In response to the questions we sent, Zagros Hiwa, spokesperson of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organisation that includes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), talked to Medya News in this exclusive interview.
Aged 45, Zagros Hiwa was born in the Kurdish region of Iran and studied English language and literature from the University of Sanandaj before he earned his Masters degree in teaching English as a foreign language.
Hiwa joined the PKK in 2001 following the arrest of Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. As he reportedly said in an interview in 2016, Öcalan’s arrest “spoke volumes about the abandonment Kurds have historically been subjected to.” He said that after reading Abdullah Öcalan’s books and discussing his ideas with fellow Kurds, he decided to join the Kurdish movement in 2001,’
What does the increasing flow of asylum-seekers from Iraqi Kurdistan in the past few months and the recent student protests in Sulaymaniya and other cities indicate? How do you assess the economic and political situation in Iraqi Kurdistan with a debt crisis going on for at least seven years, and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s compliance with Turkey’s aggressions for years and the maintenance of its negative stance against the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria? The KDP has recently issued a statement, saying Turkey does not have a problem with the Kurds but with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and that Rojava has to cut off its relations with the PKK. How do you evaluate this statement in particular and the general debate it refers to, that draws a line between the Kurds and the PKK?
Well, there are two main reasons for the situation on the Belarus and Poland border. Many of those stranded on the border are Kurds from South Kurdistan [preferred usage of the KCK spokesperson in addressing Iraqi Kurdistan]. Instead of discussing the everyday politics of Belarus and Poland, or Russia or Europe we have to go to the root causes. Where do these people want to go?
They want to go to Europe and the West. Why Europe? Because they think that they can have a better life there, much better from that of their own country. Here we come to the first root cause. The forces of capitalist modernity have for hundreds of years looted the resources of the countries of Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and carried them to the West.
They have built a paradise-like life for themselves in the west, at the cost of turning life into hell in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The luxury life in Europe cannot be built based on the continent’s own resources. Unless they loot the resources of the countries of the Middle East, they cannot build such a life there.
Evading hell and going to paradise is a dream of humanity. We have this in sacred books. We cannot criminalise this intention. When you build a paradise on earth at the cost of turning the life and land of others into hell, it is quite normal that people would want to desert hell and enter paradise.
People from all walks of life, be they old or young, men or women, sell all the properties they have, risk their own life, risk drowning in the oceans and freezing to death in the forests in order to reach paradise in Europe. So, the forces of ‘capitalist modernity’ are responsible for this exodus, for they have set the ground for it. Therefore, they are the first to be held responsible for this situation.
Secondly, the dictatorial regimes of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and Latin America have confiscated and monopolised what has been left behind of these stolen resources. They use these remnants to live a posh life for themselves and deprive other people of living an honourable life. They deprive people of all the opportunities and resources of their countries. People are left hungry and jobless. They destroy the dreams of the young for a better future, for they are so indulged in corruption. They curtail freedoms, oppress any voice of dissent, build their own network of nepotism, favouritism, and kleptocracy. They are not democratic.
As far as Kurdistan is concerned, these two factors ruining the fabric of society are at full force. Also, there is an additional factor in Kurdistan. The Kurdish land has been occupied by four states and the Kurds have been subjected to cultural and political genocide.
Forcing people to leave Kurdistan and replacing them with jihadist Arabs is one dimension of this genocide. Particularly, South Kurdistan has been turned into a laboratory for implementing capitalist modernity and imposing it on the people’s life via an undemocratic KDP-led administration which is a collaborator with the main enemy of the Kurds, that is, the Turkish state.
Turkey and the KDP are working together to deplete the Kurdish land from its own human and economic resources. The KDP has made a 5-year security and economic deal with Turkey and has totally become a part of Turkey’s long-term genocidal policies against the Kurds.
The KDP has let the Turkish army build around 70 military bases in South Kurdistan, from Zakho in the north to Mosul in the south. It also gives full support to the intelligence and espionage activities of the Turkish secret service MIT [the National Intelligence Organisation] in South Kurdistan and Iraq.
So, when the youth see that their land has been occupied by Turkey, their resources looted by tribal rulers, and they have been left jobless without a future, they decide to leave their own land and go to Europe. Forces of capitalist modernity, the occupiers of Kurdistan and collaborators like the KDP have turned the land of paradise, have turned Kurdistan, into a hell. And people from all walks of life want to leave this hell.
