President Erdoğan: Time to Grant PKK Amnesty and Make Kurdish Restitution

By Amy L Beam, Ed.D:

Today’s Zaman, on August 11, 2014, reported that 6 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members have escaped from the PKK and entered into Turkey at the Harbur border gate where they “turned themselves in”.  One might reasonably infer that they were arrested when their identities where cross-referenced by Turkish Immigration authorities against a list of suspected PKK members. So this is, presumably, how they “turned themselves in.”

This writer was not personally there at Habur border gate, nor have I spoken to any of the 6 PKK members whom Today’s Zaman said “escaped” from their own PKK party and village where they live. This is a strange contradiction in terms. One might be so bold as to call it mainstream media propaganda “spin.” To use the word “escaped” misleads readers to believe these PKK members were being held hostage by their very own comrades. That’s what “escape” means, after all: to be held against one’s will.

Between 1991-1994 Turkey evacuated, burned, and bombed 2260 Kurdish villages in SE Turkey (according to the government’s own report). At least one million Kurds were forcibly displaced. Thousands of Kurdish refugees fled to Iraq where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) established Mahmur (Maxmur) Camp.  On August 7, Mahmur Camp was taken over by the Islamic State forces.

Mahmur Camp is 20 years old and its population is variously reported as between 12,000 and 25,000 people including many children born there. The town of Mahmur Camp is not a tent city. It has roads, houses, buildings, schools, and businesses. It is defended by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Residents are not hostages of the PKK; rather Mahmur is home to the PKK. It was Mahmur residents, PKK members, and Peshmerga forces who drove out the ‘Islamic State’ (referred to as ISIS, ISIL, ISID) on August 10, and retook control of Mahmur Camp.

Between August 7-9, Mahmur residents were faced with choosing between terror and possible death from Islamic State forces, who had already massacred hundreds of Yezidi Kurds in Shengal, Iraq, or possible arrest by the Turkish government at Harbur gate border crossing for being associated with the PKK if they dared to return to Turkey using their Turkish passports.

On July 7, 2014, the Daily Sabah paper announced that PM Erdoğan presented a plan to Parliament called the “Active Remorse Law” for PKK members to return to their families in Turkey without prosecution. It stated the “roadmap” to return PKK members from Iraq to Turkey without prosecution is ready.  The Active Remorse Law would require PKK members to denounce their affiliation with their party, but the anti-terrorism laws remain intact, and the PKK remains listed as a terrorist organization, making returning to Turkey highly risky.   Previous PKK members who returned were prosecuted.

The government’s roadmap includes the entire evacuation of 8 PKK camps in northern Iraq. The list was not reported by the newspapers.  Was Mahmur on the list of 8 PKK camps targeted by Turkey for evacuation?

'Maxmur Defense Force' fighters have re-taken the town; Pic Rojava Report

Maxmur Defense Forces fighters have re-taken the town; Pic Rojava Report

As reported by Mufid Abdulla in Kurdistan Tribune “sources told us that last Thursday [August 7, 2014] the PKK received a message at their Qandil headquarters stating that the Turkish MIT (intelligence) had told KDP [Peshmerga] forces to leave Maxmur to PKK forces so that they would be crushed by the IS. As soon as the PKK learned of this plot, they tactically left Maxmur and put it on their website that Maxmur was empty of forces.”

Now would be the opportune time for Turkey’s new President Erdoğan to give amnesty to those PKK members who escaped, not from the PKK, but from the Islamic State terrorists, and returned to Turkey in the past week.

The requirement for PKK members to admit “remorse” for their party affiliation should not come before Turkey admits its own State remorse and gives formal apology and financial restitution to the Kurds whose villages were destroyed in the 1990s and who took up their resistance fight as a result of State persecution.

President Erdoğan was elected by only half of Turkey’s voters (51%) on August 10. This is not an overwhelming mandate of support. Rather it demonstrates that Turkey remains deeply divided.

“I will not be the president of only those who voted for me, I will be the president of 77 million,” Erdoğan said in a victory speech delivered from the balcony of the Ankara headquarters of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP. “I want to build a new future, as of today, with an understanding of a societal reconciliation.”

President Erdoğan now has an opportunity to demonstrate whether he is serious about societal reconciliation. His first act should be to grant unconditional amnesty to those 242 PKK members who, according to the Sirnak Governor, have returned from Iraq since March 21, 2013, and who took a chance on Turkey. Amnesty should not include requiring them to provide names and information about other PKK members or admit remorse.

In addition to those 242 PKK who returned in the past year, the government has claimed that teenagers from over 46 families were “kidnapped against their will” by the PKK and it has urged the PKK to return them. Although most Kurds feel this scenario of teens being taken against their will is highly improbable, nonetheless, President Erdoğan should, also, extend legal amnesty to any PKK teenager wishing to return to his or her family.

If full amnesty is not granted, then there is little hope of peacefully closing the PKK camps in Iraq and making restitution to those Kurds who were exiled in the 1990s.  Both President Erdoğan and his ally President Obama must learn that it is impossible to look forward without looking backward. Bombing the PKK camps into annihilation, under the new guise of fighting the Islamic State threat, will not be a solution. Supporting Kurds is the only way forward toward peace and prosperity.


Turkey’s Failed Policy To Aid The Forcibly Displaced in the Southeast, Vol. 8, No. 9 (D); see paragraph title “Figures on the Displaced,” Human Rights Watch, June 1996;

Weapons Transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey; Human Rights Watch, 1995;

List of Hamlets and Villages Evacuated or Destroyed in Northern Kurdistan (Turkey), sources: Human Rights Organisation IHD, Annual report 1993; Archive Kurdistan Information Centre January – August 1994;!topic/soc.culture.kurdish/9S6O2HltfDQ

Forced evacuations and destruction of villages in Dersim (Tunceli) and western Bingol, Turkish Kurdistan, September-November 1994;

Kurds Are Finally Heard: Turkey Burned Our Villages, New York Times, By Dexter Filkins, October 24, 2003;

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

One Response to President Erdoğan: Time to Grant PKK Amnesty and Make Kurdish Restitution
  1. Ardalan
    August 12, 2014 | 05:24

    All Kurdish political parties are united in all 4 parts of Kurdistan. They are all urging Obamas Admins for support. The US should fully arm the Kurds so that they can kick of a Kurdish Spring in the region. It will be in the interest of both the Kurds and the West. Kurds need a new patriot leader, not the old ones.

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