Ocalan v. Barzani: Two contradictory worlds

Kamal Chomani

By Kamal Chomani:

The Changes in the PKK’s Policies towards the KRG

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its legendary leader, Abdulla Ocalan, pose a strong challenge to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its leader, Masoud Barzani. The PKK is no longer a party just for northern Kurdistan: Today it also impacts significantly on the other parts of Kurdistan – something the KDP cannot tolerate.

The conflict between the PKK and KDP has become more apparent since the start of the Syrian revolution, with the involvement of the various Kurdish parties there. Basically, the Kurdish Syrian opposition parties have always been supported by the PKK, the KDP or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Over the past three decades, the PKK has become the strongest party in western Kurdistan due to Ocalan’s presence there until 1999. Meantime, the PKK has given Syrian Kurds prominent positions in its hierarchy. We can think of current and former People’s Defence Force (HPG) commanders who are from that part of Kurdistan. Dr Bahoz Erdal, also from the western part of Kurdistan, is a noted leader of the PKK. It is therefore unsurprising that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – which is close to the PKK – is now the leading Kurdish party in Syria.

But this is not a good story for Barzani who now has only weak support in Syria. In fact, his residual strength among the Kurds of Syria is due to the popularity of his father, Mullah Mustafa Barzani.

The different perspectives of the KDP and PKK have provided the basis for conflict between them over Syria. But is this conflict new, as some media outlets claim? Is it as superficial as some analysts argue? Why has it become clearer now? And the most important question is: Has the PKK changed its policies concerning the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and, if so, how?

Many articles have written about all these issues in the Kurdish, Turkish and international media.

As I said, the Syrian revolution has crystalized the conflict between the KDP and PKK, from which we see the PKK in the ascendancy because the PYD has done well in organizing the population and armed defence groups. So the KDP and Barzani have become desperate. Barzani has lost his dream of winning the hearts of the Kurdish Syrian people. The PYD, even if it has become hegemonic, has won people’s hearts and it will continue invigorating its bases within the population.

The future of Syrian Kurdistan is very important for both the PKK and KDP. Both want a hand in future geo-strategic formulations. In a post-Assad era, Kurdish parties will definitely have a great impact on shaping the new Syria.

However, the differences between the KDP and PKK are not new. The ideological roots of each party are different: The PKK’s Marxist-Leninist background is set against the KDP’s tribal essence. Although the KDP is perceived to have a democrat-conservative ideology, in fact it has no real ideological identity. It is more or less a tribal party which has not changed its forms and norms since its foundation. Even though the PKK has abandoned most of its Marxist-Leninist thinking, it remains opposed to tribalism.

If the PKK has not openly criticized the KDP’s policies, this is because it has been avoiding any conflict that affects its freedom struggle against Turkey. In the past the PKK has never won anything from battles with the KDP and PUK. In the 1990s such conflicts cost the lives of many of its guerrillas, not to mention the financial losses.

But the PKK has completely different views towards Kurdish nationalism than the KDP. Masoud Barzani talks every now and then about an Independent Kurdistan while, on the ground, almost everything his party does goes against this. The PKK no longer believes in establishing a nation-state in which basic human rights and freedom of speech and the individual are not guaranteed.   The KDP’s talk of independence is designed to fool the masses and grab their sympathy, while the PKK’s nationalism seeks to build Kurdish identity and educate people.

The PKK doesn’t see the KDP as a strategic ally since it believes that, for the KDP, the interests of the Barzani family are paramount. At the same time, the PKK knows very well that they should not provoke the KDP because they have had experience of a struggle during which the KDP accepted help from Turkey. And the Turkish Army still has bases in the KDP zone of southern Kurdistan.

The PKK has changed its approach towards the KRG and the local political parties. Previously it formed a political party to operate in the region, with a different name though under the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) umbrella. The Parti Careseri Dimukirati Kurdistan (PCDK), is a PKK-affiliated party in the Kurdistan Region. Although it has been banned by the KRG and its headquarters were closed by the KDP, the party continues to operate – but it has never been successful or met the PKK’s expectations.  The PCDK couldn’t win even a single seat in the 2009 KRG elections, and I doubt they will win any if they stand again this year.