The recent protests in Sulaymaniyah are concerned, the students’ reaction against this system of corruption and kleptocracy which has deprived them of their stipends for nearly seven years. University students observe that, on the one side, there are the teenage sons of KDP rulers who own universities, companies, private jets, and oil wells and on the other side, nearly half a million students cannot afford paying the bus and taxi fees. They see this great injustice. That’s why they have decided to stage protests.
Do you think there is a chance of having a consensus between the Syrian administration and AANES, when the former is trying to bring back the past and the latter is trying to build something new? The US administration still hasn’t formally recognised AANES and consequently the ‘international community’ has followed its lead, with all its attendant consequences. Do you believe the Biden administration will recognise it this or next year?
Much has changed since the start of the uprising in Syria in 2011. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Millions of people have been either internally displaced or been forced to leave their country. The social and economic fabric has to a large extent been ripped apart. The country’s infrastructure has been destroyed. This has direct implications for the political system too.
President Bashar Assad had already declared that getting the country back to the pre-2011 era is impossible. He had posed the idea of decentralisation. We think this is a good starting point. Syria is like a mosaic of different peoples, different ethnic and religious identities. We think it is high time the authorities in Damascus appreciate these diversities and show tolerance towards a political and administrative system which foresees some degree of self-rule and local administration for these components.
So, Damascus must refrain from imposing Arab nationalism on the peoples which are of other ethnic and religious origins. All the peoples of Syria can get united under the broader idea of Syrian identity.
The US-led international coalition has narrowed down its mission to only fighting ISIS and cooperating with its partners to this end. They have not yet been fully engaged politically with the administrative body of Northeast Syria. Also, the United Nations-led Geneva talks, after many meetings, failed to incorporate Autonomous Administration of North East Syria.
Excluding AANES from the Geneva talks means that big powers, including the USA and Russia, prefer their own interests over the interests of the Syrian peoples. So, the AANES represents a model for the Syrian crisis. This model is based on fraternity between the peoples, democracy, and the freedom of women within the framework of territorial integrity and unity of Syria. If anyone wants a solution for the Syrian crisis, they have to take this model into account and work to ensure that it is represented in international platforms for the solution of the Syrian crisis.
Also, Turkey poses a threat to the solution of the Syrian crisis. There will be no real solution to this crisis as long as Turkey continues its occupation of Syrian lands and its support for radical jihadist terrorist groups. The United States of America and Russia both have competing agendas about the role of Turkey in the Syrian crisis.
The United States uses Turkey to put pressure on the Assad regime and Russia. It turns a blind eye on Turkey’s accommodation of ISIS and Nusra leaders in the areas it has occupied, from Idlib to Serêkaniyê. On the other hand, Russia uses Turkey’s threats of more invasion as a leverage against AANES and tries to take more concessions from it. One wonders why an occupier like Turkey is given a role in Geneva, but an administration which represents nearly all the peoples of Syria and governs one third of Syria is shunned away from Geneva.
The Biden administration’s dealings with the AANES politically will depend on its larger Middle East and North Africa policies. If they want an end to the Syrian crisis, they will deal politically with AANES, but if they want the crisis to continue, they will restrict their interaction only to military matters.
Whatever the policies of big powers may be, the peoples of Northeast Syria and Rojava should know that their own self-organisation, the own self-defence and education is the most crucial factor in bringing about a solution to the Syrian crisis. Having achieved this level of organisation and awareness, they should look for ways to reach an agreement with the authorities in Damascus, based on the democratisation of Syria, based on freedom, and justice. The future of Syria is spelled by the fraternity between Kurds and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis.
What do you think the economic and political situation in Turkey will be now, as the crash of the Turkish currency and the slide towards hyper-inflation signals a severe economic crisis?
The key words to answer this are Erdogan’s remarks on 9 February 2019, when he lamented those who criticised his government over the rising prices of basic goods, particularly vegetables and fruits. In front of a pro-AKP crowd, he called on his critics: “Do you know how much a bullet costs?”
Well, this question explains the underlying reason for the current economic crisis in Turkey, reasons for high inflation, for the free fall of the Turkish Lira. The AKP-MHP fascist rule has invested a lot in their genocidal war in Kurdistan. They have usurped all of Turkey’s resources to fight the Kurds, to evict the Kurds from their ancestral lands, on which they have lived for more than 12,000 years.
