Talk to Al Jazeera

Murat Karayilan: Hoping for a Kurdish Spring

The leader of the PKK’s armed wing explains the role of Kurds in the Syrian conflict.

On many fronts in the Middle East major geopolitical and military changes are taking place.
Syria is more or less out of control, and a potential conflict with Turkey is now looming. In Iraq, the fighting continues, and the regime in Iran is facing sanctions and possible Israeli military action.
One group of people straddling the upheaval are the Kurds. You find them in all these countries and they have long fought to create their own country.

So, could geopolitical changes taking place in the Middle East give them a chance to finally reach their goal?
There are an estimated 40 million of them seeking recognition as Kurdish people, but it is not a coordinated effort under one command. One of the most important Kurdish groups is the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is based in northern Iraq. In Iran there is the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) and in Syria there is the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

After seeing reports that the PKK has recently become more involved in attacks in Turkey and after hearing that Kurdish fighters have been seen in battles going on in Syria, we decided to seek out the PKK leader to discuss what he and his fellow Kurds are doing now.
But finding the man leading the PKK in Iraq is not easy. Constantly under threat from Turkish jet fighters dropping bombs on PKK targets, the commander, Murat Karayilan and his team, are constantly on the move, hiding. After driving to an agreed upon meeting point in northern Iraq, however, we met his people who escorted us to a lush area where we finally met him and invited him to talk to Al Jazeera.

“Turkey does not want us to be part of the changes in the Middle East …. Turkey is afraid of the changes in the region. They are afraid that the Kurds will wake up and also rise like the rest of the people in the Middle East …

There are no PKK fighters inside Syria. This is Turkish propaganda. As far as I know and I follow the Syrian situation very closely, there are PYD  forces in that area but they are not cooperating with the regime or the government forces. PKK is an organisation that wants peace and democracy in the region. PKK has been fighting for peace for 40 years.  PKK supports change and democracy in Syria. But PKK does not accept Turkish interference in Syria. That’s the main problem …

There are many Kurdish political parties inside Syria and they don’t cooperate with either the Syrian government or opposition, they have chosen a third path, in the middle. For example in Aleppo, the Kurds decided to stay outside the fight because they see that the opposition in Syria is backed by Turkey. The opposition has not recognised Kurdish rights. They have not reached an agreement. So the Kurds in Syria have decided to stay neutral. But they also want change …. Generally speaking if the opposition recognise the rights of the Kurds in that area, then the Kurds might join the opposition there …

Now the Kurds in the area are not fighting any battles or getting involved because their goal is not to take over the Damascus regime. The Kurds just want to have their own natural rights. This is the Kurdish reality …. We want a revolution and we are on the side of the revolution. But we believe in a different way of achieving the revolution. We do not support the regime, we are on the side of change and democracy …

The region is heading towards a sectarian war. This is very dangerous. We will not get involved in the Sunni Shia divide. Kurds will stay neutral. We would like to see constructive politics. Turkey is trying to twist our position. Because they want to finish the PKK and they want us to become a target in the current war …

It’s a path for democracy and freedom that started in Tunisia and Egypt. We will take part in this path. The Kurds will not be anybody’s army. We have to stay independent and work with the people. We will be on the side of democracy, if the West brings democracy we will take part in it. But if the West has hidden agendas then we will not take part. This is what we are preparing for …

This is the time to end those kinds of regimes. Sooner or later they will fall. But the use of force alone will only bring more destruction now and later. Change is a must and Assad should not insist on staying in power.”

Murat Karayilan, PKK’s leader


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