It is true that the PKK has great support from the people of southern Kurdistan, especially among the young, but still people don’t see it as a party that can overcome the KRG’s corruption, nepotism, the violations of human rights and independent journalism, and all the other crises that the KRG has faced.

So the PKK is pursuing a new strategy of working with other parties in the region. It is currently close to Jalal Talabani’s PUK, partly because of their common ideological heritage and also because the PUK shares fewer interests with Turkey than the KDP. While the PUK will never harm the PKK’s interests for the sake of Turkey, the KDP might well do so. The KDP and Turkey’s ties are strong and their interests are interconnected.

At the same time, the PKK has also developed very close relations with the Gorran Movement, because of Gorran’s obvious support for the PKK’s struggle and also their common perspectives on Kurdish nationalism. It is beyond question that Gorran’s media has supported the PKK struggle more than any other KRG party media.

The PKK has also built very good ties with the Islamic Union and Islamic Group. The Islamic Union is close to the AKP and so, given the peace talks, it was not strange to see Muhammad Faraj, that party’s leader, shaking hands with Murat Karayilan in the Qandil. After the meeting, Faraj took a letter from Karayilan to Turkey.

The PKK no longer needs a political party to work for them in the Kurdistan Region. What they need are strategic alliances with parties that can work together in the interests of the Kurdish nation. If the peace talks reach the shores safely, such alliances will be much more important than an affiliated party. Kurdish people in the Kurdistan Region wholeheartedly support the PKK but they will not vote for a party affiliated to it. So the PKK may ask the PCDK to run in future elections alongside another party that the PKK is allied to.

Another change in the PKK’s approach is that it no longer needs new members in the region. Instead it just wants people to be educated by Ocalan’s ideology and thought. Ocalan’s books and ideas are now widely read and discussed by the new generation in the region. I think the PKK will focus, more or less, on using the media and NGOs to win the youth, rather than a political party.

When I met Murat Karayilan before the July 25, 2009 elections, I asked him about the PKK’s support for Masoud Barzani’s presidential candidacy. Although he didn’t clearly say the PKK supported Barzani, indirectly he indicated to me that he personally thought Barzani was a good candidate for that time. Today, however, there are two reasons why I don’t think the PKK will support Barzani’s re-nomination. First, the PKK cannot support something that is illegal. Second, it doesn’t want to see the incumbent president strengthened because Barzani has invested heavily in appearing as Ocalan’s stronger rival – a mission in which, I believe, he has failed.


Copyright © 2013 Kurdistantribune.com

13 Responses to Ocalan v. Barzani: Two contradictory worlds
  1. Kurdistan
    May 11, 2013 | 18:59

    Do you believe that PCDK could run with Gorran and the Islamic parties in the upcoming election?

    You say that many Bashuris are supporters of the PKK, no doubt that they’re many, but the majority I have met on the internet, seems to be very anti-PKK

    Thank you for the nice article

  2. Ari Ali
    May 11, 2013 | 20:45

    Now there is more to this and may be Kak Kamal was not contemporary of the events . KDP have not left any kurdish faction with whom they had no armed conflict with support from kurdish enemy : 1995 masoud assisted Saddam Army to kill fellow kurds in the region . In 1997 assisted Turkish Army to kill PKK . These guys they will do anything for money ! Sad but true . Wikipedia documents our wounds caused by repetitive barzanies treason movingly :

