July 2010 Briefs

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 7


Murat Karayilan, the military guerrilla commander of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan-PKK) and leader of the Kurdish rebel umbrella grouping, the Kurdish Democratic Confederation (Koma Civaken Kurdistan-KCK), has indicated that he aims for a bilateral ceasefire with the Turkish military if conditions he has laid out are met by Ankara. Karayilan controls an estimated 8,000 guerrillas in Turkey and Iraq and nominally leads rebel Kurds in Iran and Syria within the framework of the KCK (see Terrorism Monitor, September 25, 2009). While Karayilan claims to be offering an olive branch, Turkey claims to have gone further in encircling the PKK in their valley bases between the crags of the Qandil mountain range within the bounds of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). While Turkish-Iranian military cooperation against guerrilla outposts inside Iraqi territory has been ongoing for several years now, with Turkish air strikes complemented by Iranian surface-to-surface shelling (see Terrorism Monitor, October 23, 2009), Turkey now claims that Syrian crackdowns on the PKK as well as Kurdish civilians in northeastern Syria is a sign of a new integrated, intra-regional agenda aimed at quashing Kurdish nationalism and separatism, with Ankara guiding the way. The Turkish government claims Syria has recently captured or killed hundreds of PKK operatives working from its territory, a far cry from when the regime of Hafez al-Assad gave succour to PKK militants as a pointed irritant in a regional dispute with Turkey up until his death in 1999 (Today’s Zaman, July 16, 2010). The very public statements by Karayilan come amidst a renewed campaign by PKK fighters inside Turkish territory in recent months, leaving many Turkish soldiers dead and Ankara on the defensive. There has also reportedly been a leadership fracture within the PKK’s top echelon between Karayilan and a Syrian Kurd named Fehman Hussein, who was let go from the PKK and reportedly tried to poison Karayilan’s food in revenge (Milliyet, June 26, 2010).

The KRG pays a heavy price for hosting the PKK and the affiliated Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê-PJAK) with the shelling it continues to endure inside its borders. KRG leaders, such as speaker of parliament Kamal Kirkuki and peshmerga leader Jabbar Yawar, say the KRG is powerless to stop incoming bombardments by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from over the border and that both Baghdad and the UN must be involved if the attacks are to be stopped (Aso [Kirkuk], June 11, 2010). A report by an Iraqi Kurdish daily even indicated that Iran intended to set up military camps inside the KRG territory (Hawlati [Sulaimaniyah], June 11, 2010). 

While Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned in Istanbul since his capture in Kenya in February 1999, Karayilan has continued to lead an on again, off again rebel military campaign in southeastern Turkey (“northern Kurdistan” as the PKK refers to the area). While Kurdish rebels often remain ambiguous about the particulars of the inter-operational relationship of the PKK and the PJAK, a recent umbrella communiqué from the KCK mentions the martyrdom of an Iranian Kurdish guerrilla code named Avares Karasu born in 1990 in Maku, a sizable town in northwestern Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province bordering Turkey where the PJAK (and apparently the PKK) draws many of its cadres (KCK communiqué, July 28, 2010). 

Karayilan’s KCK stated Karasu, an Iranian national, was killed in a clash with Turkish forces in Hakkari Province, clearly within the bounds of the Turkish Republic. Though the admitted death of one Iranian Kurdish fighter in Turkey, in the context of a massive, decades old conflict, may seem insignificant to some, it also demonstrates the aspirations of Kurdish rebels to live as a united ethno-linguistic nation undivided (despite Kurdistan’s strong dialectical differences in Kurmanji and Sorani) by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. This treaty was discarded with the implementation of the Treaty of Lausanne in the following years and later completely abandoned with the territorial consolidation of Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish Republic and the solidification of Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian frontiers throughout the first half of the 20th century following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. 

While Murat Karayilan says he is willing to negotiate a federalized settlement with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party in Ankara in exchange for the easing of Kurdish rights, hands-off Kurdish politicians in Turkey’s midst, and a degree of Kurdish autonomy within Turkey, the PKK and its allies continue to fight on as Ankara deems it not worthwhile to negotiate with what it, the EU and the United States, label as a terrorist group. 


