A German PKK member was killed this week in the Xakurk region in the mountains in Kurdistan, in a Turkish drone attack. His name was heval* Azad, real name Thomas Johann Spiess, from Mainburg. He reminded me of heval Baz and heval Ronahî, two Germans I met when I was with the PKK to research my book. I saw Turkish media suggest these young white Europeans are ‘deceived’ into joining the PKK. That’s not what I learned when I talked to these young, smart people.
Heval Azad was droned to death together with two of his comrades, heval Asya from Turkey and heval Koçer from Rojhilat (Kurdistan in Iran). As expected, Turkey immediately started to use the death of a German national for its dark anti-PKK propaganda. Thomas’s presence in the PKK would indicate that the PKK has difficulties recruiting new members in Kurdistan, and that the organisation is therefore now ‘deceiving’ youths in Europe.
Turkey’s goal is of course is to make people in Germany and other European countries believe that the PKK is a threat to Germany’s safety, and that Turkey needs more cooperation from Germany and the whole of Europe to ‘fight terrorism’. This is also why they say Thomas ‘joined the PKK ranks in Munich’, as if there are active armed PKK groups in German cities that pose a danger to Germany. This is of course not the case. There is no armed Kurdish movement in Europe and no Kurdish violence either.
Of course, I didn’t know Thomas /Azad. I don’t know why he decided to join the PKK. But when I heard that a German national lost his life but I hadn’t heard his name Azad yet, I wondered if it was one of the Germans I had met. Heval Baz and heval Ronahî (who chose her name to honour another German heval Ronahî) immediately came to mind. I spent several weeks in a camp with them.
Baz had just finished gymnasium [high school] in Germany. He was reluctant to talk – he was rather introvert, but I also got the feeling that he was suspicious of me as a journalist. We talked about going to university and he said he was considering it, but I think he already knew he wasn’t going to be a formal student. He wanted to be a student in the Kurdish movement. He laughed shyly when we met again later when he was manning a checkpoint in the mountains. Surely, he missed the start of the academic year in Germany. “Heval Baz!”, I said, “Are you still here?” He shrugged his shoulders a bit. “Yeah, hello heval Avaşîn (my name when I was in the PKK, everybody had a nom-de-guerre for security reasons), how are you?” I smile when I think about it: I could have been his mother and maybe he expected me to reject his choice or something.
Baz wasn’t ‘deceived’ into joining the PKK. He was a very smart young man who – I picked up that much in group conversations and during education sessions – knew a lot about the history of fascism and anti-fascism, he had joined anti-capitalist and anti-fascist demonstrations and rejected the system he lived in. These young people educate themselves, and then stumble upon the Kurdish movement and get inspired, for example by the revolution in Rojava.
This was the same with heval Ronahî. She was in her early twenties and not just smart, but incredibly smart. She spoke Kurdish after three weeks, gave amazing lectures about the history of anarchism in Europe, the flaws of western feminism or the perils of alcohol and why she absolutely refused to drink that capitalist drug, or about whichever topic at hand, found the most creative solutions for practical problems – you name it and Ronahî did it. She had been accepted at a university but had decided to not show up. She, like Baz, thought they could learn more important things in the mountains.
Heval Baz and heval Ronahî hadn’t officially joined the PKK yet. They had just arrived. Ronahî was torn apart ideologically between staying in the mountains or going back to Germany. She was a dedicated anarchist and had come to the mountains to educate herself on the ideology of the Kurdish movement, which is close to anarchism. Would she take that ideological baggage back home to intensify her anti-capitalist and anti-fascist struggle there, or would she stay in the mountains, follow military training and fight in Kurdistan?
I don’t know what became of them. My bet is that they stayed in the mountains. They weren’t deceived by the PKK. In fact, they knew very well what they were doing and made a conscious choice, like many Europeans in the decades-long history of the PKK. They chose to no longer be deceived by western capitalism but to live a life outside of it. They wanted to take responsibility, and wholeheartedly so. They made a choice for their lives, and were willing to sacrifice them.
From what I read about Thomas, he seemed to be like heval Baz and heval Ronahî. May he rest in power.
*heval is Kurdish for ‘comrade’