Interview : PKK Military Leader: ‘Our Withdrawal Comes When Struggle is at Peak’

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – 29.4.2013 – RUDAW – Last week Murat Karayilan, the military leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), announced that a phased withdrawal of fighters from Turkey will begin May 8. 

He said the move was in line with the call last month by jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been engaged in peace talks with Ankara to end a 30-year armed struggle that has resulted in an estimated 40,000 deaths.  In this interview with Rudaw Karayilan states that the PKK is not agreeing to peace out of weakness, but at a time when the group’s struggle is at its peak. He clarifies that the fighters will not be leaving their arms behind, and  will go to their base in  Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region with their guns. Karayilan warns that any attempt by Turkey to confront fighters or disrupt the withdrawal will mean a resumption of the conflict, and adds that the end goal is Ocalan’s release from his Turkish prison, at which time the rebels would be willing to discuss an end to their struggle and a permanent peace. Here is his full interview:    

Rudaw: Some people criticize your decision to withdraw your fighters from Turkish territories next month. What do you say about this?

Murat Karayilan: We talk about peace because we believe in peace and brotherhood among nations; we have the power to fight for the freedom of our nation and achieve it. We have always believed in our abilities in this respect and we still do. You will discover that in the next stage (of the peace process). We want a solution, but an honorable one. When we step toward peace, you need to help us and support us. We call everyone to support the struggle for freedom.   We talk about peace because we believe in peace and brotherhood among nations 

Rudaw: What is the difference between your 1999 withdrawal and this one?

Murat Karayilan: Our withdrawal today comes at a time when our struggle is at its peak. Hence, this withdrawal is not like the unilateral one of 1999. We believe in our leadership and in our ability to achieve progress in this stage. Our main demand is to solve the Kurdish issue in a democratic way. We are very enthusiastic about it, but we cannot say that all is good and everything is solved. Not everything is solved yet, especially the conditions of our leadership, which is a fundamental issue for us. No doubt, taking this decision was not very easy, but our faith in our leadership is firm. In case of any military operations against us, we will resume our guerrilla struggle as well. No one should have doubts about this. If the Turkish army attacked our withdrawing units, it means the end of the withdrawal and our forces retain the right to defend themselves.

Rudaw: What would the next steps be after the withdrawal?

Murat Karayilan: The next necessary steps are: ceasefire, withdrawal, political changes and legally consolidating these changes. We believe the biggest obstacle ahead of the democratization of Turkey is solving the Kurdish issue. Solving the Kurdish issue in Turkey will pave the way to solve the Kurdish issues in Syria and Iran as well. The achievements of south Kurdistan will also have its role in this. The democratization of Turkey will become a role model for democracy in the Middle East.

Rudaw: Does that mean disarmament?

We believe the biggest obstacle ahead of the democratization of Turkey is solving the Kurdish issue

Murat Karayilan: No. The guerrillas will not lay down their weapons. This withdrawal just means pulling back the guerrillas and silencing the weapons. When the guerrillas withdraw, they bring back their weapons as well. We are dealing with this matter properly.

Rudaw: It is said that Iran is worried about peace talks between the PKK and Turkey.

Murat Karayilan: This process will benefit the whole region, including Iran. We hope they will support this process as well.

Rudaw: What do you expect leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to do at this stage?

Murat Karayilan: No doubt we have great expectations of the officials in the south, especially in this delicate stage. The leadership of the Kurdistan Region and (KRG President) Massoud Barzani have supported this process and arbitration in the past. We expect more of them this time. The support of KRG and (KRG Premier) Nechirvan Barzani are also important. Nechirvan Barzani played a positive role in the past. We believe that he will be supportive in this stage as well. As we have stated before, the Kurdistan Region will become the resting place for our guerrillas and we ask them to treat our guerrillas positively and formally. We are expecting the support of all the groups of our nation.

Rudaw: What are the details of the withdrawal?

Murat Karayilan: The withdrawal will be in the following way: First, without allowing any forms of conflict, the guerrillas will use their usual routes to withdraw in an orderly manner. Second, in light of the ongoing preparations, the withdrawal of our forces will commence on May 8, 2013. The withdrawal will be in groups, and well planned. It will take place in steps, following the discreet movements and discipline of guerrilla forces. We will try to do it in the shortest time possible. Third, after the withdrawal, our resting place will be in the Kurdistan Region. We ask all the concerned forces, especially the KRG, to treat our forces in a formal and positive manner. Fourth, during our withdrawal, the Turkish army should behave in the same responsible and serious manner. If our forces were exposed to any form of attack or bombing, withdrawal would be ceased immediately and our forces shall retain their right to respond and protect themselves. Fifth, during the withdrawal the Turkish army must not allow any provocative or deceptive behavior and not allow opportunists to instigate military action. For the withdrawal to be carried out properly, the Turkish state must respect the instructions that we have addressed previously in our letters to our leadership, which the Turkish state is also aware of. Sixth, monitoring of this stage by an independent delegation is important for recording violations from either side, and for the peaceful progress of the process.

  The withdrawal will be in groups, and well planned 

This stage consists of three steps. The democratization process can be achieved through these three steps. With ceasefire and the successful withdrawal of the guerrilla forces, the first step will be concluded. In the second stage, the state and government must carry out their responsibilities. By instituting reforms within the constitutional framework, the true conditions for solving the Kurdish issue and the democratization of Turkey will be created. The local paramilitary system, the special teams and other special operation groups must be stopped and allow civil societies and democracy to function. Writing a new constitution, democratizing Turkey, ending the marginalization of Kurds, acknowledging all freedoms, rights and equality of all ethnic groups and religions are extremely crucial. With the implementation of these steps, the third stage of “normalization” will start. The normalization stage is the stage of consolidating peace, social accord and freedoms. At the same time, the freedom of our leader will bring freedom to everyone. At that time, disarming the guerrillas and ending armed struggle permanently can also be talked about.