On the day that the fierce debate about the connection between the PKK and the wildfires in Turkey (connection: none) was raging, the PKK sent out a statement about the commemoration of the Yezidi genocide. They urged both local actors and the international community to officially recognize the self-administration and the self-defence forces of Shengal to make sure a genocide will not happen again. Two very different subjects, but I think them coinciding on the same day reveals something important about the PKK: they are fighting their own battles.
It seems kind of obvious: of course the PKK is fighting its own battles. But fighting its own battle also means that they have their own narrative of developments in Turkey, Kurdistan and the wider region. That’s why they don’t always instantly react, or not react at all, to stories about them or accusations against them in the media. Imagine they would always react to every news that the government media spread. A high commander is killed! Many terrorists have surrendered! The separatist-terrorist organisation has kidnapped children! The forest fires are a terrorist plot! If you react to every lie, the liars define the narrative and your own story gets lost.
The story of the PKK is not solely a battle of weapons. On the contrary: much of the work that PKK members do revolves around building a different society than the one they are coming from. I noticed that myself when I was with the PKK for a year, starting in the summer of 2016, when the coup attempt happened. While I was going a little bit crazy because the camp in Qandil where I stayed had no access to media or internet, the guerrillas with whom I was didn’t pay much attention to developments in Turkey. It was a language camp, where I was learning Kurdish and where several fighters were tasked with teaching and with translating books from Turkish to Kurdish. Those tasks had nothing to do with violence or with political developments in Turkey, so talking about it would only distract them.
This connects to the concept of ‘revenge’, which is a much wider concept than violence alone. Learning your own language is revenge too. It is a revenge against the system that denied you the right to your own language. It is revenge to develop yourself as a woman. It is revenge to consider yourself a man without adhering to the toxicity that defined masculinity when you grew up. It is revenge to educate yourself about a society that is based on respect for ethnic, cultural and religious diversity after having grown up in a state that demands everybody to be the same.
While Turkey’s citizens were battling wildfires, deserted by a negligent state, the PKK was getting ready to commemorate the Yezidi genocide, which had started on 3 August 2014. As you probably know, the PKK came to the Yezidis’ rescue in those days, after the peshmerga of the KDP, which had been responsible for the Yezidis’ safety, ran away. The Yezidis are still not safe, which has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t get a say in defining their own futures. The genocide needed to be commemorated and the current problems needed to be addressed.
A few hours before the statement about the Yezidi genocide was released, I sent my contact in the PKK a message, asking him why the PKK didn’t make any statement about the arson they were accused of. He answered that they had no relations whatsoever with the fires, and that they were terribly sorry for the billions of lives, plant or animal, lost. He added that maybe there would be an official statement as well, and indeed, the next day, a statement was published in which involvement with the fires was strongly denied.
When the state and its media spread narratives about the Kurdish armed movement, their goal is to strenghten the image of it that the state has been spreading for decades: that the PKK is about violence, blood, destruction and death. Always reacting to that narrative, even when it is to counter it, centres the conversation around that image. While the actual work the armed (and unarmed) movement is doing, evolves around life. If you are open to that message, you don’t have to wait again for the armed movement to deny involvement in indiscriminate violence and destruction of life. Even less so when you are aware of the fact that the fires are killing the lands they consider themselves the co-owners of, and that also millions of Kurds consider home.
Then you know what’s true, and what is just another state lie.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan .