Fighting the Kurdish Khmer Rouge
Why do you think the PKK, the armed and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, killed two dozen Turkish soldiers on the very day that the Turkish Parliament would begin to discuss a new liberal constitution?
To advance Kurdish rights? For Kurdish language classes in public schools?
Not really. If the PKK were truly focused on the rights of Turkey’s Kurds, it would have long ended its 30-year-old armed struggle. For many things have changed in Turkey in the past decade, as tyrannical bans on Kurdish language and culture were gradually lifted with reforms supported by the European Union and realized by the current government. Meanwhile, the unofficial political wing of the PKK is in the Turkish Parliament and runs many municipalities in the Kurdish Southeast. Moreover, the current government even tried a political settlement with the PKK just two years ago, despite endless accusations of “high treason” from opposition parties.
In the face of all this progress in Turkey, however, the PKK has continued its violent attacks, killing not just soldiers and policemen but also civilians. Ankara unavoidably responded. First came the bombing of the PKK headquarters in the Kandil mountain range in Iraqi Kurdistan, and now a ground offensive on the same targets.
But why has the PKK been so aggressive? Why are they not supporting the political process and helping to bring more reforms that would make Turkey’s Kurds freer and happier?
My answer is that the PKK continues to fight because its ambitions are much higher than securing the cultural rights of Turkey’s Kurds as free citizens. The organization rather wants to create its own country, first an autonomous, then an independent Kurdistan, in which it wants to enjoy totalitarian rule.
This is evident in almost all the writings and statements of the PKK. Its jailed mastermind, Abdullah Öcalan, wrote a book in the early 1980s titled “The Role of Force in Kurdistan,” in which he defined brute force as a legitimate tool to help rally the Kurds for the national liberation cause. Accordingly, the PKK spent much of its early energy in massacring the Kurdish communities that refused to support the organization. Over the years, various dissidents within the PKK were killed for being “traitors.”
Even last year, when the popular mayor of Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, dared to say that the “time for armed struggle is over,” Öcalan, from his prison cell, said that if Baydemir did not shut up, his “youth would tear his mouth apart.” (And this Öcalan is the “moderate” figure that we have, according to the analysts who warn of a more radical wing within the organization.)
A good way of understanding the PKK vision for the future is the charter of its new offshoot, the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK). Its introduction explains that in an autonomous Kurdistan, the whole society will be “built” by “village, district, neighborhood, and city communes.” It proudly notes that the job of these “communes” will be “to implement the decisions of the KCK.” It says “the leader and founder of the KCK is Abdullah Öcalan… the leadership which represents the whole people… the final decider.”
In other words, in this “democratic Kurdistan,” the PKK will be the only political power, and PKK’s political leader will be the only political leader. The KCK charter venerates Öcalan even as the “philosophical, theoretical and strategic founder” of a new version of “democracy” that he himself invented.
In fact, there is hardly anything new about all this: It is the same totalitarian model used by Stalin in the USSR and Chairman Mao in China. In Cambodia, Pol Pot had created another version, whose guerilla army, the notorious Khmer Rouge, committed mass murder on staggering scales.
The PKK, with its communism, bloodlust and hostility toward all traditional institutions including family, can well be defined as the Kurdish version of the Khmer Rouge. And the Kurdish people are all too valuable to be left at the mercy of such thugs.