Today, it’s been 39 years since the PKK carried out its first two armed attacks against the Turkish state. On 15 August 1984, the gendarmery in Şemdinli and Eruh were targeted with several deadly victims as a result. The armed struggle continues and the question again being discussed is: when will they lay down their arms? Good question, but let’s discuss: who exactly will have to lay down their arms to end this war?
When I was embedded with the PKK to investigate the organisation for my book ‘This fire never dies’ , between spring 2016 and summer 2017, I remember that in the first few months, I was rather focussed on the weapons. When I did interviews with guerrilla fighters, the question in which circumstances they would lay down their weapons intrigued me. But most of the fighters were a bit puzzled by the question. Of course, the arms play a role in the struggle, but very often they said: “You have to understand, it’s not about the weapons.”
The weapons are in the first place for self-defence. Of course, as long as a war is going on, they will be used for attacks as well, but it’s not the PKK that wants this war. The PKK is, I learned, about building an alternative for the fascist state and for capitalism and patriarchy (and they are all connected). One guerrilla gave the most insightful answer, which at first flabbergasted me but later came to understand. She said: “I will never lay down my weapon. When the war is over, we still need the weapons to defend the people.”
This may sound shocking to you, but think about it. When the war is over, the Turkish army will have left the Kurdish lands in Turkey and an armed force will be needed to defend the people. An armed force that has legitimacy. It remains to be seen in what shape or form the current PKK will take that task upon itself, but this is what the guerrilla fighter I spoke to meant. In the century that the Republic of Turkey has existed, its army has lost all its legitimacy in Kurdistan and another armed force, a Kurdish one, will have to take over.
This may sound unrealistic to you, but you could compare it to the peshmerga in Kurdistan in Iraq. During the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, they were a resistance force, while now that Kurdistan in Iraq has autonomy, the Iraqi army has no access to Kurdish lands anymore. They lost their legitimacy after all their genocidal violence and the peshmerga have become the official armed forces of the Kurdistan Region. Well, they are unfortunately the armed forces of powerful families now and not an independent force like the PKK, but that’s another column.
So the question, “When will they lay down their arms?” is important, but it must be directed accurately. When will the Turkish army lay down their weapons against the Kurds? The PKK has respected countless unilateral ceasefires, it has proposed to negotiate about peace time and time again, but it is the state that keeps insisting on a military approach. And that’s an approach that will never lead to a solution, that much is clear after 39 years of war. The PKK already acknowledges that they can’t win the war militarily and it’s time the state starts acting upon this reality too.
But, I hear you think, isn’t it true that Turkey is now technologically advancing so much that they will actually be able to destroy the PKK? No. The Turkish army has always been ahead of the PKK – mind you, it’s the second biggest army in NATO. You could even say that even now, with the unarmed drones Turkey uses on a very large scale in Kurdistan, they haven’t been able to make the final difference. Why? Because the PKK, which still knows the mountains the best, has adjusted by digging tunnels and specialising itself in tunnel warfare. The six Turkish soldiers (the PKK says more have been killed) that Turkey announced last week, are testament to that.
Lust for blood
Aren’t the Kurds tired of the war? – somebody asked me recently. Don’t they want the PKK to stop the war? Of course they are tired of the war, and that’s putting it mildly. But again, it’s a good question but not accurately directed. Aren’t the Turks tired of the war? Aren’t they tired of their men coming back from the mountains in coffins? Aren’t they tired of the lust for blood of their corrupted, fasicst leaders? When are the Turks going to demand an end to the violence, and pressure their government to set up a negotiating table to end the war and make the army stop their genocidal violence?
At the start of the 40th year of the armed struggle and the upcoming, in October, centennial birthday of the Turkish Republic, the expectations for peace aren’t very high, unfortunately. Luckily, there is always hope. And that hope can be found in the struggle. The struggle for freedom and democracy, a country in which there is no need to use arms for anything else than self-defence.