Turkey says PKK/YPG in an in-house fight for influence

Turkey says PKK/YPG in an in-house fight for influence

The PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the YPG, are in a dispute over which group will have the most influence, according to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu,
“There is a conflict between the Qandil and Ferhat Abdi Şahin,” Soylu told Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 21.

Qandil is the name of the mountain in northern Iraq where the PKK has its main headquarters and training camps, and Ferhat Abdi Şahin, codenamed Mazlum Kobane, is now the leader of the YPG who is based in eastern Syria.

The YPG was formed in northern Syria upon the instructions of the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, to expand and coordinate the PKK’s activities in Turkey’s southern neighboring country. Turkey had designated the YPG as the PKK’s offshoot in Syria and has been actively fighting against it since mid-2016 in Syrian territories.

“My observations in the past three years tell me about an internal conflict between Qandil over the status of Öcalan. The Qandil prefers Selahattin Demirtaş (as the leader) and continue to invest for him,” Soylu said.

Former co-leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Demirtaş is behind bars since late 2016 over his alleged links to the terrorist organization. Under his leadership, the HDP had historic success by garnering around 13 percent of votes in general elections in 2015.

As the influence of Öcalan on the PKK has decreased, the Qandil’s stance towards Mazlum Kobane seems to have been changed.

Minister Soylu explained: “As Ferhat Abdi Şahin is always in close contact with the United States about all sorts of operations in Syria, the Qandil has reservations about him. The U.S. is trying to legitimize Şahin, but there is not a single support voiced by either the HDP or the Qandil. Isn’t it interesting?”

“Under normal conditions, both the HDP and the Qandil had to lend enormous support to Şahin as one of prominent men being recognized internationally. But they don’t.”

The minister refers to Mazlum Kobane’s status as the leader of the SDF, which has received praise from the U.S. and other prominent Western nations for its fight against ISIL. Kobane was invited by U.S. President Donald Trump to the White House, a move that angered Ankara. Turkish officials urged Washington that receiving a senior terrorist at the U.S. president’s office would further deteriorate bilateral ties.

The interior minister also recalled that the Qandil had ordered the withdrawal of its terrorists from Afrin region in early 2018 during Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in order to put Kobane and its YPG terrorists into difficulty.

“The PKK has later blamed Kobane and the YPG for the defeat in Afrin and launched a debate about his ability to run the YPG in Syria,” he stressed.

For Minister Soylu, this internal dispute is, in fact, a reflection of a conflict on whether the U.S. or the European powers will impose influence over the PKK, meaning that the Qandil still prefers continued bonds with Europe while Kobane goes into the orbit of the U.S.

“It’s not the first time that the states use a terror organization. We have seen many examples to this end through the history. But it’s the first time that a state is controlling a terror organization. The YPG is being controlled by the U.S.,” he stated.

The Qandil seems to be unhappy about the growing influence of the U.S. on the YPG and therefore, on Kobane’s role and that’s why Minister Soylu ponders whether the PKK would seek to replace Kobane with a person more loyal to the Qandil leadership.

It will be interesting to follow the consequences of this internal fight at the PKK/YPG terror group.