PKK leader says Tur­key harms fight against IS

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

QANDIL MOUN­TAINS, Iraq: Un­per­turbed by the Turk­ish fighter jets fly­ing over the moun­tain where he sat, a top Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party (PKK) leader said the con­flict be­tween his group and Ankara was un­der­min­ing ef­forts to counter Is­lamic State. Cemil Bayik said the PKK and its Syr­ian af­fil­i­ate had proven the most ef­fec­tive of the forces ar­rayed against the ul­tra-hard­line mil­i­tants and were key to the US-led cam­paign to “de­grade and de­stroy” them.

But the break­down of a peace process be­tween Tur­key and Ankara is ham­per­ing that ef­fort, the most se­nior PKK fig­ure at large and one of Tur­key’s most wanted men told Reuters. “All chan­nels have been closed,” Bayik said in a week­end in­ter­view when asked about the prospect of a re­sump­tion of talks to end the PKK’s more than 30-year-old armed up­ris­ing against Ankara. “They have erad­i­cated all grounds for any ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Cit­ing an in­crease in PKK at­tacks on the se­cu­rity forces, Tur­key re­sumed bomb­ing the mil­i­tants in July, tar­get­ing them in the coun­try’s south­east and across the border in north­ern Iraq where they have bases. Bayik, seated on a plas­tic chair in bright sun­shine af­ter Turk­ish air raids tar­geted nearby PKK po­si­tions overnight, said there were no longer con­tacts - direct or in­di­rect - with the Turk­ish state. Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan vowed ear­lier this month to hunt the PKK un­til ev­ery last mil­i­tant was “liq­ui­dated”, in a con­flict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives. The re­newed con­flict has also com­pli­cated Tur­key’s role in the USled fight against Is­lamic State, which claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks in Paris that killed 130 peo­ple and threat­ened more violence against the West. Al­though the PKK’s fight against Is­lamic State has im­proved its im­age, it is still clas­si­fied a ter­ror­ist group by the Euro­pean Union and United States, which have said Tur­key has the right to de­fend it­self by strik­ing the mil­i­tants.

PKK guer­ril­las played a role dur­ing a re­cent of­fen­sive that drove Is­lamic State mil­i­tants out of the town of Sin­jar in north­west­ern Iraq and broke crit­i­cal sup­ply routes for the group. In the sum­mer of 2014, fight­ers from the PKK’s Syr­ian af­fil­i­ate helped res­cue mem­bers of Iraq’s Yazidi mi­nor­ity from Is­lamic State fight­ers who were purg­ing them. PKK guer­ril­las have a rel­a­tively small pres­ence on the front line in north­ern Iraq along­side the pesh­merga forces of the au­ton­o­mous Kur­dis­tan re­gion, with which Tur­key has good re­la­tions. In Syria how­ever, its YPG af­fil­i­ate has alarmed Ankara by emerg­ing as a key ally for the US-led coali­tion, driv­ing Is­lamic State back in the north­east and declar­ing self­ad­min­is­tra­tion in ter­ri­tory along the border with Tur­key.

Fears of Sep­a­ratist As­pi­ra­tions

Tur­key re­gards the YPG as a ter­ror­ist group like the PKK and fears the mili­tia’s gains in Syria will stoke sep­a­ratist sen­ti­ment among its own Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion. It has struck the YPG sev­eral times af­ter it ven­tured west of the Euphrates river in Syria, a red line for Tur­key as it could lead to con­trol of the whole border. Bayik ac­cused Er­do­gan of lev­er­ag­ing Tur­key’s co­op­er­a­tion against Is­lamic State and the refugee cri­sis to win Western sup­port for his poli­cies, in­clud­ing the war on the PKK.

By ac­com­mo­dat­ing Turk­ish de­mands, the West has been left with a con­tra­dic­tory pol­icy that im­pairs its re­sponse to the Is­lamic State threat, which is evolv­ing, as the re­cent at­tacks in Paris show, Bayik said. “They (the West) don’t want to be in con­flict with Tur­key or the Kurds, so they are some­how bal­anc­ing, but that is not right,” Bayik said. “If the Kur­dish ques­tion (in Tur­key) is not re­solved, the prob­lem of Daesh will not be re­solved,” he said, us­ing a deroga­tory Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “What hap­pened in Paris is a clear mes­sage that this pol­icy (of bal­anc­ing Tur­key and the Kurds) can­not con­tinue”.

Bayik said the PKK was in con­tact with the United States in­di­rectly, but wanted to es­tab­lish direct re­la­tions in or­der to co­or­di­nate ef­forts against Is­lamic State. “If they (the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity) want to elim­i­nate Daesh they should help the force that is fight­ing Daesh best and that is the PKK and the YPG.” Rus­sia’s in­ter­ven­tion in Syria had al­ready pos­i­tively changed the bal­ance of power, Bayik said, but there was also a down­side be­cause Moscow’s pri­mary mo­tive was to shore up Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad. “That regime has to change, but first Daesh must be de­feated,” Bayik said. “As long as Daesh re­mains, you can­not change the regime”.

PKK guer­ril­las man check­points on the road through Qandil, where trees have been bronzed by au­tumn, and the on­com­ing win­ter is now coat­ing the peaks with snow. In a grave­yard on the moun­tain, row upon row of head­stones mark the men and women who have died for the PKK’s cause since it took up arms against Tur­key in 1984 with the aim of carv­ing out a sep­a­rate state for the coun­try’s Kurds.

The PKK no longer seeks state­hood, but rather de­vo­lu­tion of power within ex­ist­ing na­tional bor­ders. The ceme­tery also shows the PKK’s chang­ing role in the Mid­dle East: the fresh­est grave be­longs to a PKK fighter from Iran killed in Sin­jar. The pre­vi­ous three are vic­tims of re­newed Turk­ish bom­bard­ment since a two-year cease­fire fell apart in July. Bayik ac­cused Er­do­gan of de­lib­er­ately reignit­ing the con­flict for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses af­ter the pro-Kur­dish Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP) helped de­prive his AK Party of its ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment.

The AK Party re­gained its ma­jor­ity in a re-elec­tion ear­lier this month but the bomb­ing con­tin­ues. Bayik also charged the Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party (KDP), which dom­i­nates in north­ern Iraq and is close to Tur­key, of as­sist­ing Ankara in the war against the PKK by pro­vid­ing in­tel­li­gence on their po­si­tions. Iraqi Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties have pre­vi­ously de­nied that. For peace talks to restart, Bayik said there would have to be a bi­lat­eral cease­fire, and a third party to oversee the process based on the ten-point “Dolmabahce agree­ment”, which set out a frame­work for a peace deal ear­lier this year.

PKK leader Ab­dul­lah Ocalan, who has been im­pris­oned on a Turk­ish is­land since be­ing cap­tured 16 years ago, would have to be at the fore­front of any process. Ac­cess to Ocalan has been de­nied since April 5. Ul­ti­mately, the con­flict could only be re­solved with a new con­sti­tu­tion en­shrin­ing Kur­dish rights, Bayik said. “If they ac­cept th­ese con­di­tions we are ready,” he said.“They will stop (the war) when they re­alise they can­not erad­i­cate this move­ment”. —Reuters

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