PKK 'would disarm for Kurdish rights in Turkey'

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by Neil, Jul 21, 2010.

  1. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

    Jun 23, 2010
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    The leader of a Kurdish rebel group engaged in a guerrilla war with Turkey has told the BBC it is willing to disarm in return for greater political and cultural rights for Turkey's Kurds.

    The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, as well as the EU and US.
    If an agreement were reached, it would bring an end to a 26-year-old conflict.A Turkish government official said it was "not in the habit of commenting on statements made by terrorists".

    Clashes between the PKK and government forces have flared in the past few months, after the breakdown of a tentative peace initiative.

    But the PKK's offer was unequivocal, says the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, who met the group's leader Murat Karayilan in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

    Mr Karayilan said he would order his fighters to lay down their weapons, under the supervision of the United Nations, if Turkey agreed to a ceasefire and met certain conditions.

    His demands, he said, included an end to attacks on Kurdish civilians and arrests of Kurdish politicians in eastern Turkey. The group has also been fighting for more linguistic and cultural rights for Turkey's Kurds, which by some estimates constitute one fifth of the country's population.

    "If the Kurdish issue is resolved in a democratic way through dialogue we will lay down our weapons, yes. We will not carry arms," he said.

    But his offer of peace was accompanied by a threat.

    "If the Turkish government refuses to accept that, we will have to announce independence."

    A genuine bilateral ceasefire would represent a major breakthrough in the conflict between Turkey and the PKK, which began in 1984 and has claimed the lives of around 40,000 people.

    But any unilateral declaration of independence or autonomy would almost certainly be seen as an escalation by the Turkish government from a group which it - and most Western governments - considers a terrorist organisation.

    The Turkish government has already eased some restrictions on the Kurdish language, but others remain. It announced it wanted to introduce a comprehensive Kurdish rights package last year, as part of a drive for peace, but the whole effort has stalled under nationalist opposition.

    In May, imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan said he had given up hopes of dialogue with the government.
    Meanwhile the PKK has stepped up attacks on targets in Turkey, many launched from its bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    Turkey has over the past few months responded with air strikes and even incursions by ground forces into Iraqi territory. Dozens of people have been killed on both sides.

    Both sides say they only target combatants, but each accuses the other of killing civilians.

    Turkish authorities have said a pipeline carrying gas from Iran to Turkey was blown up on Tuesday night, interrupting the flow. Agri region Governor Ali Yerlikaya blamed the PKK, though there was no confirmation from the group.
  3. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

    Jun 23, 2010
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    Seeking out the PKK gunmen in Iraq's remote mountains

    In Iraq's northern mountains, Kurdish rebels the PKK plan and launch their attacks on Turkey. The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse sought them out.

    After a number of abortive approaches, we finally made contact with the PKK.

    With the help of a guide, for hours we travelled by car along miles of bumpy, unpaved winding roads up into the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.

    When we got to the camp, hidden in a dip in the mountains, our reception was friendly but guarded.

    Few of the fighters wanted to talk to us. About a third of them are women. All were dressed in the same heavy green uniform. Most carried Kalashnikov rifles.

    Under the shade of a tree, I sat down with their leader, Murat Karayilan. His cordial smiles and air of reasonableness soon turned to anger as he accused Turkish government forces of mutilating the dead bodies of his fighters.

    "When one of our comrades is killed, Turkish soldiers cut his body to pieces and cut out his eyes," he said.

    "We will go on. We will make whatever sacrifice is needed and we will not surrender, no matter what."

    I challenged him to justify killing in the name of a political cause. He said he was willing to order the PKK to lay down its arms, under UN supervision, if the Turkish government agreed to a ceasefire.

    Fighting for independence
    The group's demands, he said, were an end to attacks on civilians and more rights for the millions of Kurds living in eastern Turkey, or northern Kurdistan as he called it.

    But his offer was immediately tempered by a threat.

    "We want the problem in the northern part of Kurdistan to be resolved through democracy. If the Turkish government refuses to accept that, then we will have to announce independence."

    Asked for a response to Mr Karayilan, a Turkish government official said it was "not in the habit of commenting on statements made by terrorists".

    For more than a decade now, the PKK has used the inaccessible mountains of northern Iraq as a base from which to plan and execute attacks inside Turkey.
    They see this as a war of self defence, a fight for the survival of Kurdish identity.

    The Turkish government regards the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Most governments, including EU states and the US, agree.

    Only last month, there was a stark reminder of why. On 22 June a roadside bomb exploded next to a bus in Istanbul. The attack, which was claimed by a PKK splinter group, killed five people, four of them soldiers, one a 17-year-old girl.

    The PKK launched its armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984. Since then, the conflict has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people on both sides.

    A drive last year by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to solve the conflict with the Kurds through dialogue has stalled. Hundreds of Kurdish officials in eastern Turkey have since been arrested.

    Earlier this spring, the PKK announced the end of its unilateral ceasefire. Since then more than 50 Turkish soldiers have been killed.

    And this war is now being fought on two fronts: with Turkey to the north, and with Iran to the east.

    Both countries have been hitting back, with artillery bombardment and air-strikes on Iraqi territory.

    Scattering the villagers
    At a village near the secret PKK camp, we saw some of the effects of this bombardment.

    Two vast craters, filled with rubble and shrapnel, bore witness to a recent air-strike. Several houses had been badly damaged, their walls collapsed, glass shattered, the belongings of their inhabitants charred and scattered about.

    Outside one of the houses, the twisted nose-cone of a shell lay in the dust.

    The village was deserted, and there was no-one to ask about the circumstances of the attack.

    But Kamal Chomani, a local journalist, said that villagers had told him that the destruction was the result of a Turkish air-strike which took place at the end of June. The inhabitants of the village, he said, had moved into temporary accommodation in a school building nearby.

    After years of massacres and oppression under Saddam Hussein, the Kurds of northern Iraq finally have their own autonomous homeland.

    But, he said, the people here in these mountains have little choice but to show support for their fellow Kurds from other parts of the region who are still fighting.

    "[The people of] this area, during Saddam Hussein's time, they were very revolutionary," he said.

    "When any armed [PKK] forces come here, they have to listen to them, they are obliged to support them. Because, if they do not support them, they may have to leave their villages."

    In other words, they are afraid.

    And at the moment, many are paying dearly for that support.

    In a deep valley at Doli Shahidan, not far from the Iranian border, there are hundreds of tents pitched in a dry riverbed.

    Forgotten families
    The setting is spectacular, with soaring craggy mountains on either side and small winding paths receding into the distance.

    But for more than 500 families who have been forced to flee here over the past six weeks, the realities of life are less poetic.
    Gabriel Gatehouse witnesses the effects of the attacks taking place inside Iraq

    Mahmoud came here with his family in June, when Iranian shells fell on his village.

    He is a farmer, dressed in a traditional baggy Kurdish tunic, held in at the waist with a length of cloth.

    "Yes," he said, "there are PKK fighters in our area. But what can we do? They are armed. We just want to be left in peace to tend to our land."

    It is the PKK and not Iraqi forces who control much of this mountainous region.

    The government in Baghdad has protested to Tehran and Ankara over the shelling and incursions into its territory. But, say local people, not loudly enough.

    Mahmoud and his fellow refugees are victims of a forgotten war, who have no idea when they'll be able to go back home again.

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