The outgoing government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez has made fierce accusations against his Venezuelan rival, President Hugo Chavez, claiming that the Chavez regime is knowingly providing a safe haven to major FARC leader Ivan Marquez (né Luciano Marín Arango) and a group of about 1500 Marxist guerrillas under his command. The Colombian defense minister Gabriel Silva held a press conference displaying satellite imagery accompanied by highly exacting GPS coordinates showing what the Uribe government insists is the jungle encampment of Ivan Marquez alongside fellow Bolivarian revolutionaries from Chile and Ecuador in Perija mountain range in Venezuela’s Tachira State (Caracol Television [Bogotá], July 16, 2010). Lashing out at Chavez via the Ivan Marquez accusation may be the last gasp of the Uribe presidency, as the Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos refused to comment on the issue, likely in hopes of restoring ties with Caracas, on a recent post-electoral trip to Miami (El Espectador [Bogotá], July 16, 2010). 

A group of Colombian reporters were arrested and deported after crossing into Venezuela in an attempt to interview a leader of Colombia’s second largest rebel faction, “Pablito,” (né Carlos Marin Guarin) who is said be operating there. The swift ejection of the Colombian journalists highlights the genuine sensitivity of the rebel leader issue with the Chavez government. Pablito is a top commander of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional-ELN) (EFE [Madrid], July 19, 2010). Pablito’s ELN was inspired by a semi-fusion of Cuban social revolution and Latin Catholic Liberation Theology in the mid-1960s and today primarily engages in extortion, kidnapping and attacks on oil infrastructure in eastern Colombia (BBC, January 7, 2002). The FARC and the ELN occasionally battle one another for control of territory and resources, but currently appear to be in a state of accommodation and sometime cooperation with one another, at least when both formations are guests inside Venezuela. A Colombian intelligence report made available to a Bogota daily claims that alongside or within FARC camps led by Marquez are ETA radicals from Spain’s Basque region and vaguely stated “Iranian groups” located in or near Apure, Maturin, Monagas, Aragua, Santa Cruz de Aragua on the Venezuelan side of the border (ABC.es, May 21, 2010) with Colombia’s oil rich, insurgency-wracked Arauca Department. 

Ivan Marquez was born in 1955 in Florencia, the capital of the Caquetá Department in southwestern Colombia’s rural Amazonía Region (Semana [Bogotá], November 8, 2007). He is one of the seven members of the FARC’s leadership Secretariat and is thought to lead the Northwestern bloc, one of the seven “blocs” which FARC guerrillas have carved out of the Colombian state as part of their command structure. Marquez has been documented as a FARC hostage negotiator in talks with Hugo Chavez about freeing long-held hostages (Reuters, May 26, 2008). Chavez had been in talks with Marquez about freeing dozens of hostages including the high-profile Ingrid Betancourt and three American defense contractors from Northrop Grumman purportedly who were to be exchanged for roughly 500 guerrilla prisoners (AFP, November 25, 2007). [1] According to a recent report by Colombia’s intelligence service, the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad-DAS), Marquez moves freely between the towns of Machiques and Nula in the cattle ranching region in northwestern Venezuela’s Zulia State hugging Colombia’s Cesar Department (El Espectador, May 18, 2010). The DAS claims Marquez operates training camps in the region with full knowledge and cooperation of local Venezuelan authorities and ranchers, say the Colombians and he exploits his freedom of movement and action there to export his revolutionary “Bolivarian project” across the border in Colombia. 

The alleged presence of Ivan Marquez and Pablito on Venezuelan soil has greatly escalated tensions in South America’s Caribbean realm and plays into Hugo Chavez’s narrative of being a constant victim of American imperialism (in that he considers Colombia’s Uribe to be an American proxy in South America). He has used this persistent narrative, in which he is the central actor, to consolidate his power within Venezuela and project his carefully cultivated image abroad. President Chavez, rather than address Colombia’s claims of Ivan Marquez, Pablito and other Bolivarian revolutionaries allegedly sheltered in the territory he governs, officially severed diplomatic ties with Bogotá in another one of his trademark dramatic television announcements (VOA, July 22, 2010). 


1. Ingrid Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French national and the three American contractors—Marc Gonslaves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell—were all later freed in a Colombian army scheme codenamed, “Operation Jaque,” with Colombian soldiers posing as Leftist guerrillas pretending to be working under orders from FARC leader Alfonso Cano in order to fool the rebels guarding their captives (Le Figaro, July 4, 2008).