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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs