In November, many intellectuals, philosophers, lawyers, parliamentarians, writers and activists launched a campaign within the framework of the Justice for the Kurds Initiative: The campaign to de-list the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party].
The banning and listing of the PKK is not only an attitude against a political party, but against a movement that has become the voice of the Kurds, an oppressed people. The PKK is therefore not a party in the classical sense, but a Kurdish rebellion and revolution. It is therefore often referred to as the 29th Kurdish uprising in modern times. Behind the PKK ban or listing it among ‘terrorist organisations’, pure naked injustice against the Kurdish people is hidden.
The injustice against the Kurds is a historical result of regional and global politics of self interest. With the banning of the PKK, which has exposed this truth through its struggle since 1978, it became a target. The PKK is not the cause but the consequence of an injustice against one of the oldest peoples on earth, the Kurds.
By banning the PKK and including it on the list of terrorist organisations, the perpetrators of the Kurdish problem want to hide their guilt and responsibility on the one hand, and on the other hand they want to punish the PKK for having taken the Kurdish card out of their hands.
Very often, the historical context of current political events are easily forgotten. Regarding processes that have been a part of the political agenda for a long time, such as the PKK ban, the background and its historical context are no longer taken into account. Which leads to the true culprits being perceived as the good guys and their victims as the bad guys.
For decades, the Western and Turkish media have been reporting that the PKK is a terrorist and banned party. This statement, constantly repeated in the mainstream media, is part of a strategy that makes a lie seem like the truth and then lets it slip into the subconscious. It also leaves traces that prevent people from dealing with the issue.
A lie and a brutal situation in which the distortion of the facts have been forgotten.
This is a strategy of special warfare, where you can beat an opponent without physical force and do this cost effectively. Defile the name and you have won about 50% of the war. The word terrorism, which since 11 September has been heard more and more arbitrarily depending on particular political interests, has precisely this goal in mind. It cannot therefore be defined clearly, neither politically nor legally. It is a flexible weapon that can be used to intimidate at any time and against anyone, according to the politics of self interest.
Since the first official ban of the PKK by the German state in 1993 (then by the USA in 1997 and most recently by the EU in 2002), these states have been legitimising their support of the Turkish regime -whether it be dictatorial, right-wing conservative or social democratic in disguise- in its war against the Kurds.
I say ‘German state’ purposefully, because since 1993 many governments have been in power in Germany, but the persecution of the Kurds under the pretext of the PKK ban has never stopped. Just like the German state, the states that have branded the PKK as ‘terrorist’ legitimise the brutality and the arbitrariness and despotism of the Turkish state. Last but not least, a report of the British Parliament indicates that the current Turkish government under Erdogan is using the PKK as a pretext to further expand its totalitarianism.
PKK is a consequence and not the cause of the Kurdish issue
It is important to repeat again and again that the PKK did not emerge in 1978 as a cause but as a consequence of the Kurdish issue.
Long before 1978, there had been several Kurdish uprisings against the Turkish state. A brief look into history can help better understand the Kurdish question that led to the foundation of the PKK.
The complexities later on will be more confusing even as the PKK has managed to expose the international character of the Kurdish question.
Parallel to its collapse, the Ottoman Empire increased pressure on the nations. A nationalism by the Western model had triggered new political conflicts. European powers like Britain and France and later on Russia did everything to accelerate the process of collapse.
Another important reason was that the regions under the control of the Ottoman Empire were rich in natural resources needed for the industrialisation in Europe.
In the turmoil created by the collapse, a number of uprisings by the Kurds, who wanted to maintain their autonomy, took place against the forced Turkification policies, adopted as a basis for the construction of a new Turkish nation state.
