The PKK terrorist group, which has been active in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran for four decades, began to lose its influence in the region in the 2000s as a result of Turkey's initiatives. The PKK's leader Abdullah Öcalan was arrested in 1999, and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) started to put laws into force to extend the rights and freedoms of the Kurds and other minorities oppressed in the past after it won its first election in 2001. It was a first in the history of the Republic of Turkey.
Before the 2000s, Kurds were banned from speaking their own language and publishing literature in Kurdish. The situation in Syria, Iraq and Iran was worse. That behavior in the past had helped the PKK find an opportunity to gain some support among the Kurds who had been asking for their identity to be recognized for years. And yet, the PKK was also oppressing Kurds to make them obey its orders.
Even the former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone once said that the PKK did nothing to help Kurdish citizens; on the contrary, they killed more Kurds than everyone else. Turkey's new policy toward Kurds and other minorities under the AK Party's rule in the early 2000s started to prevent the PKK from showing itself as the representative of the Kurds.
The PKK's restructuring for survival
After the capture of Öcalan in 1999, the PKK wasn't active between 2000 and 2003 but it continued to recruit new members. During those years, the PKK was reorganizing itself to survive and choosing new leaders in order to regain its popularity and influence among the Kurds. In April 2002, the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK). The PKK/KADEK did not carry out a terrorist attack in 2002; however, it continued to make threats and said that it will resume violence one day. In November 2003, it once again renamed itself as the People's Congress of Kurdistan (Kongra-Gel). Kongra-Gel called off the cease-fire in June 2004. In 2005, the original name of the organization, the PKK, was restored, while the Kongra-Gel turned into some kind of a legislature umbrella. The idea of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) was proposed at the fifth congress of the Kongra-Gel held in Qandil in May 2007, and it replaced the Koma Komalen Kurdistan (KKK), which was established at the third congress of Kongra-Gel in May 2005 in accordance with Öcalan's confederalism concept for the "Greater Kurdistan." The KCK was finally established as an umbrella organization covering the PKK in Turkey and its new branches: The Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) in Iran and the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (PÇDK) in Iraq. The KCK/PKK also decided on five different fronts: The ideological front, the social front, the political front, the military front and the women's division. For instance, the PKK's armed wing was the People's Defense Forces (HPG) and the PYD's armed wing was the People's Protection Units (YPG). The transformation of the PKK into a new structure was an attempt for survival and legitimacy in the international arena, as the PKK was not only listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, it was also designated as a foreign terrorist organization in the U.S. and the EU. The PKK and its ancillary organizations continued to fight against Turkey between 2004 and 2010. Even though Turkey's southeastern region was experiencing an escalation of violence with a fierce fight between Turkish security forces and the PKK, Ankara was still trying to find a peaceful solution and was eager to continue the "democratic opening," a first-of-its-kind initiative started in mid-2009.
Turkey was trying to convince those going to Qandil to join the PKK to come back, be active in politics and lay down their arms instead of choosing terrorist activities. The failure of these negotiations contributed to the PKK's violence that was intensified in 2012. The year 2012 was the most violent year since 1999. Meanwhile, the PYD, with its armed wing YPG, was starting to win a name due to the civil war in Syria.
The PYD terrorıst group's rise in Syria
The PYD distanced itself from the uprising in Syria since the beginning, even though the Bashar Assad regime had been denying the ethnic identity of the Kurds for decades.
Instead, they held demonstrations against Turkey. Opposition groups including the Kurds started to say that the PYD was no different than the Shabiha of the Bashar Assad regime. For instance, in February 2012, PYD members beat the Kurds in Afrin since they were protesting the Assad regime's brutality.
In July 2012, Assad forces retreated from almost entirely Kurdish areas letting the PYD take over the region easily. The PYD's collaboration with the Assad regime took a toll on its popularity among Syrian Kurds.
Acting beneath the surface, the Assad regime maintained its presence in the PYD-controlled areas. During this de facto alliance, the regime also gave material support to the PYD while handing those territories. In return, the PYD was oppressing the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens in the regime and stopping them from joining anti-regime opposition groups.
Becoming bolder due to the escalating violence in Syria and the regime's support, in 2013, the YPG and the new police force, the Asayish, cracked down on anti-Assad protests, firing on demonstrators and arresting activists. For instance, on June 27, 2013, the YPG started to shoot and kill Kurds who protested the PYD in Amuda. The YPG started to arbitrarily detain the members and the supporters of the other Kurdish parties such as the Yekiti Party.
In November 2013, the PYD declared the autonomous "self-administration" of Rojava, the so-called "West Kurdistan." The PYD announced in 2014 that they founded three cantons "Afrin, Kobani and Jazira" and alleged that the territory they captured would be a federal region.
As the PYD consolidated control with violence and terror, the protests against it and the regime were cracked down upon and stopped. The Kurds who felt themselves in danger had to flee their hometowns.
