Murat Karayılan*, a top official of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) answered the questions of the Yeni Özgür Politika daily newspaper on a range of topics including the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS), and the intervention of the PKK against the genocidal attacks carried out by ISIS in 2014.
Karayılan touches on a variety of topics like the attack aimed at a large-scale prison break-out of ISIS in Haseke, the 4th year of the Afrin invasion, the 7th anniversary of the liberation of Kobanê, and the prevention of a savage genocide of the Yazidi people. Medyanews summarises essential messages for the readers:
The Afrin Invasion and the deepening brutality is just like the Srebrenica massacre
It is a shame on all humanity that Turkish colonialist-occupying forces and their fascist gangs are conducting savage practices such as ethnic cleansing, torture, massacre, displacement, the confiscation of property, kidnapping and ransom in Afrin today, before the eyes of the whole world. The practices of the Turkish state in Afrin today are very close to those in the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past. There is brutality being practiced in Afrin. In fact, Turkey wants the Kurds removed from Afrin and to annex the larger region. It is betrayal to forget the invasion of Afrin. No Kurd should allow the occupation of Afrin to drop from their agenda. To fight for Afrin, also known as the ‘Kurdish mountain’, and let it remain a place where Kurds live, is a core requirement for human values. On this basis, I salute the resistance of our esteemed people of Afrin in Shahba and also within Afrin, and also the resistance of the Liberation Forces of Afrin (HRE), and wish them great success.
How did the Arab Spring turn into the ‘Arab black winter’?
The popular movement, which started in Tunisia at the beginning of 2011 and spread to the entire Middle East, and more often to Arab countries, was called the “Arab Spring”. But the interventions of dominating international powers and some regional powers allied to them, distorted and reversed this process. So this process, which started in 2011, became the Arab ‘Black Winter’, rather than the Arab Spring. It caused great damage and destruction. There are great tragedies that were created by this process in Syria in particular. It is well-known that with the added intervention of the fascist-genocidal Justice and Development Party (AKP) / Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) regime, this tragedy has intensified far more and continues today. Al-Nusra, who call themselves the forerunners [of the Islamicist organisations emerging in the region], the Free Syrian Army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and so on. Many organisations along the lines of al-Qaeda, so-called Islamists, who are essentially savage in their practices, have sprung up like mushrooms. We cannot say that all of these have emerged as a result of a development of the process, of a natural search for something. These are structures that emerged as a result of a strategy imposed on the peoples of the region in the form of a project.
While at first ISIS was one of these, a normal, common sort of organisation, it was suddenly inflated and enlarged, and its way forward was cleared. Undoubtedly, without such material support and weapons as it received, organisations of this kind could not have emerged so far, and in particular the opportunity for one with a structure like ISIS to gain the strength to try and dominate almost the entire Middle East could not have developed. In other words, there are hands that support and nourish it. ISIS actually going to various parts of Syria and virtually seizing power from other organisations in those places, especially since the beginning of 2014, is clearly a project. How come these other organisations, the so-called Syrian “opposition”, have liberated Raqqa or have come to power there, only to hand it straight over to ISIS?! But ISIS has been made the sole dominant power in this way not only in Raqqa, but in all areas. It is clear that this is planned.
What is the great attraction of the Middle East for the imperialist powers?
The geo-strategic position of the Middle East and the fact that it has underground and surface wealth such as oil, natural gas and fresh water, make it a centre of attraction. The fact that it has a rich cultural diversity, that the social culture is developed, it being an area where natural life first occured, and that the three monotheistic religions emerged on this ground, further increase the importance of the region. So we are talking about a region with a historical foundation and great potential. All sovereign powers and imperialists have always wanted to dominate the Middle East.
