Exclusive Interview with the Head of the Militant Arm of the Separatist Group PKK

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 29

The acting Commander of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, Murat Karayilan

Murat Karayilan is the acting commander of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK) and chairman of the executive council of the Kurdish Democratic Confederation  (Koma Civaken Kurdistan – KCK). Karayilan, whose surname means “black snake,” joined the PKK in 1979, just a year before the 1980 Turkish military coup. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and Turkey. In an August 11 interview with Karayilan in a PKK camp located in the mountains of northern Iraq, Karayilan said that he would like to return to his home country. “But I am not dreaming about this, I am a realist.”
Karayilan controls around 8000 PKK insurgents, spread almost equally through northern Iraq and Turkey. The PKK commander claims that the movement can easily increase the number of insurgents, but at the moment they are following a self-defense strategy: “The biggest part of this strategy is a political struggle. Most military actions are only for reasons of defense.”

The PKK is still waiting for the release of the “roadmap” of conditions necessary for the PKK to lay down arms in its decades-old struggle against the Turkish state. The roadmap is the work of imprisoned PKK-leader Abdullah Ocalan, but rather than being released by authorities after its completion in August, the document has ended up in the hands of the public prosecutor’s office (Today’s Zaman, September 5; see also Terrorism Monitor, August 6; Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 10). Karayilan says that the PKK is prepared for peace, but also for a continuation of “the resistance.” “The [KCK] has taken the decision, despite the approach of Ocalan to find a peaceful solution for the Kurdish question, that if the Turkish state insists on old style approaches, we have to resist these as well.”

JT: How do you see the situation of Kurds today in Turkey?

Karayilan: The struggle and resistance of the PKK since August 15, 1983 has brought the Kurdish question to the point of solution. From the denial of the Kurds to the point that [Turkey] recognizes the Kurdish reality. For the last 16 years, we have been trying to solve the Kurdish question through peaceful ways and announced six unilateral ceasefires, but Turkey did not use this [opportunity] to solve the Kurdish question.
When our leader announced a ceasefire in September 1998, Turkey conspired against him with American support and captured him on February 15, 1999. For the last 11 years all European countries were against us and applied great pressure on us to destroy us. It was a very heavy period.
But currently America is pulling back from Iraq and wants to redesign the region. They think that Turkey’s importance for energy is growing as Turkey and Kurdistan become an energy corridor. An example is the Nabucco pipeline project [the planned Nabucco pipeline will send gas from the Caspian region and possibly Iraq to Europe through Turkey]. For this reason, it is more important to solve the Kurdish issue both internationally and regionally, because there is a need for stability. Stability can only be reached by the West through destroying the Kurdish freedom movement and oppressing Kurds or by solving the Kurdish question.
The Turkish state began this period under the name “the Kurdish Opening.” But what the Turkish state is doing now is not enough to solve the Kurdish question. All around the world there [are] always two parties to talk with, and they have always talked with other parties [Britain with the IRA, Spain with the ETA, etc]. What they are doing at the moment is not considering the other party [the PKK] at all. They want to solve the question by themselves.

JT: What kind of negotiations do you mean?

Karayilan:  For example, the Interior Minister Besir Atalay says the Kurdish issue will be solved in a new Turkish way, there is no other [relevant] example in the world. We are very surprised and waiting to see what kind of solution they mean. They have not shown how they are going to solve the Kurdish question. Atalay gives his red lines: Ocalan will not be freed, there will not be autonomy for Kurds and no education in the mother language. If these are the red lines, how is he going to solve the Kurdish question? Why don’t Kurds have their education in their own language? This approach cannot solve the Kurdish question at all. They might [have the intent] to mislead the international community.

JT: What will be in the roadmap?

Karayilan: For the last three months our leader Abdullah Ocalan has been getting different views from intellectuals, journalists and other people through his lawyers. The roadmap will take the constitution of the first Turkish republic into consideration. This constitution does not say that everyone [in Turkey] is Turkish, but only a citizen of the Turkish republic. At that time [1921] there were no assimilation policies. Kurds could speak their mother tongue and wear Kurdish clothes in parliament. We see the solution within the framework of the constitution of 1921. If the 1921 constitution is taken as a reference, the Kurdish question can be solved. But after July 1923, the Lausanne agreement was signed by the Western powers, which was based on the denial of Kurds and gave the new Turkish authorities the power to change the constitution in 1924. For the last 85 years, Kurds have been living through genocides and tragedies because of this approach of denying the Kurds, while this land is their own land.

