Will The Threat Posed By ISIS Change Views Of The PKK From Terrorist To Friend?

Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

flag-pkkThe bloody horror that befell Northwestern Iraq and in Syria at the hands of ISIS is likely to force a geopolitical reassessment as to alliances and policies. There have been many calling for us to change our role in the Syrian civil war as well as demanding changes in the leadership of Iraq itself. One fact is certain the threat posed by ISIS is real, growing and it seems ironic that even other jihadi groups can no longer accept the actions of this terrorist organization. European governments worry of the distinct possibility a terrorist, failed state will emerge having shores on the Mediterranean.

Such a change might be beginning now and will ultimately find common causes between the West and the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party. While the German Government has historically used legal and diplomatic maneuvers to suppress the PKK, it now is poised to arm the Kurds in Northern Iraq in response to ISIS and very well could be ultimately supporting the PKK, at least unofficially.

The PKK’s historic goal was the establishment of an independent Kurdish homeland that encompassed portions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Initially it aligned itself with Marxist-Leninist ideology and from the mid 1970’s and waged an active insurgency in the East of Turkey. The group evolved into a more western style model, especially in the late 1990’s but kept its armed separatist movement against the Government of Turkey.

Turkey fought a decades long insurrection by the PKK, which represented ethnic Kurds who have long been a repressed minority in both Turkish society and through official actions. The conflict claimed the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, PKK fighters, and civilians. The PKK carried out terrorist attacks in Istanbul and other areas outside the Kurdish homeland such as the seizure by the PKK of the Turkish consulate in Munich and a dozen other attacks against Turkish interests within Germany in 1993.

Abdullah Öcalan
Abdullah Öcalan

Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan has recently renounced violent attacks against the Turkish Government and helped broker a cease fire that was announced in 2013. Just prior to the cease fire, fighting was at a decade high with the government and attacks occasionally were outside the border of Turkey.

Perceptions of the PKK in Europe are still unfavorable. The United States, Germany, and the European Union banned the PKK as a Terrorist Organization. Germany, having a large Turkish segment within its population, has experienced the actions of the PKK on her soil as have other EU nations previously.

Now changes in the Middle East could foster a reverse of policy of the German government with regard to the Kurds and perhaps eventually by extension the PKK, which is aligned with the ethnic Kurds in Northern Iraq. The change has been so rapid that only two weeks ago Angela Merkel inferred there would be no German military support in the Iraq conflict via the PKK, but now there appears to be the beginning of change in that Germany is supporting Iraqi Kurds.

After consulting with Chancellor Merkel, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced that the Bundeswehr would supply the Kurds in Northern Iraq with fifty million euros in support. This includes a supply of 16,000 assault rifles, 240 RPGs, 30 anti-tank missiles, 10,000 hand grenades, ammunition and other supplies.

Deutsche Welle reports Öcalan’s and the PKK’s goal of an independent state no longer seems to be an issue. Now it is about increased autonomy and rights for Kurds in their settlement areas. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced as he took office, that the peace process with the Kurdish minorities would be taken up again.

This coming Monday, September 1, the Turkish government and the PKK leadership will begin such discussions.

The PKK’s rage, which in the past was directed against Turkey, has turned now against a common enemy: the terrorist militia, “Islamic State,” (ISIS). PKK fighters have already delivered several military defeats against ISIS. It is also said that PKK allies helped to free Iraqi Yazidi refugees who had fled from ISIS into the mountains. The battle-hardened PKK seems to be even more successful than the armed forces of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, known as the Peshmerga.

It is thought that Peshmerga fighters and supporters of the PKK have already fought side-by-side against ISIS terrorists. As it seems – unfortunately for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has made it clear she wants German arms to be delivered to the Peshmerga only and not to the PKK – there isn’t really any big difference between the two Kurdish organizations.

kurdistan-regional-government-coat-of-armsBut if we see the blending between the Peshmerga and the PKK in their operations against ISIS, providing assistance to only one will effectively be on paper only. If the Turkish government and the PKK fully resolve their differences, it is highly unlikely the PKK will take terrorist actions against Western interests, especially when the Kurdish population in Turkey believes they have the autonomy and representation they have fought decades to achieve.

The PKK has received support and funding for a cadre of differing nations, including the Soviet Union, Syria, Iran, Turkish diaspora, and others. Its fight against ISIS, regarded nearly universally in the world as an enemy, is likely to upset the balance of these alignments, especially when coupled with a concrete peace between the organization and Turkey.