They have given many political and particularly economic concessions to foreign powers in order to get their support for their genocidal campaign against the Kurds. According to the findings of the London-based Democratic Progress Institute, the Turkish state’s war on the Kurds has cost the country three trillion dollars.
Well, to quote from state authorities, we can refer to the Parliament’s speaker, Köksal Toptan, who had stated, in 2007, that this war has cost the country 250 billion dollars. He was followed by Cemil Çiçek, who said a year later that the amount was 300 billion dollars. Three years later, in 2011, Faruk Çelik stated that the cost has been 400 billion dollars.
Erdogan himself kept the figure at 300 billion dollars in his 2013 speech. Now, at a time when Erdogan reaches out to the United Arab Emirates for a 10 billion dollar loan to slow down the fall of the lira, you can imagine the status of the Turkish currency had Turkey not used all this money for its genocidal war against the Kurds.
As long as the Kurdish question is left unresolved, the economic crisis in Turkey will further deepen and people will face high inflation, they will face unemployment more than any time before. We can say that the political and ideological mind-set of Turkish authorities and of the Turkish state are the main cause of the economic problems and the lira’s collapse.
The only cure to the current economic crisis is a change in the mind-set and mentality of Turkish authorities towards democratisation, human rights, women’s rights, and more importantly, towards the solution of the Kurdish question. They have to abandon the policy of denial and genocide against the Kurds.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) has been called upon to take the aggravated life imprisonment sentence given to the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan as an item in its agenda. Do you believe that the CoE may push Turkey more to comply with international laws and the decision of the European Court of Human Rights? How do you evaluate international ‘silence’ regarding the ‘special law’ applied in Imralı Prison for 23 years?
The Kurdish question in its modern form is the making of European countries. The Treaty of Lausanne sacrificed the Kurds, their identity, their existence, politically and socially, for the interests of big powers and regional states.
The land of the Kurds was divided into four parts and the Kurds were left with a destiny of denial, assimilation, and genocide. Great European powers like Britain, France and Germany are party to this treaty and are therefore responsible for the plight and sufferings of the Kurds.
Leader Apo [Abdullah Öcalan], as the leader of Kurds, took the problem to the European political platform after 76 years and called on the EU-member states to contribute to the solution of the problem they had created for the Kurds and the whole Middle East. But his call not only fell on deaf ears but also these states denied him a safe stay in Europe. Europeans states which claim that they are the cradle of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law failed in the face of a real test to these values.
In order to deny Leader Apo a stay in Germany, German courts cancelled the arrest warrants they had issued for him some ten years earlier. Germany violated and trampled its own laws and denied Leader Apo entry to the country. Their aim was to deprive him of any platform to express himself, even in German courts.
Like Germany, many EU countries paved the grounds for his kidnapping by the CIA by not recognising his asylum rights. So, they are accomplices in his illegal abduction by the CIA. In fact, by travelling to Europe, Leader Apo wanted to give Europe a leverage over the USA with regard to the Kurdish question.
Playing a positive role in the solution of the Kurdish question would have given Europe more leverage in the Middle East policies. It would have been a win-win solution project for the Kurds and Europe. Leader Apo’s abduction is a violation of the laws of Europe. If there is any trial in this case, EU member-states should sit in the dock, not in the bench. They have violated all legal and humanitarian values by abetting in the handing over of Leader Apo to Turkey.
There is an arbitrarily designed special law applied to an illegally kidnapped leader, a regularly updated detention regime for a person taken hostage. The hostage-takers are always bringing about new rules and arbitrarily putting forward new ransoms. They are taking revenge on him on a day-to-day basis.
There are arbitrary punishments and bans on visits. For example, pacing up and down a courtyard, an activity which is the most natural right of a detainee, is used as an excuse to dictate more punishments on him, be it a ban on family visits or lawyer visits.
Lately, his lawyers have been informed that they have imposed a 6-month-long visit ban on him. He himself describes the detention regime in Imrali as resembling that of Guantanamo, or even going far beyond it.