    ” Operation Hammer and operation dawn : was a cross-border operation by the Turkish Armed Forces into northern Iraq between 12 May and 7 July 1997 against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
    The operations objectives were to destroy PKK units in Northern Iraq, to strengthen Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party in its ongoing Civil War with Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the hope that the KDP would prevent further PKK raids into Turkey. Some 30[8]-50[1] thousand Turkish forces entered Iraq on May 14 in response to an appeal by the Kurdistan Democratic Party for support in its offensive against the PKK.[1] On May 19, the KDP launched a military operation to evacuate all PKK fighters from their capital in Arbil,[8] which turned into a major battle in which 53 KDP and 58 PKK fighters were killed. In response the PKK ordered 4 suicide bombings from June 1 to June 11 which resulted in the death of 55 KDP fighters[7] By July 7, when Turkish forces withdrew, over 2,000 PKK and at least 200 KDP forces had been killed.[7]
    The operation drew strong condemnation from Iraq, Iran and Syria.[1]
    Casualties [edit]

    More than 30,000 troops took part in the initial operation.[9] Turkey announced fatalities at a total of 114 personnel made out of 14 commissioned officers, four non-commissioned officers, 75 soldiers and 21 village guards. Turkey announced the injured at a total of 185 personnel made out of 24 commissioned officers 17 non-commissioned officers, 338 soldiers and 48 village guards. Turkey announced the total number of militants neutralized at a total of 3,145 with 2,730 being killed and 415 being captured live or injured.[5]
    Turkey launched another large-scale operation in September known as Operation Dawn” wikipedia

  3. Suleiyman
    May 12, 2013 | 04:36

    I believe we Kurds have never had honest leaders beyond Qazi Mohammad and Mala Mustafa Barzani. After them everyone has been for themselves, including the current Barzanis. As for Ocalan, there is no telling what he would do if he gets the power that Barzanis have now so we can’t be going and making look like the most innocent man on earth. Kurdistan needs new leadership. How is it these parties all these years have not been able to replace their current leaders, Masud Barzani, Jalal Talabani, and Ocalan? Are they really thinking there are no worthy replacements? That’s is the base of the problem. Our people are naive and tribal and tend to accept their status quo. Why can’t KDP or even Goran, for that matter, just come out and tell their old ages dinosaur-time mentality leaders to step aside and let the youth lead?

  4. Osman
    May 12, 2013 | 11:16

    @Ari Ali,
    You must be very stupid,
    backing up your arguments with Wikipedia sources!!

    • Ari Ali
      May 12, 2013 | 23:53

      @osman , i lived these events : 1- The great barzanies war with fellow kurds based on pure greed and refusal to accept ballots ( so called mother of kamarik ) 2-Saddam invasion of Erbil ( with help of masoud ) 3-Recurrent turkish invasions to wipe PKK with Masoud help .

      Events are lived by us brother wikipedia documented that .

  5. Aliser
    May 12, 2013 | 14:27

    Fantastic article. As a Kurd from Australia who follows the developments in Kurdistan very closely I am impressed by your endeavour to provide a unique and in depth insight into the Kurdish movement.

    Spas heval!!

  6. mark
    May 27, 2013 | 10:28

    Interesting insights.However,they miss two fundamental elements.First,Barzani has done an outstanding job managing Kurdish Iraq’s economy and delicate political position vis a vis Baghdad and Turkey.Under his stewardship Northern Iraq has an economy,administration and degree of independence most other Kurds can only dream of – for the time being.On the other hand,Ocalan is merely an idealogue with no real administrative or governmental experience.In short,Barzani has built the closest thing to a real “Kurdistan” since the Ottomans.That is something Ocalan can’t compete with.After all,when all the talking is done Kurds,like everyone else,want to live in a well run society.

    And secondly,there can never be a Kurdistan without access to the sea.That’s the greatest geographical challenge to the formation of a Kurdish state.Barzani understands this.That is a big part of why he needs to get along with Turkey.However,sea access could be created through Northern Syria.And that,above all,is why Syrians should make an alliance with Kurdish Iraq their top priority.If the Syrian Kurds unite,establish some Northern Iraq style autonomy and open a pathway from N. Iraq to the sea then the creation of a Kurdistan can actually begin.

    • Ari Ali
      May 27, 2013 | 23:31

      ”Under his stewardship Northern Iraq has an economy,administration and degree of independence most other Kurds can only dream of – for the time being.” . Just historical coincidence … Iraq as a state ransacked and a major share of stolen money is diverted to Barzanies who stole best part of it , there is also extra illegal activities by these criminal gangsters like oil smuggling etc.