The Emergence of ISIS, the Occupation of Mosul
And this is still the case now. There are still global and regional powers waging a struggle for dominance over the region. All these realities have actually developed as a result of the various secret and open strategies and tactics that form the basis of these structures which have formed in the region. ISIS is a structure that emerged out of such a context. Recall that on 11 June 2014, they captured Mosul in a one-day operation. The fact that Mosul, which was protected by 33,000 armed forces, was captured by ISIS in such a short time was one of the most striking facts of this process. It was after the capture of Mosul that the leader of ISIS revealed himself. He sent his message in a mosque sermon. From then on, they gradually used all means to show the world that the establishment and development of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria would actually take place. The Iraqi army was smashed to smithereens. They captured and executed thousands of Iraqi soldiers. Carefully selecting Shi’ites, they shot them all and cut off their heads. Naturally wherever ISIS went they used savagery and conducted massacres to intimidate the people using this as a basis to make themselves dominant. They had become everyone’s worst nightmare.
Free travel from Europe to join ISIS
This was the case not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe. For example, in cities like Paris and Amsterdam, ISIS members used to go to airports in groups of 15-20 people, get on a plane comfortably, land in Istanbul, and then transit from Istanbul to Raqqa, which ISIS had declared as their capital city, in buses and private vehicles provided for them. In other words, all the world’s routes were open to them.
Didn’t the police forces know that those who acted in groups were ISIS members?
They knew but did not interfere. “Let them go far away; they are leaving anyway; Let’s not get involved,” they said. Otherwise, if they had asked for and examined their IDs and passports, they would have seen that most of them were fake anyway. But they turned a blind eye. In other words, European countries themselves turned a blind eye. They said, “Let them go to Iraq and Syria. Let them go far away from us,” and did not interfere. They were afraid of them.
AKP/Erdoğan Regime’s cooperation with ISIS
The AKP already has ideological kinship ties with this organisation. If they had not had relations [with the AKP], how could they have come from Europe to Istanbul or Ankara and travelled to Raqqa in convoys through the open border point on the road between Akçakale and Tell Abyad with such ease? In addition to this, there are many documents showing Turkey’s trade and the cooperation it developed with ISIS. There are many data and documents showing that the Turkish state is in contact with and closely entwined with the reality that is the ISIS organisation, such as the short-term seizure by ISIS of people working in the Turkish Consulate in Mosul and their subsequent safe return to Turkey.
What kind of strategy was ISIS following; while initially operating in Syria and Iraq, why did it suddenly turn towards Kurdistan?
Of course, ISIS’s occupation of Mosul after that of Raqqa started to form a model of the caliphate they envisioned. So they aimed to expand, and to grow more and more. But at this point, the ISIS leader made a big mistake in terms of his own strategies. He listened to the Turkish state. He was deceived by the inducements of the Turkish state. Under the direction of the Turkish state, he changed his plan to head towards Baghdad or Damascus, and instead, he turned towards the Kurds. These analyses that I share with you are documented and proven in the internal correspondence of ISIS. In particular, it was revealed that ISIS later turned its direction to Kobanê at the request of the Turkish state. Instead of Damascus, they targeted Kobanê. And the attacks not only on Kobanê, but also on Shengal (Sinjar), Makhmour, Hewler (Erbil) and Kirkuk were targeted under the same approach.
How did the PKK become aware of the ISIS threat and what were the first measures they took?
It was our leader Apo [a diminuitive form of Abdullah, here used in refence to Abdullah Öcalan] who first pointed out this danger during talks with the Imrali Delegation at the time. In particular, he had views stating that our Yazidi people in Shengal were under great threat and that we should protect that place. These perspectives were by way of being an instruction to us. Shengal was a place under the control of Iraqi and South Kurdistan forces [those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)]. Makhmour and Kirkuk were also in the same position. At that time we had certain relations with the South Kurdistan forces. We made the following suggestion both to the KDP and to the PUK: “ISIS has taken Mosul, there is a great danger to South Kurdistan, and especially to Shengal. We want our own military forces to join in with the defence system there. We want to send a force to protect Shengal.” We made athis suggestion asking them to pave the way for this. Both organisations refused. The KDP said “no; there is no need for such a thing. In Shengal, thousands of peshmerga have taken all necessary measures with heavy weapons. There is no danger to Shengal, and even if there was, our defensive forces are sufficient to it; they will give the necessary response”. The PUK meanwhile politely turned down our proposal, saying, “There is no need now. We’ll let you know when there is a need”.
*Murat Karayılan is a member of the PKK Executive Committee and Commander at the Kurdistan People’s Defence Headquarters