All these facts show that Leader Apo is treated as a hostage. He is a political hostage, abducted by the conspiracy of international powers, particularly the USA, Britain and Israel. In his person, society has been taken hostage by the state. He is the beating heart and thinking mind of society. And what they want as ransom is his abandoning of his struggle for freedom, democracy and women’s liberation, and ecology.
The 23-years long solitary confinement regime imposed on him is a crime against humanity, against free humanity. It cannot be justified by any national or international law. Leader Apo’s imprisonment situation represents sheer lawlessness and the infringement of all universally-accepted human values and international law.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should handle the case as an urgent matter of law and human rights, of the communal and political rights of the Kurdish people. Leader Apo is the leader of the Kurdish people, he is no ordinary hostage.
Until now, the Council of Europe has adopted politically motivated stances with regard to the case. They have made it a matter of a political bargain with Turkey. Human values, natural rights and law should not be a turned into a bargaining chip.
On 3 December, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe determined that Turkey has not fulfilled the requirements of the `right to hope`, a decision taken in 2014. That is, Turkey has violated the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers. This means that Turkey has acted against the laws of the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe has failed to enact and enforce its own law.
Also, three years ago, the CPT ruled that Leader Apo and the other three detainees’ detention situation amounts to that of torture. But nothing has been done.
The last ruling of the Committee of Ministers is important and we have to follow whether they will honour their own decision or not. Also, this ruling is far from sufficient. It is a delayed and belated decision. Instead of calling on Turkey to act immediately to improve the situation in Imrali and work for the freedom of Leader Apo, it has given Turkey one more year.
The Kurds cannot wait for one more year. We have to step up our struggle. At issue is the destiny of a people and the torture regime and solitary confinement imposed on its leader. This torture and solitary confinement must end. The CPT should visit Imrali and investigate the situation there, they should update the Kurdish people about what is going on in Imrali.
In fact, when it comes to defending human values and human rights, especially defending the rights of the Kurds, the peoples of Europe, the intellectuals, academics, journalists, human right activists are ahead of the states and official bodies. The peoples have always stood in solidarity with the struggle of the Kurdish people and have identified with the aggravated solitary confinement imposed on Leader Apo.
As in the last years, this year, too, 700 representatives who had joined the conference of Unite, the Union in Britain, called on the Turkish state to free Leader Apo and start peace talks with the representatives of the Kurdish people.
On behalf of our movement I would like to salute and thank all the members and representatives of Unite the Union. The Kurdish people will never forget their sense of solidarity, freedom and justice. Their campaign is highly appreciated.
The KCK’s Committee of Health has previously appealed to the international organisations such as the OPCW, the CPT and Doctors Without Borders to launch an investigation into Turkey’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurdish fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. Why do you believe your calls have not found any correspondence with these institutions to date? How would you assist these organisations if they ever decide to form an independent committee to investigate the use of chemical warfare?
Unfortunately, the Kurds have been one of the prime victims of chemical gas attacks in the world. These attacks have either been abetted by or neglected by the international powers. In 1938 during the massacre of Dersim, the Turkish state used gas to kill those civilians who had taken refuge in the caves. The documents of Germany’s role in providing the Turkish army with those chemical gases have just recently begun to emerge.
Also, we have the 1988 chemical attack by Saddam, against Halabja. The international mainstream media and international powers highlighted the matter only when they had changed their policies towards Saddam. Saddam did that massacre before their eyes, with those gases these powers had given to him.
Turkey has been using chemical weapons against the Kurdistan Freedom Guerrillas since the 1990s. Particularly, since 23 April of this year, it has used chemical weapons, of five different types, against the Kurdistan Freedom Guerrillas, it has used them 323 times, resulting in the martyrdom of 38 of our comrades.
Despite the many facts and data documenting these war crimes, and despite the many calls by the Kurdish people on international powers and international institutions to investigate the use of chemical weapons, unfortunately, no international or regional actor, particularly bodies responsible for the prohibition of chemical weapons, e.g. the OPCW, have batted an eyelash at the widespread use of these weapons by the Turkish army.
Their silence and lack of action are a sign of their complicity in the use of chemical weapons. We know how Turkey bribed the OPCW during its October 2019 attack, two years ago, on Serêkaniyê in Rojava Kurdistan, to ensure its silence over the use of white phosphorous and chemical weapons against the civilians and freedom fighters there.
