In order to thwart the plans of the colonisers, we also make efforts to develop a national democratic and coordinated Kurdish policy. We are working hard to achieve this goal, but when we observe KDP’s stance and their collaboration with the Turkish State, it becomes clear that our aim of national unity will not be accomplished very soon.
In other words, the Kurdish national unity will not be realised in such a short time unfortunately, as it is wished for by pure-hearted Kurdish patriots and friends, and under these conditions it seems to have been postponed to an unknown date. Regretful to say, but interests related to family ties and corporate benefits still take precedence over national interests in Kurdish politics. It is not realistic to expect unity in Kurdish politics as long as national interests do not take priority. This is how I assess the situation, regarding the prospect of national unity, on the current political conjuncture.
The HPG has announced on several occasions that Turkey deploys chemical weapons in their ongoing operations. You have invited relevant organisations and international independent committees to investigate. At the same time, Turkey has been denying all these claims. Do you have samples to prove Turkey has used chemical compounds during their ongoing military operations? What information can you disclose regarding Turkey’s use of chemical weapons?
The use of chemical weapons is a very sure and clear fact. The Turkish state is using chemical weapons against the guerrilla in Southern Kurdistan. The People’s Defences Forces (HPG) have made statements on this subject several times so far. Of course, we have documents and proof of the use of these chemicals.
We have videos and images showing these chemicals, used either inside the tunnels or outside the tunnels. I mean, the HPG has documented proof and has made repeated public press releases about this issue. And, especially, in these past few days, the HPG has the evidence of the use of a different set of chemical weapons. This evidence is mostly visible and bears obvious chemical traces. And yet, on these issues, internationally responsible forces and organisations are quite insensitive. Although there have been so many appeals, calls and applications for these institutions and states to act, they almost don’t seem to care about these facts. Why?
It is because Turkey is a member state of NATO. There are double standards here: From the first moment that allegations and rumours appeared about the Syrian state’s use of chemicals, all the world rose up against these incidents. Later, they issued a memorandum to Syria regarding this issue, and they attacked Syria several times.
How can such double standards and this situation be explained? Some stance needs to be taken and sanctions must be applied against a state that uses such banned chemical weapons. In this international system, it is as if the use of these chemicals is legitimate for the members of NATO, whereas for the rest, it is illegal and requires sanctions. I clearly say that the international organisations who are experts in these types of cases can easily come here in our lands where these incidents are taking place.
They can easily come to the areas where the incidents have taken place. Because, on one side of the areas where chemical weapons were used, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces are located. All the world’s powers have relations with the KDP. And the Kurdistan region has an official federal status and its own government. Therefore, there is no obstacle for these institutions to come and conduct investigations. On the other hand, to give a precise example, the HPG made a statement about the use of chemical weapons in an area called Giresor, in the northern part of Kurdistan.
Six of our guerrilla comrades were martyred with these weapons. In fact, Giresor is located exactly above the border line between Iraq and Turkey. And several Turkish garrisons are located nearby. It is one kilometre inland from the border. Turkey calls this place Sivritepe and considers it within its own borders. In the tunnel there, the coffins of these martyred friends still remain, and there is strong evidence of chemical use. I ask those who are responsible for conducting investigations, I appeal to them, to go and visit that tunnel there: then, we will all know if the Turkish State has used chemicals or not.
Actually, everything is quite clear and obvious. We say that even if you see us as a party in the war and do not fully trust our arguments on the use of chemicals, you should send delegations and independently investigate and uncover the truth. In other words, the Turkish State is violating all international war treaties in the territory of Kurdistan, and continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Therefore, international civil and responsible institutions should not remain silent against these crimes of the Turkish State. So please, do come and evaluate the incidents in the field. This is the evidence and documentary evidence we can present to you. The resources at our disposal only allows us to make this type of documentation available. We made the same appeal earlier this year when they attacked Gare.
Now, the use of chemical weapons is much more obvious and proven. They can come and do this research in the field and reveal the truth.
The US, a declining economic and political power since the year 2000, seems to be going through a transition period in terms of its military and political role as a global leader. Do you think this is actually the case and if it is, what will be the impact especially on the Middle East and Kurdistan? What will be the impacts if there is a US withdrawal from Iraq and Rojava?
In these days, it is understood and seen that global powers are going through some changes both in their regional politics and in their world views. In line with their own interests, they create a new perspective and accordingly, they enter into plans for new designs. For sure, they’re making some fundamental changes. But of course, these facts and changes do not mean that they have withdrawn from the world stage. Yes, they are making some changes for their own benefits, but they are not withdrawing from the world stage.
Of course, the case of Afghanistan is different. And it is very clear that America and NATO were defeated in Afghanistan. They failed in the war. The only option they had was to retreat, and they did. What became clear in this case was that if a society can organise itself well and mobilise accordingly, the opposing force, albeit equipped with the most modern weapons and warfare technology, is doomed to defeat. This last issue has been proven once again with the example of Afghanistan. And it would be much better if the power centres, which we describe as global forces, do pull out. If the US wants to withdraw from Iraq and Syria, then let it be. There is no problem for us. It will even be better for us. But these things do not happen so quickly and easily.
In order to achieve this goal, all peoples and forces must rely on their own self-organised situation and act accordingly. And, especially if a force relies on a foreign international hegemonic power, it has no chance of success, because it is not known how this power centre will act the day after. This is the path to success: a force must always trust itself and rely on its own self-organisation. If you want to be able to do politics independently, you have to rely on your own power. This is our point of view.
So what I mean is that you have to develop your own self-defence as an organised force and rely on it, whether you live in Rojava, Syria or Iraq. This understanding is the correct one. Therefore, if you organise yourself in this way, it will not cost you anything if any international power withdraws from your country. It will not have a negative effect on you. This is how it should be evaluated. If a force relies on its own strength, victory is certain for that force and organisation.