PKK Refugees Arrested at Turkish Border while Roboski Kurds Welcome Refugees

By Amy L. Beam, Ed.D:

On August 11, 2014, Today’s Zaman reported that 6 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members “escaped” from the PKK and entered into Turkey at the Harbur border gate, south of Silopi, where they “turned themselves in”.   According to an unnamed security officer interviewed on August 15, the six men are being held in Sirnak type D prison.

A truer picture, without the propaganda word tricks, is that they were not escaping their own comrades nor hometown, but rather fleeing, along with thousands of Turkish Kurds living in Iraq, from the violent onslaught of ISID (also known as ISIS and ‘Islamic State’). These include Kurds from Mahmur Camp, established in 1994 by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees which was created when Turkey violently destroyed Kurdish villages in southeast Turkey. Three thousand residents of Mahmur originally fled from Hilal, a village of 5600 in a beautiful river canyon in Turkey. Other refugees came from villages around Uludere and Beytuşşebap in the Sirnak province where over 40 villages were burned, bombed, and evacuated.

These Kurdish refugees from Turkey were not compensated for the destruction of their livestock, agriculture, or homes nor the physical and psychological violence inflicted upon them. They were herded onto the roads en masse with the clothes on their back.

It should come as little surprise that refugees from old Hilal and elsewhere would become resistance fighters against the Turkish government that is said to have displaced between one and three million Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike the international outcry against the recent assault on Shengal’s non-Muslim Yezidi Kurds, the international media stood silent during Turkey’s massive scorched earth campaign against its own Muslim Kurds.

On August 7, Mahmur Camp in northern Iraq was taken over by the Islamic State forces. On August 10, it was the PKK and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, not the Iraq military, who successfully drove the Islamic State out of Mahmur, with assistance of US aerial bombing requested by Barzani, President of Kurdistan (KRG), Iraq.

Twenty years later, these Kurds who were once refugees from Turkey, find themselves once again refugees, this time fleeing back into Turkey.  This then, is how six men accused of PKK membership chose to take their chances last week and return to Turkey on their Turkish passports. It was an inhumane and unconscionable welcome for Turkey to lock them up in Sirnak prison for “terrorism”.

This action stands as yet another betrayal of Kurds in a long history of betrayal. It defies the Turkish government’s roadmap to repatriate PKK members, without prosecution, under a draft plan passed by Parliament in July 2014, called the “Law to End Terrorism and Strengthen Social Integration.”

Prime Minister Erdoğan stated the “roadmap” to return PKK members from Iraq to Turkey without prosecution is ready. The plan specifically calls for repatriation of PKK living in Mahmur Camp. The anti-terrorism laws, however, remain in-tact, and the PKK remains listed as a terrorist organization making returning to Turkey highly risky.  So apparently, the “roadmap” is either not ready or Turkey has no intention of honoring this plan.

According to the plan, those who live in PKK camps, such as Mahmur, will need to return to Turkey voluntarily as they are officially regarded as refugees.  The plan includes social services programs to reintegrate PKK members into society and help them establish businesses in southeastern Turkey (north Kurdistan).

Unless Turkey honors its plan to repatriate PKK members without prosecution, internal peace between the Kurds and the Turkish government cannot proceed effectively. This is not the first time Turkey has deceived PKK members who voluntarily returned to Turkey when Turkey offered repatriation in exchange for laying down their arms.

In 2009, a 34-person PKK “peace group” returned to Turkey in support of the government’s plan to initiate a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict. Most were immediately detained. Twenty-nine were released while 5 were imprisoned. Two groups of PKK members came to Turkey in 1999 on a similar peace mission, but they were arrested and some jailed for as many as 22 years for belonging to the PKK. This action effectively halted the peace process between the Kurds and the Turkish government.

Hundreds of references to the 1999 incident have been blocked on the internet by Turkey state censorship making it virtually impossible to read details of this peace initiative disaster other than one oft-quoted sentence.

The PKK has proven itself as a defender of human rights and democracy. It is time for Turkey, the U.S., and European Union to remove it from the terrorist list and lift the threat of arrest. Those who call themselves journalists must stop mindlessly tagging on the word “terrorist” every time they refer to the PKK. They should follow the lead of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which, on April 24, changed its terminology for describing PKK militants to “activists.” The European Parliament is also debating a resolution to remove the PKK from the EU’s terror list.

Nothing can compare to the state terror inflicted upon the Kurds in the 1990s when over 3000 villages were destroyed.

In stark contrast to the arrest of PKK refugees at Harbur Gate, dozens of Shengal’s Yezidi Kurdish refugees now fleeing the ‘Islamic State’, who do not hold Turkish passports, crossed over the mountain trails into Turkey and are being rescued, fed and housed by Kurdish residents in Gulyazi and Roboski. These two villages are home to the families of 34 victims of the Roboski massacre, Dec. 28, 2011, in which Turkey flew two F-16s and bombed innocent civilians, most of them teenagers. They know what it is like to have no friends but the mountains and have extended their renowned Kurdish hospitality to the refugees.

A tweetAccording to Gulyazi-Roboski community activist, Hikmet “Reber” Alma (Twitter @reberalma), the refugees stay only a few days, then are being transported to a refugee camp in Silopi, Turkey. They have transferred over 400 refugees with more on the way.

Other community leaders organizing the aid include Ferhat Encu (spokesman for the families of Roboski massacre), Mehmet Kara, and Meral Geylani.

Hikmet "Reber" Alma, Gulyazi community leader organizing aid for refugees

Hikmet “Reber” Alma, Gulyazi community leader organizing aid for refugees

Refugee limps over mountain pass from Iraq into Roboski, Turkey

Refugee limps over mountain pass from Iraq into Roboski, Turkey

Amy L. Beam promotes tourism to eastern Turkey at Mount Ararat Trek ( and writes occasionally on Kurdish issues. Follow her on twitter  @amybeam 

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