Hereby, we call on all responsible international bodies, particularly the OPCW, to come to the areas that have been attacked with chemical weapons and conduct independent investigations. We are ready to make all the contributions that are needed for such an investigation. We call on world public opinion to put pressure on their respective governments not to provide Turkey with chemicals and the technology that can be used in chemical attacks on the Kurds.
What is your message to those countries who have placed the PKK on proscribed lists after requests from Turkey? Why should the PKK be taken off the list of proscribed organisations in the EU and US? Does the listing of the PKK as a ‘terrorist organisation’ frustrate any meaningful peace initiatives that could be initiated to resolve the ‘Kurdish question’ in Turkey?
The PKK is a movement which struggles to defend the existence of the Kurdish people and ensure their freedom.
Waging this struggle, the PKK has developed its own paradigm of democratic, ecological and women emancipatory society. The PKK is the most legitimate and just struggle of a people whose very existence has been denied, language has been banned, and whose cultural and political identity has been subjected to genocide.
Since the Lausanne treaty, Turkey has been spearheading this policy against the Kurds. So, the PKK is the name of resistance against this policy. The PKK is the freedom movement of a people struggling against state terror.
Putting the PKK on the terror ‘list’ is an arbitrary decision taken only to appease the Turkish state. This designation has no legitimate and legal base, but only serves the economic and political interests of NATO member countries.
The Belgian court ruled against such a decision in January 2020, but it fell on deaf ears.
Keeping the PKK on that ‘list’ means giving legitimacy to the denial and annihilation policies against the Kurds, as lately articulated by Hulusi Akar, who said that there was no place in the world called Kurdistan. So, this means abetting, being an accomplice to all those crimes that have been committed by the Turkish army, intelligence, and junta against the Kurds. From 1993 on, the PKK has declared 10 unilateral cease-fires to facilitate the solution of the Kurdish question and the democratisation of Turkey.
But Turkey has responded to these cease-fires by escalating its military operations against the guerrillas and the detention, imprisonment and killing and forced disapperence of political activists and civil society members, journalists, human rights defenders and civilians.
The developments of the last 10 years in the Middle East have completely proved the invalidity, illegality and illegitimacy of NATO’s designation of the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Everybody knows that Turkey was, and still is, the main sponsor and supporter of radical jihadist groups from the Nusra Front, to ISIS and to the Taliban. Turkey was the main route for ISIS members to enter Syria and Iraq and Turkey still harbors thousands of ISIS and Nusra and Al-Qaida members either on its soil or in the territories it has occupied in Syria.
Everybody knows where Baghdadi was killed, just 5 km from the Turkish border in an area controlled by Turkey! The PKK is the organisation which has spearheaded the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It was the PKK which rushed to the defence of Sinjar and Kobani, in Iraq and Syria.
6,000 PKK cadres have sacrificed their lives in the fight against ISIS and the Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria. These are undeniable facts.
But at the same time, the PKK is on the ‘terror list’ of NATO, while Turkey is still considered a strategic ‘partner’ and valuable ‘ally’ of NATO. How come the main supporter and sponsor of ISIS is a NATO ‘ally’ but an organisation which has fought most against ISIS is kept on the ‘terror’ list? This fact shows the degree to which this designation is arbitrary, it is interest-driven, and it is illegitimate, devoid of any political, social, cultural, historical, and legal grounds. It shows the hypocrisy and double-standards of NATO member countries.
Now, all the peoples in the Middle East and all around the world are coming to understand the injustice made against the Kurds by designating the PKK as a ‘terrorist’ organisation. More and more people are campaigning in different forms and platforms to draw attention to this injustice and delist the PKK.
Recently, a campaign on social media was run by the Kurds and their friends all around the world, calling on related authorities to delist the PKK. This campaign garnered huge support from 30 countries.
Also, 54 organisations have established the `lift PKK ban` initiative and on 27 November, thousands of Kurds, socialist, ecologists, anti-fascists, and libertarians gathered and marched in Berlin to lift Germany’s 28-year old-ban on the PKK. We salute and appreciate all those activists participating in this march. We appreciate their valuable efforts.
Also, in France, 120 intellectuals, academics, politicians, unionists, journalists and civil and political activists. They wrote a letter to President Biden and called on him to delist the PKK. This was a very important and meaningful campaign. We salute and thank all the signatories and appreciate their efforts.