Next to this there are many examples where conflicts were solved, like Ireland and Catalonia… The idea is to find examples for similar problems, we are clear about this, but the Turkish state, while having a “Kurdish Opening,” is [also] having hidden meetings to prepare military attacks against the Kurdish freedom movement.

JT: You mean with the Iraqi government and America?

Karayilan: Yes, with Iran as well. We want sincerity. If they use the old methods [of repression], we have the military, political and social power to oppose this. Everybody should know this. Between the 24th and the 27th of July this year, the second congress of the KCK decided to support the roadmap of our leader, but also took the decision to prepare for resistance against the Turkish state.

JT: Joost Lagendijk, former Chairman of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, says if the PKK stops fighting, Turkey will not have any excuse to avoid giving rights to Kurds. What do you think about this?

Karayilan: When there is no guerrilla force, Turkey will say there is no Kurdish question at all. I do not think Mr. Lagendijk understands the mentality of the Turkish state. For instance, the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Moscow in 2004, that “If you do not think there is a Kurdish question, there is no Kurdish question,” and that is only five years ago.

JT: What about the Village Guard program and the amnesty?

We are not discussing amnesty. Who is going to forgive who? Are they going to forgive me?  Almost 70.000 civilians were killed by unknown assassins. Who is going to forgive them? Both sides should forgive each other and the Turkish state has to apologize to the Kurdish people.
JT: What do you think about the Ergenekon case? [1] And the prosecution of Colonel Cemal Temizoz who is accused of killing Kurdish civilians in the 1990s?  [2]

Karayilan: They have to start court cases against [former prime ministers Tansu] Ciller and [Suleyman] Demirel as well.  The Kurdish question cannot be solved through cases such as Ergenekon. It is better to set up a project to reach reconciliation within the society. For example, in South Africa there was a reconciliation commission. A fact finding commission should be established to investigate the murders and killings of both sides.

JT: What about the “peace mothers” of killed Turkish soldiers and PKK guerrillas who organized a peace march from Diyarbakir to Ankara this month [August]. What do you think about this initiative?

Karayilan: It is very nice and positive. In reality, both Kurds and Turks want to solve the Kurdish issue in a peaceful way. But the mentality of the denial of Kurds stops the solution of the Kurdish issue. For the solution a brave will is needed, but nobody can show this at the moment. Some like the CHP [Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi] and the MHP [Milliyetci Hareket Partisi, both Turkish opposition parties] are also against solving the Kurdish question.  

JT: You said America supports a destruction plan, but on the other hand the United States allows the DTP [Demokratik Toplum Partisi – the PKK’s political wing] to open an office in Washington. There were also meetings between President Obama and the DTP. Is this not a sign that America wants a solution?

Karayilan: America has been supporting Turkish policies against the Kurds for years. They asked Turkey to [take] steps to solve the Kurdish question, but they did not do this and at the same time tried to annihilate us. From this perspective, you might say the United States wants the Kurdish problem to be solved. I think America wants a solution whether Turkey wants it or not. I do not think America will accept Turkey trying to finish off the PKK. There is an approach by the United States and Britain to solve the Kurdish issue to bring stability to the region.

But the approach of France and Germany is different – they do not want Turkey in the EU and do not want the Kurdish question to be solved. If there is war, they can refuse Turkey’s EU membership. There were 26 Kurdish politicians arrested in France without any proof. They could not even find a knife yet they were accused of collecting money for the PKK. France is giving Turkey a message: “Don’t be scared, I’m attacking the PKK in my own country and you can have your war against the PKK. We will be at your back and supporting you.” This might upset the Kurdish people. France should change their policies towards the Kurds.

It is important that both European countries and America support a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question and support the roadmap of Abdullah Ocalan. We will see what is going to happen.

1. See Eurasia Daily Monitor, August 6, 2009.

2. Gendarmerie Brigade Commander Colonel Cemal Temizoz and six others are currently on trial for their suspected involvement in 20 unsolved murders in ethnic-Kurdish southeast Turkey. The indictment claims Colonel Temizoz formed a death squad in the region in the 1990s that was involved in the murder of hundreds of Kurds under the cover of “anti-terrorism” efforts. See Today’s Zaman, September 11; September 14; Milliyet, September 18.