This could in the short to medium term show in some European government and organizations a divergence between de facto and de jure prohibition of the PKK. Officially these governments will still list the PKK as a proscribed organization but might through the Peshmerga or other anti-ISIS groups funnel aid and support.

The West could debate on whether or not to consider if such an arrangement could backfire as it did with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, but this scenario is less likely.

The Europeans will find it uneasy to back officially any armed group having previously been labeled as terrorist, but if the PKK can show itself becoming more of a political organization that is formed in a coalition with allies fighting a common enemy, the PKK might become formed into a role similar to that of Sinn Fein in Ireland.

By Darren Smith


Der Spiegel (German)
Deutsche Welle
Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan Official Website (photo Credit)

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28 thoughts on “Will The Threat Posed By ISIS Change Views Of The PKK From Terrorist To Friend?”

  1. RWL, Recap:

    The first Blood Moon back in April 2014 and the sign of the times turned out to be a doozie.

    The second Blood Moon will come on October 8, 2014, during the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles. Hold on to your seat.

  2. Yep, arm out enemies. It has worked so well for us before in the Middle East. We don’t have a clue. Billions to spy on Americans but we are always surprised by what goes on there.

    The more money and arms we pump into the ME the less and less we do for our own people. Our leaders seem to love to be distracted from our internal problems by the clang of weapons. ISIS is a group of murdering barbarians but
    we have seem similar behavior from other groups we are now considering calling “ally”. This is a job for the ME countries. It is time they took care of themselves and used the weapons and money they to defend themselves instead of suppressing their own people.

  3. Reblogged this on sea-swoon and commented:
    And if the definition of friend and terrorist is so entirely without substantive criteria, should we really grant those evaluations much validity?

  4. Karen S: “I asked my dad, years ago, why we trained Bin Ladin. … We trained and armed the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against a Russian invasion.”

    That, along with a number of anti-Soviet sponsors, we helped fund and arm mujahideen is true. We didn’t train them, at least not directly. The mujahideen was a conglomerate that had their own rivalries when not allied fighting the Soviets. The mujahideen sponsors also had diverging interests. For example, the CIA worked with Pakistan to sponsor the mujahideen in the anti-Soviet fight. But within the mujahideen, we favored the factions that formed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, while Pakistan sponsored the Taliban.

    However, it’s not true we trained, funded, or armed bin Laden.

    bin Laden was part of a group of Arab radical Islamist proto-terrorist ‘volunteers’ – he wasn’t mujahideen. bin Laden and the other Arabs came to Afghanistan with their own dealings with the mujahideen. bin Laden wasn’t part of our dealings with the mujahideen.

  5. Add: I should say the strategy against ISIS looks like it’s moving towards something that looks like OEF I. It’s not there yet.

  6. So far, the strategy against ISIS looks like OEF I – ie, light, SF-based Western footprint on the ground, heavy in the air, rely on SF-backed local forces for the ground component, and sort out the local players after. From that perspective, the answer is pointing to yes. Not “friend”, perhaps, but ally and strange bedfellow as long as ISIS is enemy #1.

  7. Darren, can you identify the ‘Caltex’ red/yellow/star flag at top for me. Is that PKK?

  8. I’d like to see Iraq get nuclear weapons. It will make them more responsible when they realize they can never use them as a weapon, but Israel might start behaving a little better. Yeah, Hamas is evil & terrorist against its own people; so is Israel against non Jews and Arabs. Palestine made a bad choice to pick Hamas, not realising it was as suppressive as the Israeli government; but suppressive neighbors make you ‘potential trouble source’: accident prone, making mistakes, etc. Any one have any more data on Netanyahu, reported to have killed his psychiatrist?

    1. Actually it is nomenclature. I usually use Retrieved by did not this time out of inattention.

      When comments are retrieved out of Spam they are placed into a collection known as Pending. This is also where moderated comments go if a site is moderated. Next the link to Reply is clicked, a short message can be included, and a button to send it back to the regular blog reads [Approve].

  9. Great Article, Darren!

    The 7 year Tribulation is going to start next month (September 2014)!

    Why? Did anyone notice how quiet it has been between Israel and the Gaza Strip/Hamas? Something is about to happen!

    The 7 year Tribulation is about to begin!

  10. In light of the recent outcry against a shooting instructor’s fatally foolish decision to allow a 9 year old girl to fire an Uzi on full auto, ISIS has been recruiting small children to start brainwashing and training on automatic weapons. They make them watch stonings and beheadings.