      People in area of kurdistan are living in absolute fear and terror form these mafias . They are forced to vote , to go to demonstartion , to praise maosud and his family and his party and the rest of it that we all know . It is exactly like Saddam time in eighties when he was the sweetheart of the west. The Barzanies are illiterate and stupid criminals who some how with american help managed to subdue a good part of the area . By the look of it , their days are numbered .

      • Dio
        January 3, 2014 | 17:23

        Ari Ali, we know you hate the barzani family, and with that comes alot of lies from people like you towards them, tell me who do you support, ocalan?, talabani?, nawshirwan?, if its one of them i can give you tons of treasons and crimes from these three musketeers, we can begin with talabani and nawshirwan when nawshirwan was a deputy leader of PUK, 1966 when they allied themselves with saddam hussein to fight mustafa barzanis and his peshmergas in the mountain, or why not on 31 ab when they brought iranian army troops to kurdistan, you talk about barzani has killed kurds during that time you are full of lies, the ones who got killed were PUK members and you honestly think that two rivals wouldnt kill each other haha, that is how war works if you didnt know, you kill your rivals and enemies, nawshirwan admitted himself on a video clip on youtube you can find it, were he says iranian artillery killed approx 300-400 PDK peshmergas, and you sit here only criticizing barzani, barzani did what he had to do to not let iranians take over hawler with PUKs help, so he asked first U.S for help to kick them out, they didnt give him an answer or help so he was forced to ask saddam for help since saddam also hated and was arch enemy of iran, so both of them attacked PUK and iranian forces which PUK brought to kurdistan, if it wasnt for that so called “treason” from barzani today bashur would be an iranian territory, were hundreds of kurds would be hanged like in todays iran, and not the kurdistan we have today, and when it comes to ocalan, how many times have ocalan not praised the turkish people and the republic of turkey, just search for his quotes on the net, and he also said when he got captured “my mother is a turk, i love turkish people and i love kurdish people, i have a hunch that i can be of service to the turkish people and the turkish republic, dont let it be any torture”, he sold his people and his country when he said those things, and he has several times before said “for peace and brotherhood, im ready to serve the turkish state”, and he has also said “our movement is a turkish movement” i thought it was a kurdish movement?, and refers southeast turkey as turkey and not bakur or kurdistan, and you sit here and talk about only barzani when the ones you support have done much more treasons than barzani, the thing is people like you are the ones who divides kurds by telling lies to others just because you hate someone, its total BS that people in kurdistan are forced to vote for barzani, and to praise barzani and his family, you just cant handle and accept that alot of kurds love barzani and PDK in kurdistan, im not supporting anyone or any party, but i get really pissed when people like you only blame everything on barzani when the ones you support yourself is the same thing, but me as kurd, admit that its thanks to the barzani family we even got and autonomy today since it was the barzani family in bashur who started the resistance for kurdish rights and autonomy from sheikh ahmed barzani to mustafa barzani who fought saddam until saddam granted kurds autonomy for the first time in year 1970, and i respect them for that, and today some illiterate people like you who are so full of hate sits and calls those who have sacrificed alot for kurdistan adn kurds for mafia, shame on you

        • Stranger
          April 17, 2018 | 20:05

          Ocalan had been saying those things long before he was captured. For example, in 1993 he said: “Turkish-Kurd brotherhood is about 1,000 years old, and we do not accept separation from Turkey. Kurds in Turkey want peace, dialogue, and free political action within the framework of a democratic Turkish state.” Also, many of the founders of the PKK are/were ethnic Turks (like Duran Kalkan and late Kemal Pir) and other non-Kurds.

  7. […] So Öcalan is going to create this new Kurdish state right – breakaway like South Sudan? Fantastic, wonderful! Is that going to be a statelet on the Turkish border, or is a war going to start to try and include the Iraqi Kurds? […]

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