The following mark the historical instances of the Kurdish resistance struggles for justice before the foundation of the PKK:
Babanzade Abdurrahman Pasha rebellion (1806 – Mosul/Mûsil)
Babanzade Ahmet Pasha (1812 – Mosul/Mûsil)
Rebellion of the Ezidi Kurds (1830 – Hakkari/Colemerg)
Uprising of Sherefkhan (1831 – Bitlis/Bedlîs)
Bedirkhan Uprising (1835 – Botan)
Garzan Uprising (1839 – Diyarbakir/Amed)
Bedirkhan Osman Pasha and his brother Husein Pasha Uprising ( 1872 Mardin-Cizre)
Sheikh Ubeydullah of Nehri (1880–1881-Colemerg/Hakkari)
Bedirkhan Emin Ali uprising (1889 – Erzincan/Erzingan)
Bedirkhan and Halil Rema uprisiring (1912 – Mardin)
Sheikh Selim Shehabettin (1912- Bitlis/Bedlîs)
Simko Shikak Revolt against Iran (First uprising 1918-1922-second 1926)
Koçgîrî Uprising (1920- Koçgîrî/today the region of Sivas)
Sheik Mahmoud Barzanji Rebellion (1922-1924)
Sheikh Sait Uprsing (February – March 1925, Amed, Bingol, Erzurum, Muş)
First Ararat/Ağrı Rebellion (16 May- 17 June 1926)
Second Ararat/Agirî Uprising (10 September 1927)
Third Agirî/Ararat/Zîlan Uprising (25 September 1930, Agirî region)
Sason Rebellion (1935-Siirt)
Dersim Uprising (1937-1938)
Founding and suppressed of the Republic of Mahabad in East Kurdistan (22 January to 15 December 1946)
Iraq-Kurdish war (1961-1970; second wave of war 1974 – 1975)
After the Ottomans were defeated in the First World War, the European states began to divide the empire’s territories among themselves. On parts of the same territories, the foundations were laid for the construction of the nation states of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and later Iran.
The Kurdish territories were left divided among these states and this was all sealed on 24 July 1923 at the end of long conference talks in Lausanne. Before Lausanne, there were several conferences, congresses, agreements concerning the distribution of the booty.
The destiny of the Kurds and Kurdistan has been a central issue of the meetings and agreements without the participation of the Kurds. Some of these have been:
Conference of Berlin on 13 July 1878
Agreement of Sykes-Picot on 16 May 1916 (French-British)
Agreement of Erzincan between Turks and Russians on 8 December 1917
The Armistice of Mudros on 30 October 1918
Conference of Paris between 18 January 1919 and 21 January 1920
Conference of San Remo between 8-26 April 1920
The congress in Sevres on 10 August 1920
The congress of Cairo between 12-30 March 1921
Conferences of Lausanne in 1923-1924
Meeting of Brussels on 5 June 1926
Agreement of Algeria on 6 March 1975
The discovery of a promising card: The Kurdish card
The Kurdish question, in turn, is a result of European colonialism in the Middle East. European capitalism has practised its expansion through colonisation of different parts of the world. thus the Kurdish question is a European-generated question to control the created four key nation states as colonial states over Kurdistan: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
In terms of cooperation and confrontation between the colonial states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, the Kurds were made the basis of a security problem. Through this, the dictators who served the Western powers could be officially supported in their genocides against Kurds. In order to keep the states under control, the Western states always threatened with the Kurdish card, which is still an institutional phobia for the colonial states. The PKK has succeeded in exposing this game. With his works, the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan made this even more concrete and obvious.
Namely, the colonial states were developed as nation states in the region for the benefit of western capitalism. As a result, the Kurdish question is a question created by the capitalist interests in the Middle East. From this point of view, the PKK has succeeded in exposing the mask of nationalism of these states and how they’ve been used as instruments of western capitalism not only against Kurds but all those who long for freedom against oppression.
By organising the Kurdish diaspora worldwide, but especially in Europe, the PKK was able to expose the originators of the Kurdish issue.
The strengthening of the PKK could not be prevented by the ban of the PKK in Germany, USA and finally by the EU. The PKK suffered a historic defeat with the kidnapping of its founder, Abdullah Öcalan, on February 15, 1999.
Öcalan has used his abduction as an occasion for a radical confrontation with the ruling system, what he refers to as capitalist modernity.
