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 Centre, the HSM.
In Part One of our interview Murat Karayilan, commander-in-chief of People’s Defence Centre (HSM), the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), answered the question of Medya News on a number of issues including recent Turkish military incursions into the Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey’s alleged use of chemical weapons against PKK fighters.
Here in Part Two of the interview, Karayılan shares his views on issues ranging from the political attitude of Western states towards the Kurdish Question and the criminalisation of the PKK to relations of the PKK with international revolutionary circles.
A UK All-Party Parliamentary report published in August noted that: ‘So far, no European or international court has found that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK meets the requirements for a terrorist organisation, or that the listing is legally applied…’ Do you expect any change in EU and US policies regarding the criminalisation of the PKK, and what would be the consequences if the PKK was no longer considered a ‘terrorist organisation’?
Thank you very much for asking this question. Whether in Europe or the rest of the world, no court has ever issued a verdict stating that the PKK has committed an act involving terrorism. There has never been such an action by the PKK. Because the PKK is not a terrorist organisation. On the contrary, the Turkish state perpetrates terrorism in Kurdistan today. The PKK conducts a legitimate defence against the invading, fascist Turkish state. Our people protect themselves in order to preserve their existence, language and culture, and the PKK is the legitimate defender of our people.
Today, if Britain or France were occupied by a foreign power and the language and culture of the people were banned; if all the wealth of the people were taken from their hands; if their historical values were banned, what would the people of France and Britain do? Naturally they would resist and defend themselves. The Kurdish people are doing the same thing; they are resisting. The HPG is a legitimate force that has undertaken the legitimate defence of the Kurdish people. The PKK and its leader Abdullah Öcalan are the political spokespersons of the Kurdish people. This is the reality, anything else does not reflect the truth. But the United States and the European Union put the PKK on the terrorist list for their own political and economic interests.
What would happen if these states were to remove the PKK from the terrorist list? Most likely, the war would end and a new process would begin. Such a process would have an impact on the invaders (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria). Presumably, such a process would bring about the cessation of the war. If the United States of America and the European Union are honest, if they do not want the Kurds to be massacred by these invading states (Turkey, Iran, etc.) and if they want the Kurds to live freely, this injustice done to the Kurds in the person of the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan must be stopped. These states are supporting the war with this decision they made about us. Effectively, they are supporting the persecution in Kurdistan.
Officially, these states support Turkey. With the support they give, these states are also partners in the terrorism conducted by Turkey. They need to stop doing that. Here we appeal to them: Since the agreement of Lausanne (1923), you have been doing an injustice to the Kurdish people. Stop this unfair and erroneous policy. The struggle of the Kurdish people is a legitimate struggle. Do not call this legitimate struggle ‘terrorism’. Stop this unfair policy. Do not be partners in these massacres carried out in Kurdistan. This is our call to the European Union and to (the United States of) America. These states encourage the oppressors against the Kurds through the support they give. They support the invaders, directly or indirectly. And as such, they are turning a blind eye to the tragedies in Kurdistan. This is why we call on these states: Change your erroneous and unfair decisions. For a hundred years, our people have been resisting these unfair and erroneous decisions. Understand this and give up this unfair policy. This is my appeal.
The PKK is one of the most discussed political movements in the modern era. It has been a source of countless academic research articles regarding the concept of ‘terrorism,’ ‘armed freedom struggles’ and ‘guerrilla warfare,’ etc. How would you explain the political line and the cause of the PKK to an international audience who see this interview but who might not be quite familiar with your movement?
First of all, this truth must be known. Our people, the people of Kurdistan, are the most ancient people of the Middle East and Mesopotamia. But while the Middle East was being redesigned, the existence of the Kurdish people was denied in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. The land of Kurdistan was shared between four states. This was a great injustice. Our people, who have resisted this for a hundred years, did not give in. But the invading states also committed very brutal massacres against our people. Since then, great tragedies have taken place in Kurdistan. A genocidal policy was applied, mass murders took place. Our people faced genocides.
In the 1970s, when these policies were implemented in northern Kurdistan, a young Kurdish man, Abdullah Öcalan, a child of a poor family, was studying at a university in a Turkish city where he directly faced and confronted this Kurdish reality. In the person of the Kurdish people, humanity was being trampled underfoot. Those who saw and grasped this reality could not remain silent. If they had remained silent, they would have turned their backs on human values. Abdullah Öcalan did just that, he did not turn his back on the suffering of his people. At that time, a group of Kurdish youth with a conscience came together and formed a group in 1973. The group that decided to fight on from that day represented the first steps of the PKK. But the Turkish state was a NATO member, and for this reason, all NATO countries supported Turkey against the Kurdish struggle. NATO also looked at the Kurdish issue through the eyes of Turkey. That’s why they called the PKK a ‘terrorist organisation.’
The Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, was a democrat. He was a person who supported all libertarian organisations. In 1985, he was assassinated. They declared that the PKK carried out this assassination. Why? Because someone wanted to frame the Kurdish freedom struggle as ‘terrorism.’ But over time, it became clear that the PKK did not carry out the assassination. People should know these facts.
