News / Middle East

Kurdish Insurgency Faces Crossroads

Syrian Kurds demonstrators hold flags and portraits of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Derik, Al Hasakah, Syria, November 1, 2012.Syrian Kurds demonstrators hold flags and portraits of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Derik, Al Hasakah, Syria, November 1, 2012.
x
Syrian Kurds demonstrators hold flags and portraits of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Derik, Al Hasakah, Syria, November 1, 2012.
Syrian Kurds demonstrators hold flags and portraits of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Derik, Al Hasakah, Syria, November 1, 2012.
The Arab Spring has given Kurds across the Middle East new hopes for independence through political means. But some are worried an armed Kurdish insurgency operating in four countries may ultimately derail national aspirations.

In recent months, Turkey's conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has escalated rapidly, with some of the heaviest fighting in decades.

More than 700 people have died since large-scale hostilities resumed in summer 2011, the highest casualty rate since the late 1990s, according to reports.

The Turkish army has staged nearly 1,000 raids in the past six months against the PKK, branded by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

Splinter groups

When Turkey captured influential PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999 and cut most of the group's links to states offering support or safe-haven, the PKK countered by founding sister organizations, such as the PYD in Syria and Iran's PJAK, beginning in 2002.

Despite denials, the splinter groups are all PKK-run, said Ihsan Bal, an Ankara-based security specialist.

"[In] the case of PJAK, Iranian Kurds are involved, and, obviously, with the PYD in Syria, the Syrian Kurds are involved, but the main instigator and [effective] leadership is the PKK," he said.

European and American officials say the groups are loosely funded through the PKK's network of voluntary contributions from sympathizers in Turkey and the European Kurdish diaspora, as well as extortion, drug trafficking and kidnapping.

The PKK reportedly raises up to $25 million annually from the diaspora, but its main funding comes from within Turkey itself. The money is used for everything from armed operations to TV stations and a European lobbying organization.

Turkish demands

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded international action to curb the money trail from Europe.

“We would like to see the outcome of the European Union’s determined policies," said Erdogan. "So there should not be any ‘western-sponsored’, separatist terror organization. The West should clearly lay out its position in this case. It is our expectation.”

Founded in 1978, the PKK originally vowed to secure an independent, united Kurdistan for the Middle East's estimated 30 million Kurds, a goal that has been scaled back to autonomy within Turkey.

The conflict has killed more than 40,000 people since it began 28 years ago.

In the late 1980s, the PKK established bases in Iraq. According to analyst Bal, the group now controls about 4,000 guerrilla fighters based in that country's nearly impenetrable northern mountains near the Turkish border - and another 1,000 inside Turkey.

Neither Turkey nor the Kurdistan regional government has been able to shut down the PKK's main bases in Qandil [in northern Iraq], "where they will operate for a long time," said Denise Natali, a Kurdish expert at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

The commander of the PKK's armed wing, Murat Karayilan, was quoted as saying the group's military budget amounts to more than $140 million annually.

"[Outside experts] have also estimated it might be [as much as] $150 million. So that is the estimate of the PKK military wing," Bal said.

Syrian push

As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power began to disintegrate after March 2011, the leaders of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, moved from Qandil to Syria.

While its allied militia took over towns near the Turkish border, the PYD built schools, cultural centers and other Kurdish institutions.

The PKK and its Iranian offshoot, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, appear even more closely aligned, said Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University.

But key Kurdish political leaders, mainly in Iraq, have been pursuing gains through economic means, thus offering an alternative to the insurgency. Iraqi Kurdish officials met this week in Tehran for talks on trade.

Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, offers a comprehensive regional vision that PKK militarism simply cannot match, said Barkey, who called the Kurdish leader "the single most important new force to emerge from the Syrian crisis."

"Barzani has institutions, he has money, he has a state, even if its part of the federal Iraqi state, it is still a recognized state," Barkey said. "[The Kurdish president] has international recognition and acceptance, versus a PKK that has been ostracized and labeled a terrorist [group] by the U.S., EU, etcetera," he said.

Ultimately, Barkey said, the Kurdish insurgency may become more of a detriment that an asset for the Kurdish cause.

"There's no question the PKK put the Kurds on the map in Turkey," he said. "But from this point on, they will not get a great deal more from continued violence."

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid