Monday, November 12, 2007
The Strange World of the PKK
Picture taken from www.metimes.com
Article can be found on www.kurdishaspect.com
The Worker's Party of Kurdistan better know under its Kurdish acronym PKK has been waging armed struggle against the Turkish state since the 1980s. Its stated aims have changed over time but focus around the recognition of Kurdish rights and a minimum of self-autonomy. Labelled as a terrorist organisation in many Western capitals, it is again the centre of attention following the resurgence of military operations on the Turkish Iraqi border and the threat of Turkish incursions in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. In her interview of a former militant Deborah Haynes reveals a personal account of life with the militia. As seen in many similar organisations such as the FARC of Colombia, The LTTE of Srilanka or the Moujahideen Khalq Iran, the PKK appears to have achieved an equality between the sexes in life and death. But all at a price. Inspired freedom fighters or Brainwashed fanatic terrorists...You make your own mind.
For her the war is over: the PKK fighter who wants to end killing
Deborah Haynes in Irbil, northern Iraq
With her Kalashnikov folded in half to stop it dragging on the ground and ammunition strapped around her tiny waist, Zerya was 12 when she became a Kurdish fighter in the Turkish mountains after running away from home.
Sixteen years later her body bears the scars of countless battles with Turkish soldiers and her eyes are haunted by the memories of friends she has lost. No longer a guerrilla for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), she is trying to fit back into society, using a mobile phone for the first time and discovering treats such as ice cream and pizza that she never had in the mountains.
Zerya’s experience of fighting against Turkey to secure greater rights for the Kurds, she says, has taught her that the problem can be solved only by agreement between both sides. “If the guerrillas decided to come down from the mountains and disarm, then Turkey would kill all of them,” she said, speaking to The Times at a secret location in the Kurdish north of Iraq.
“When it comes to Turkey you either submit or you fight – there are only two options,” said the 28-year-old, who has shed the dark green fatigues of the outlawed rebel group for a smart trouser suit and heeled shoes.
The PKK offered a new way for both sides to step away from confrontation yesterday. The group said that it was open to dialogue with Turkey that could lead to it laying down its arms, thus avoiding a war across the border of two of America’s strategic allies in the region.
Zerya’s life as a teenage rebel fighter began when she first heard about the PKK as a ten-year-old growing up in Hamburg, where her Kurdish family were asylum-seekers from the mountains of southern Turkey.
A talented musician and dancer, she became attracted to the organisation because it ran clubs that taught Kurdish songs and history. “Every song or poem taught us something about the Kurdish cause,” she said in a hushed voice to avoid drawing attention to herself. The PKK is now classed as a terrorist organisation by much of the international community.
Captivated by the plight of the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, Zerya yearned to help: “It was like an illness for me. I just wanted to go to Kurdistan and fight in the mountains.”
After a year of pestering PKK leaders in Hamburg she was given permission to travel on a fake Turkish passport to Syria, where she was meant to stay until she turned 16 and was deemed old enough to learn how to fight. She left Germany aged 12, without telling her parents. But instead of waiting in Syria she secretly followed a group of PKK trainees to Lebanon, literally tracing their footprints until she arrived at the Bekaa Valley.
There, she was allowed to join a six-month political and military training course with 300 recruits. “I remember walking along a path with a Kalashnikov over my shoulder but it was too long for me and would hit the ground,” Zerya said, recalling the day her training finished and she was sent to the mountains to fight. “That first day I felt I was free and in my home for the first time in my life.”
Instead of studying, gossiping about boys and listening to pop music, Zerya spent her teenage years fighting Turkish soldiers, living off scraps of food and sleeping wherever she found shelter. “We lived in caves or just used plastic sheets for cover. Sometimes if the weather was kind then we would live under the stars like birds.”
By the time she was 14, Zerya was commanding small groups of rebels on operations. Equality is a principle cherished by the PKK, which divides responsibility evenly between men and women fighters.
She recalled one occasion when her unit became encircled by Turkish soldiers. “I spotted a weak point in the Turkish line and started to lead my colleagues out but one young man panicked. I had to slap him to calm him down.” On another occasion, aged 16, a Turkish grenade exploded close by, sending a chunk of shrapnel deep into her left knee. “In the heat of the fight I did not feel the pain, but then I had difficulty moving so my male colleagues took me to safety.”
The guerrillas had nothing to treat Zerya with other than water and thread to stitch up her knee. She was forced to shelter in a cave for two months until she was strong enough to walk again. “It was winter and bitterly cold. It was too dangerous to light a fire because that would have drawn attention to our position.”
Sexual relationships, and certainly falling in love, are forbidden between PKK fighters in the mountains because the group feels that such a bond would distract a couple from the battle. Zerya spoke of one young man she grew close to. “He liked me and I liked him but we never told each other,” she said. The man was killed during a fight with Turkish troops.
Zerya had her fair share of injuries after 13 years in the mountains, including shrapnel wounds to the chest and thigh. She began to feel a burden on her fellow fighters so decided three years ago to leave the armed struggle to seek shelter in the Kurdish north of Iraq. Returning to civilisation was like stepping out of a time capsule.
Life is hard after the PKK because her past means that she has no official identity or nationality and no passport. “I would like to settle down and do some work to help women and children,” she said. She is trying to return to Germany, where her family is still living. Asked whether she would ever return to the front line for the PKK, Zerya says that her fighting days are over. “From my time in the mountains, I have understood one thing: killing is not the solution to this problem.”