The Turkish state has never fought against us on its own. It has always fought against us with the support and strength of NATO. The Turkish state has always waged this war against us and continues to do so. We want rights and legal justice. We did not confiscate anyone’s property. We are fighting against those who confiscated our property. We demand human rights for our people. Despite this, NATO forces have always supported Turkey. Then, on 9 October 1998, an interstate plan was launched against the leader of the Kurdish people, Abdullah Öcalan. This plan was implemented under the leadership of [the United States of] America. They captured Öcalan and handed him to Turkey. What were their aims? Their aim was the complete liquidation of the Kurdish freedom movement. However, Abdullah Öcalan acted ingeniously in the Imrali dungeon (i.e., prison) and despite all hardships, he has foiled this interstate plan.
Abdullah Öcalan emerged with a new paradigm. He shaped and presented his democratic, ecological paradigm, at the heart of which women’s rights are central. Thus, it has not only opened a way for the PKK to renew and expand itself, but also offered a solution to the problems of the peoples of the Middle East. It has also given rise to a democratic, socialist programme to the world, which had lost its direction in capitalist modernity. He came up with a new theory for the advancement of ‘Democratic Modernity.’ It gave us a new perspective.
Thus, the struggle of the Kurdish people became more resilient and Abdullah Öcalan showed that he has an important project for the peoples of the Middle East. He presented ‘Democratic Modernity’ as an alternative model to the peoples of the world. With this project, both Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdish people have responded to the interstate conspiracy that wanted to liquidate them. This project enabled the PKK to grow. The freedom struggle of the Kurdish people has now reached out to the Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turks, Persians and many other peoples.
For this reason, the PKK is also fighting for freedom, democracy and socialism. The PKK is fighting for all peoples, women and democracy. The PKK’s policy in the Middle East has shaken the old separatist policy. The PKK has opened a new path in the Middle East. Briefly, this is how I can describe the PKK. The PKK’s story is the story of a peoples’ resistance against capitalist modernity and how it has turned into a people’s resistance.
Hundreds of European human rights defenders came together for a peace initiative to avoid an intra-Kurdish war earlier this year. But they faced great pressure from their governments, especially in Germany. Some were detained and some were banned from travelling. It looks like it is not only the Kurds who are being criminalised, but also EU citizens and friends of Kurds who support peace and democracy. How do you evaluate this wider criminalisation campaign in the Western world revolving around the Kurdish question?
During the last 150 years, the German state has traditionally provided constant support, first for the Ottoman Empire, then for the Turkish Republic, against the Kurdish people. The German state has played a role in genocidal policies including the Armenian Genocide, and in general, in policies targeting the Kurds and the Anatolian Greeks. Now, not only Germany but NATO plays a role. As I’ve said before, the Kurdish people only ask for their natural rights, nothing else. They ask for the right to exist. This is their natural right. They have a right to live freely in these lands. They have a right to live with their language and their cultural inheritance.
Unfortunately, Germany and many other European states and NATO members try to conceal this fact for their own ‘dirty’ economic and political interests, and not only do they turn a blind eye to the oppression against the Kurdish people but also actively support the Turkish state. So they are complicit in the massacres being carried out in Kurdistan. This is the truth.
Many friends of ours, internationalist people in Germany and other countries in Europe, those who try to support us, are also under pressure. They are faced with attacks, too. This is an imperialist policy based on interests. It ignores oppressed people and classes, and operates only on hegemonic interests. It is unethical. And they say they are democrats! They say they are defending human rights! But they still become a part of the violence in Kurdistan. Our people certainly do still appeal to these powers with an expectation: ‘Don’t be cruel. Do not be a part of these genocidal attacks.’ This is what our people expect.
But Germany is currently doing just what you’ve said. It is acting in an unjust manner and without any regard for the law. The Turkish state has recently violated international laws. (…) The torture inflicted upon our leader Abdullah Öcalan at Imrali today has no international legal grounds. It is unethical. An absolute isolation policy is being imposed so that our leader Apo is unable even to think; so that his mind stops functioning. This is what severe solitary confinement is for.
And these states have played a role in the abduction of our leader Apo and in turning him over to Turkey. They’ve had a role in the construction of the Imrali isolation system. They are partners. All of this happens with their knowledge. So it’s obviously the expectation of our people that this injustice comes to an end. The cruelty inflicted in Imrali is being inflicted upon all of Kurdistan. Our people carry out a struggle against these injustices with a great political will. And we hope that the Kurdish cause of liberty will triumph with the support of the internationalists, and all people in favour of democratic principles and human rights. (…) Because it is a just cause. (…)
Presently, they are constantly trying to weaken and liquidate the PKK. The PKK cannot be liquidated. Why? Because the PKK is the people. How will they liquidate the people? What does the PKK want today? It wants what any villager, worker or even capitalist wants in Kurdistan. The PKK represents the demands of the Kurdish people. The people want to live in these lands in liberty with their rich heritage and their language. They struggle for this. And if these states say they are modern and pro-freedom, then they need to change their twisted policies.