What the people of northern Syria needed, Kurdish and non-Kurdish, was a common strategy for dealing with the Assad regime and the rising terror organizations such as Daesh; however the PYD was unlikely to realize it. At least 300,000 Kurds had to flee to Iraq and no fewer than 200,000 fled to Turkey in 2014 since the YPG was as ruthless against the Kurds as Daesh and the Syrian regime.
Initiating Kurdish-Turkish peace talks in 2012, Ankara began to negotiate terms for a permanent peace with the imprisoned Öcalan. In 2013, Kurds and Turks believed in their hearts for the first time that permanent peace was possible even though the reconciliation process had been sabotaged and tested many times.
Washington's nonsensical alliance with PYD
Unfortunately, the PKK, or the KCK as its umbrella organization, and its new branches such as the PYD, never intended to stop the fight against Turkey.
The organization increased its propaganda while it made preparations during the reconciliation process to carry its armed struggle into cities. The Syrian regime's withdrawal from northern Syria had triggered the PKK's separatist dreams to rise from the ashes; but in fact, the U.S. choosing the PYD as an ally on the ground in the fight against Daesh in 2014 gave the PKK the popularity that it had been dreaming of for a long time.
In July 2015, getting more courage from the U.S.-led coalition's support to its Syrian offshoot, the PKK declared the end of the cease-fire and peace talks, resuming its war against the Turkish state.
The terror group did not even hide its goals and consistently said that the Syrian civil war would be carried out to Turkey. Washington has argued that the PYD, the PKK's Syrian affiliate, founded by Öcalan himself, was different than the PKK; the U.S.-supplied weapons for the fight against Daesh were regularly carried via Turkish cities over the Syrian border to be used in the war against Turkey. It was an odd move for a country like the U.S., which is a NATO ally of Turkey and closely watches internal matters in the country as well as regional developments. That has made Turks suspicious about the U.S.' real intentions and helped the rise of anti-American sentiment in Turkey.
The PYD was just a tool for the regime until it got U.S. led anti-Daesh coalition's support. In fact, there was a Syrian "Train and Equip Program" on the table led by the U.S., which was launched in 2014 to train selected Syrian opposition forces inside Syria to fight Daesh, which never happened.
At the end of the day, Syrian opposition forces became weakened against Daesh and the Assad regime, which didn't get even one bullet from their so-called allies in the West. Former U.S. President Barack Obama said that the most organized group on the ground to fight Daesh was the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the PYD. Finally, the U.S. started to send arms and ammunition to the PYD's armed wing the YPG, some of which were carried to Turkey via tunnels by the PKK to be used against Turkey. In the meantime, the Obama administration kept refuting the YPG and the PYD's direct link to the outlawed PKK.
U.S. zig-zags and Ankara's patience
Interestingly enough, the harshest criticism in Washington against the former U.S. president came from senior Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, who has made many contradictions of late. Graham was the very first senator who criticized Obama's wrong decisions and action in deciding to use the YPG as a ground force in Syria to fight Daesh.
In a session of the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee in 2016, Graham grilled former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter over the U.S.' cooperation with the YPG in Syria. Questioning Carter on U.S. support for the YPG, and their relation to the PKK, Graham asked Carter: "Reports indicate that they are aligned or at least have substantial ties with the PKK. Is that true?" Carter admitted it. When Graham asked if the PKK is a terrorist organization in the eyes of the Turkish government, Carter found no place to escape and said, "The PKK is a terrorist organization not only in the eyes of Turkey's government, but in the eyes of the U.S. government as well."
When Graham asked if it is surprising that Turkey is upset with the U.S. administration arming the YPG in Syria which is aligned with the PKK, Carter tried to find the right words and said, "We have extensive consultations with the Turks." However, Graham interrupted Carter's sentences and contradicted him, saying that he was recently in Turkey and the Turkish government was not happy with U.S. support for the PYD and the YPG. "We are arming people inside of Syria who are aligned with a terrorist group; that is the finding of the Turkish government. They think this is the dumbest idea in the world, and I agree with them," Graham said.
Today, the very same Lindsay Graham is threatening Turkey, that it would face "sanctions from hell" if it moves its military into northern Syria. Those words came in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria over Turkey's determination to unilaterally act against the terror groups in the region including the PKK linked terror groups, and Daesh as well, as they present a threat to Turkey's security and stability.
After too many broken promises, zig-zags and twists and turns by the U.S., not to mention dragging its feet during the implementation of the latest agreement dated Aug. 7 to cooperate in northern Syria, I wonder what the U.S. expects from Turkey.
If only one of the threats that Turkey had to face would have happened on the U.S. border, I can't imagine what the U.S. reaction would be. Turkey would not act alone if its NATO ally did not deceive it over and over again. U.S. diplomats and congressmen can continue to try to depict the PKK/PYD as the representative of the Kurds but our world, in reality, is not their imaginary world, sorry to say.