The US army has started arming the Kurds in Iraq to fight Islamic State, who have been making huge advances in the country. The weapons will be provided to the peshmerga forces of the semi-independent Kurdistan region. They are fighting IS alongside forces of the PKK, the group that is on the list of terrorist organizations of both the US and the EU. There are voices now to take the PKK off that list. However necessary such a step is, it would also be very opportunist now.
The US has seriously underestimated the power of IS, that much has become clear, and overestimated the Iraqi armed forces, who ran off as IS suddenly started to make advances in early June.
IS radically increased it’s operational capacity by seizing weapons and military equipment from the Iraqi army, all provided by the US. It became more difficult for the peshmerga forces, with less advanced weaponry, to fight IS, which started to make advances into the Kurdistan region. Only when the armed forces of the PKK and the YPG came to strengthen the peshmerga, the Kurdish fight against IS in Iraq started to become successfull. Bombardments by the US on IS positions also made a contribution.
The PKK (and the YPG) is showing itself as everything but a terrorist organization. They are fighting IS, not civilians, and they don’t attack to snatch lands and expand their terrirory, but are commited to protecting lands they historically consider Kurdish.
The PKK and the YPG are the only ones who came to the rescue of the Yezidi population that sought for refuge on Sinjar mountain when their city of Sinjar was about to be taken over by IS, only to find themselves surrounded by IS without food and water. The PKK and the YPG made corridors through which the Yazidi’s could escape. Unfortunately, many are still on the mountains. Their desparation is growing every minute.
Where ever the PKK or the YPG are in charge, they start putting their democratic principles in practice. The most recent example of that can be seen in Syrian Kurdistan, known to the Kurds as Rojava (West Kurdistan). They have set up administrations in cooperation with civil society organizations, also representing Christian minorities, and push for the use of all languages spoken in the region to be used to communicate with the people. They take the role of women in society seriously. Also, they not only pledged to end the use of child soldiers in the YPG but actually took the weapons from all fighters younger than 18 years of age.
Speaking up for minorities
In Turkey (Bakur, or North Kurdistan), the PKK has already started earlier with putting democracy into practice, despite the limited possibilities the Turkish political system provides. The current peace process with the Turkish government, that started early 2013, helps to reach goals. Where ever the BDP is in local power, they set up councils to let locals have a say in local affairs. Every BDP municipality has two mayors, a man and a woman. The BDP supports not only the rights of Kurds, but has a history of speaking up for minorities like Armenians, Alevis, Syriacs too, as well as advocating the rights of for example gays and atheists.
The Kurdistan region in Iraq (Bashur, or South Kurdistan) has another political background and is constantly at odds with the YPG and PKK, but there too minority rights are taken seriously. It is the one place in Iraq where Christians from the region seek and find refuge.
Human rights problem
The PKK was put on the lists of terrorist organizations after Al Qeada attacks in the US on 9/11. The US and Europe needed Turkey as an ally in their ‘war against terrorism’ and there was no better way to please Turkey than to designate the PKK a terrorist organization. By doing that, the fight of the Kurds for democracy and human rights was seriously hampered. Not only in Turkey, but also internationally the Kurdish issue became framed as a terrorism problem, instead of the human rights problem that it essentially is.
The PKK should never have been put on the list of terrorist organizations in the first place. And it should be taken off now not because now the current ‘war against terrorism’ would benefit from Kurdish support, but because the PKK is in essence not a terrorist organization. It has been a political party ever since it was founded in a deeply anti-democratic Turkey in 1978. They need support for who they are, for what they have accomplished and can accomplish, not because of opportunistic reasons. It would be good if the current developments in Iraq and Syria open the world’s eyes to what the Kurds really stand for and if the terrorist label is finally removed. But it is also painfully late.