Revolutionary circles in the world, which have been struggling for a political change in favour of the people, have been carefully monitoring for years the struggle of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the freedom struggle of the Kurdish people in general, and specifically the recent developments in Rojava. Many people and groups have joined the Kurdish struggle and engaged in internationalist solidarity. What would your message be to the people carrying out this struggle, in the context of the fight against the established global economic and social order?
First of all, I salute the comrades who have come to Kurdistan with strong feelings of internationalism, who have fought against fascism and genocidal policies, who have joined the freedom struggle of our people and given support. I greet them with compassion and salute them with respect. It is something very meaningful and very human. As you might be aware, we also have friends who had come to join our ranks and who have been martyred. I pay homage to all the internationalist martyrs in the person of our friends Ronahî, Andrea Wolf and Shiyar, Jakob Raimer and bow with respect before their memories.
Coming from Germany or some other place in the world for solidarity with the Kurdish people and to become martyrs is really a very humane action; an action honouring humanity. It’s a very high rank. We promise that we will elevate the struggle and accomplish their objectives and hopes as we represent their dreams. There are individuals and groups that support our struggle. This is something sacred for us.
On the other hand, the engagement of the left in general, or of groups that identify themselves as socialist or democratic movements, is insufficient. They are not in touch with the struggle in Kurdistan as much as we would wish they would. They are rather distant. The solidarity expected from such movements has yet to grow. The struggle in Kurdistan today isn’t only the freedom struggle of the Kurds but a struggle of all peoples.
A new path is presented today in Kurdistan. It is both a struggle of the oppressed classes and peoples, and an implementation of the right methods by the guerrillas of the 21st century, to be used in the fight for freedom against hegemonic powers in Kurdistan, Syria and other places in the Middle East. So we would have expected the socialist organisations to provide more support worldwide, and we don’t think we’ve received enough support yet.
For instance, the thoughts and paradigm developed by our leader Abdullah Öcalan have shaken the dogmatic foundations of the Middle East, especially through his vision of women’s liberation and his conception of a democratic nation. It knocked down old walls and provided the basis for a revolutionary situation. The world is not helpless against capitalist modernity. He has formulated the solution. His conception of democratic modernity and his vision of a new alternative has initiated a new political wave. This is the struggle for democratic socialism, the struggle of the peoples, the struggle for freedom. It is actually the struggle for a new life. These are inspiring and very major issues. So the democratic, socialist movements are expected to provide more support for the Kurdish people, for these thoughts.
The occupying forces carry out attacks on these initiatives. Today, the Turkish occupation is powered by a fascist regime, led by the coalition of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Ergenekon gangs. They are trying to defeat the freedom struggle of the people. They plan, they dream of destroying us to continue with their rule. They had made plans to eliminate us, to occupy Iraqi Kurdistan and go to elections this year. They had planned to have the elections in November and to go on with their fascist rule. But we, as the Apoist guerrilla and the people, as activists of democratic politics, and as all the resisting prisoners, with Apo at the fore, are on the front line of resistance. And we’ve broken the wave of fascism.
They couldn’t have the elections this year. Why? Because they couldn’t eliminate us. The resistance today, carried out with a devoted spirit and with the right means, is for humanity. It is for the peoples of the whole region. It breaks the fascist wave of hegemonic powers in the Middle East and paves the way for peoples struggles for freedom and democracy. We are contributing to humanity through this new revolutionary wave. And we have expectations, especially from socialist and democratic movements; from organisations that defend human rights. But regretfully, they seem to listen more to the voice of the establishment.
The international media is under the control of hegemonic powers and they usually give credit to the government controlled media outlets in Turkey. And so they close their eyes to the realities of the great struggle and resistance in Kurdistan, carried out by the Kurdish people. The great resistance which plays a significant role for humanity goes unnoticed. And the solidarity doesn’t grow as much as it is expected to.
We continue to say that the ‘Kurdistan reality’ is greater. The reality, carved out through the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan, is greater. It shows a route away from the barbarity of capitalist modernity; the road to freedom and democracy. This is what the struggle is for. We’re fighting for this in the mountains of Kurdistan today. For instance, the Turkish state has recently used chemical weapons against us. The hegemonic powers are perhaps aware of this, and maybe some of them have even provided support for the Turkish state. They have its back covered.
This is a fascist state that tries to continue oppressing Kurdistan and the Turkish people all together. Hegemonic powers are perhaps turning a blind eye to this; but the socialist, democratic movements, the movements defending human rights should oppose this, and build a huge case over this. The Turkish state commits a crime against humanity. It is using banned weapons. We’ve expected a bigger public reaction, but this hasn’t happened.
All the same, we still have hope and faith. We are a movement that relies on itself before everything else. We rely on the power of the people. We don’t expect anyone to cover our back. We are backed by our own forces, by the friendship of the peoples and by the internationalists.
We believe that our struggle for freedom, democracy and equality will succeed in the leadership of women and youth, and it will eventually have the global support it deserves. We will definitely triumph against hegemonic fascism with the support of revolutionary international solidarity. We will raise the flag of freedom and democracy in Kurdistan. And this is a new call to the peoples of the Middle East and to the whole world. It is a new path.
With such hopes, I thank you for asking these questions and wish you success.