Eventually, neither the arbitrary imprisonment regime on the prison island of Imrali, where Öcalan is punished with solitary confinement, nor the full support of NATO for its member state Turkey did not prevent the PKK from becoming even stronger and more international. Today, the PKK, with the implementation of the paradigm of its founder Abdullah Ocalan, is making a great contributions to global issues such as the question of history, the environmental question, nationalism, and patriarchalism as the basis of capitalism.
Alternative solutions by the PKK and Turkey’s aggression
With the revolution in Rojava, the PKK revolution has reached its peak. All the alternatives of a free life, which are practiced in Rojava, Bakur, Basur, Rojhilat and in the diaspora, take place both locally and nationally, but also provide solutions worldwide. It was the fighters of the PKK who crushed the regional and global proxy instrument of ISIS [Islamic State] which targeted women and different peoples of the Middle East. One should imagine what would have happened if the PKK had not crushed ISIS.
Today, after 40 years of intense struggle for freedom, at least the truth has come to light. This is important for the attainment of justice. Namely, that the originators of conflicts, of problems and wars are on the one side, and those who fight for peace and democracy are on the other.
We can speak today of a Turkish issue and a Kurdish solution. The Turkish state today has become an aggressive, destabilising state not only in the Middle East, but in North Africa and everywhere there are Muslims. For expansion purposes, the current Turkish regime uses Islam as a political instrument of power.
Turkey’s membership in NATO has been a decisive argument as to why NATO countries have supported Turkey not only politically, diplomatically, economically, but also militarily against the PKK.
The revolution of the PKK has always been equated with separatism. In fact, it practices a democratic confederalism, which means a democracy -without the rule of a central state power- that provides the coexistence of peoples within the existing borders of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. It is currently the Turkish state that violates the sovereignty of a state as it does in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Armenia, where it intervenes militarily.
The Kurdish uprising led by the PKK has always been handled as a security issue by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Now it is these states that have become a security issue for the peoples and the region.
For 36 years, the labelling of the PKK as a terrorist organisation was originally legitimised with the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. But the truth has a peculiarity: It emerges tomorrow, if not today. Olof Palme was a friend of the oppressed peoples like the Palestinians, was against the apartheid regime in South Africa and also stood for the Kurds’ right to self-determination.
After 36 years, the truth came to light: the PKK had nothing to do with the murder. The file was closed, but the Swedish government has still not apologised for this accusation, which has cost hundreds of Kurds their freedom.
The truth that the PKK is not a terrorist organisation was also confirmed by the decisions of the European Court in Luxembourg in 2018 and the Belgian court in 2020.
However, since the Kurdish card is an effective card, the states want to rely on the status quo provided by this card and see the strengthening of the Kurds as a threat for their own interests. For this reason, the international legitimisation of the Turkish occupation policy in Rojava and South Kurdistan is still covered with the argument regarding the presence of the PKK. Therefore, when Turkey uses chemical weapons against PKK fighters, the OPCW turns a blind eye. It is a question of weakening the Kurds, who have become too strong, through Turkish aggression in order to be able to instrumentalise them again.
Because with the Kurdish card, the Kurds have been turned into mere factors or instruments. Today, however, with the 40-year-old revolution, the Kurds have become more like stakeholders or actors. They can change the game.
Although the above-mentioned states have included the PKK in their lists, they all have de facto relations with the PKK. Delisting however, is likely to finally open the way for an official political solution, which would be a great contribution to peace in the region. The campaign to delist the PKK has therefore not only been a show of solidarity with the Kurds, but also is a great contribution to peace in the region.
The states have covered and tried to justify their injustice against the Kurdish people by listing the PKK among ‘terrorist groups’.
However, the non-state forces can equally show their stand by their engagement with the Kurds against this injustice. A signature against the delisting of the PKK can achieve a lot politically and if millions sign, then all the better.
Please join the campaign for the removal of the PKK from the EU’s list of terrorist organisations.
Nilüfer Koç is a member of the Executive Council and Spokesperson for the Commission on Foreign Relations of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK)