The roots and ideology of the PKK

PKK terrorists prepare a barricade before they attack Turkish security forces in Nusaybin, Turkey, Feb. 25, 2016.
PKK terrorists prepare a barricade before they attack Turkish security forces in Nusaybin, Turkey, Feb. 25, 2016.

If the public relations campaign of the PKK tries to use a distorted image of current Turkey to justify its terrorism, these acts are actually perpetrated as a result of a very specific extremist ideology made up of racism and Maoism, and like Hoybun in the past, uses terrorism no matter what kind of government rules the country

If the scope of PKK terrorism – assassination of teachers, suicide attacks in public places – is not commonly known in the West, there is an aspect even less known, including in Turkey: Its roots and ideology. Kurdish nationalism did not emerge with the revolts of the 1880s, which were traditional uprisings of specific tribes against the central government or with the one of Sheikh Said in 1925, which was against secularization, but with the establishment of the Kurdish club in Istanbul in 1919 by Şerif Paşa. The same year, Şerif signed an agreement with the leader of the Armenian National Delegation, Boghos Nubar. This agreement was quite paradoxical, considering the mutual massacres of Kurds and Armenians before and during World War I in the Ottoman Empire or the fact that Kurdish and Armenian nationalists claimed the same territories. The signatories considered that they had eliminated the paradox by claiming that Armenians and Kurds belong "to the same Aryan race." This statement laid the foundation of Kurdish nationalism: Everything bad that happened in the past or could happen in the future is the responsibility of Turks. Turks and Kurds have nothing in common because they are from two different races, and Armenian nationalists are natural allies, also for racial reasons.

In the name of the Aryan race

The Kurdish club collapsed as early as 1920, but Kurdish nationalism continued from 1927 to the late 1940s with the Hoybun, which was a stronger organization, and arguably the ancestor of the PKK. In his published doctoral dissertation (Le Mouvement kurde de Turquie en exil, Berne: Peter Lang, 2007), Jordi Tejel Gorgas explains that the ideology and practices of the Hoybun were based on the ideas of an Aryan race and Aryan fraternity. The Hoybun and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) signed an agreement the year the Kurdish nationalist party was established. In the late 1920s, the Hoybun and ARF wanted to establish an Aryan confederation led by Iran against Turkey and the Soviet Union. Another actor was solicited in fascist Italy in conditions that deserve to be discussed. Vahan Papazian was a leader of ARF and at the same time of the Hoybun. He played a key role in funding the Hoybun, first in collecting money from rich Armenians in Nice, France, then in obtaining funds from the fascist government in Rome. I checked several French documents used by Gorgas, particularly on the role of Papazian, and found no problem in his use of these sources.

In continuity with its racist ideology and its fascist connection, the ARF-Hoybun axis was in touch with Nazi Germany, which presented the Anglo-French-Turkish treaty of October 1939 as proof that Kurdish and Armenian nationalists should fight with the Third Reich. Later, in 1942, a project of Hoybun insurgency in Turkey was studied by the Nazi government with its Kurdish and Armenian partners. In spite of all that, in 1947, the Hoybun dared to present itself as a movement for freedom and human rights, with a wording amazingly similar to the one of the PKK today.

Maoism added to racism

About 25 years after the Hoybun ceased its activities, the PKK emerged in 1973, perpetrating terrorist attacks by 1976 – the first against a hospital – and taking its current name in 1978; the PKK did not fundamentally change the Hoybun legacy but added another component: Maoism, of Pol Pot nuance (Michael Radu, Dilemmas of Democracy and Dictatorship, New Brunswick-London: Transaction Publishers, 2005, p. 79). The Khmer Rouge's inspiration is fundamental to understand why the PKK killed 96 teachers from 1987 to 2002 (Andrew Mango, Turkey and the War on Terror, London-New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 39) and continues to do so, for instance, in murdering Şenay Aybüke Yalçın, a 22-years music teacher, on June 9 of this year. Indeed, Leninist terrorist groups such as the Red Brigades in Italy, in spite of numerous assassinations of civil servants, never killed teachers. Only Maoists, and particularly its Cambodian offshoot, the Khmer Rouge, provided an ideology justifying the assassination of such people or the bombing of a hospital.

Regardless, this extreme form of communism did not change anything in the ideological basis of Kurdish nationalism, namely the belief in the superiority of the Aryan race. Indeed, an article published April 21, 1997, in Der Spiegel, a German weekly that is hardly know for promoting pro-Turkish views, concluded after a series of interviews with PKK members and supporters, that this organization is "völkish." This word had a very specific sense in Germany at the beginning of 20th century to designate the most radical racists: the Nazis, and the most extreme tendency of the Conservative Revolution, the non-Nazi far right of 1918 to 1933. Not surprisingly, the few leaders of the Conservative Revolution who were on good terms with the Nazi regime all had a "völkish" tendency. More recently, in December 2015, Duran Kalkan, a senior PKK leader, pledged in Özgür Gündem, which was later banned for its PKK affiliation, to "send Turks back to where they came from 1,000 years ago," namely to Central Asia, in a clear call for ethnic cleansing. Incidentally, writer Aslı Erdoğan, now presented in the West as a victim of persecution, wrote in Özgür Gündem, even after her arrest, continued to present this newspaper as the only legitimate voice for Kurds in Turkey.

These "völkish" words are not empty threats. In 2007, the PKK carried out a series of attacks in Western Europe on cultural Turkish associations and Turkish-owned cafés. In January 2009, the leader of the unit in charge of these attacks in France was sentenced by a Paris tribunal to five years in prison followed by permanent deportation. Yet, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) never attacked English cultural associations abroad, and Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA) never bombed Spanish-owned cafés in France or anywhere else. Only racism can explain these kinds of attacks. More recently, the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against Arabs and Turkmens in the territories they control.

The Aryan brotherhood with ARF has, correspondingly, not been forgotten by the PKK. In 1985 and 1986, suspending its own terrorist activities, ARF sent specialists with explosives to PKK camps (Gaïdz Minassian, Guerre et terrorisme arméniens, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2002, p. 109). More recently, in December 2015, Kadir Akın, one of the founders of the current political representative of the PKK in Turkey, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), explained that the ideology of this party is the same as ARF. As a result, it may be useful to give an idea of what this ideology is currently. In an editorial published online in October 2009 when he was still the main lobbyist of ARF for the European Union and the editor of the ARF newspaper in France, France-Arménie, Laurent Leylekian wrote: "Yes, bloody Turks are guilty. No matter what their good will, purposes or activities are, they are all guilty. From the newborn baby to the elderly about to die, from Islamist to Kemalist, from those coming from Sivas to Konya, from the religious to the atheist. As definitely guilty as Cain, toward the Armenians, toward themselves, toward history and toward humanity." The website was closed down in February 2011. Later, in 2014, he retweeted a ferociously anti-Semitic cartoon, and deleted the retweet without any apology or explanation, after I exposed him. The same year, an appeals court in Paris confirmed his conviction for defamation in another affair and ordered him to pay 9,500 euros to his victim, Sırma Oran-Martz, who is of Turkish origin, as it happens. This is the kind of ideas the "libertarian, peaceful" HDP claims today.

* MA in History from Paris-Sorbonne University

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