    ISIS is really dementedly savage. ISIS, Hamas, and Al Qaeda all share the same bloodthirsty goals to kill all “non believers”. It’s even in the Charter of Hamas, democratically elected by Palestinians. And yet the world slams Israel for fighting back against frequent bombings and terror attacks. It’s a completely different philosophy than that of “Westernized” or moderate muslims, who would also suffer greatly under Sharia Law.

    I asked my dad, years ago, why we trained Bin Ladin. He explained the concept of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We trained and armed the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against a Russian invasion. Since Islamic extremism is sadly so common in the region, it was inevitable that terrorists would rise from the ranks of the mujahadeen, and use our weapons and training against us, once the Russians were beaten back. We will see the same thing with the Afghani and Iraqi security forces we trained, etc. That is why we always hold back the best weapons and training. We never train or arm anyone as well as ourselves, because we assume our alliances to be temporary in this region of unrest and anti-Westernism. That’s all we can do.

    What is very unfortunate is that ISIS was founded and run by a major terrorist that Obama released to Iraq in 2009. He did it again this year, exchanging 5 more top level terrorists for Bergdhal. But at that time he was still ignoring Iraq’s dire warnings about the threat of ISIS, calling them junior varsity. Wrong on world policy yet again. I wonder if he’s finally learned his lesson, or if he will continue to release major terrorists.

    In analyzing the unrest in the Middle East, it would be wise to understand taqiyya. Taqiyya is the mandate for a Muslim to lie to non believers in order to exploit their trust and weaknesses, and destroy them. One must be on guard for taquiyya when hearing the excuses and denials given, for example, for Hamas using children as human shields.



  11. Those of us who have studied the PKK do not view them as terrorists. They are fighting for a homeland, pretty much like are the Jews in Israel. And both Kurds and Jews have employed terrorist tactics. Remember the King David Hotel?

  12. O.K. Darren, two more lost. I was trying to give correct attribution to a site. Is it possible to retrieve that post as well?



  13. Trying again, the comment about waterboarding and Barbarians comes from nakedcapitalism.

  14. P.S. I should put that the comment on ISIS waterboarding and Barbarians comes from the site: nakedcapitalism.org

  15. Darren, I sent you a link on this topic from Glenn Greenwald’s twitter. Of course it has been “lost”. It will interest you and if you can find my post, I’d appreciate it!

  16. Darren, this may interest you:


    “On a December night in 2011, a terrible thing happened on Mount Cudi, near the Turkish-Iraqi border. One side described it as a massacre; the other called it an accident.

    Several Turkish F-16 fighter jets bombed a caravan of villagers that night, apparently under the belief that they were guerilla fighters with the separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The group was returning from northern Iraq and their mules were loaded down with fuel canisters and other cargo. They turned out to be smugglers, not PKK fighters. Some 34 people died in the attack.

    An American Predator drone flying overhead had detected the group, prompting U.S. analysts to alert their Turkish partners.

    The reconnaissance flight—which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2012—and its tragic consequences provided an important insight into the very tight working relationship between American and Turkish intelligence services in the fight against Kurdish separatists. Although the PKK is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, its image has been improved radically by its recent success in fighting ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria. PKK fighters—backed by U.S. airstrikes—are on the front lines against the jihadist movement there, and some in the West are now advocating arming the group and lifting its terrorist label.

    Documents from the archive of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden that Der Spiegel and The Intercept have seen show just how deeply involved America has become in Turkey’s fight against the Kurds. For a time, the NSA even delivered its Turkish partners with the mobile phone location data of PKK leaders on an hourly basis. The U.S. government also provided the Turks with information about PKK money flows, and the whereabouts of some of its leaders living in exile abroad.

    At the same time, the Snowden documents also show that Turkey is one of the United States’ leading targets for spying. Documents show that the political leadership in Washington, D.C., has tasked the NSA with divining Turkey’s “leadership intention,” as well as monitoring its operations in 18 other key areas. This means that Germany’s foreign intelligence service, which drew criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed it had been spying on Turkey, isn’t the only secret service interested in keeping tabs on the government in Ankara.”

  17. Why we have not been fully supporting the Peshmerga forces is just another on the long list od WH malpractice in the Mideast. Regarding the PKK as far as I know they are not enslaving women and children and decapitating journalists. Everything is relative in this world.

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