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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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 Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid