PKK in the Wake of Removing Mujahedin-e Khalq from Terror List

16/10/2012 RUDAW By WLADIMIR van WILGENBURG – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The US state department removed the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) (People’s Mujahedin of Iran) from its list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) last month.

According to Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist for the nonpartisan congressional research service in Washington, the delisting signals to other groups listed as terrorist organizations that “they too can get off the list if they change their stripes.” This could also include members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “It shows that they are not doomed to remain on the list in perpetuity if they evolve into peaceful movements,” Katzman said. “As such, the purpose, intent and effectiveness of the FTO list may have been strengthened significantly by the MEK’s delisting.”

Katzman thinks that the PKK could eventually find itself in the same position as the MEK. “I think they [PKK] would also have to agree to forswear future violence against the government of Turkey and support a political process to work out the differences between the Kurds of Turkey and the government of Turkey. Disarming is one condition they would have to meet, but not by any means the only condition,” he said.

According to David L. Philips, author of “Disarming, Demobilizing and Reintegrating the PKK” and a senior advisor to the U.S. State Department, the “PKK needs to prove that it is committed to peace by renewing its unilateral ceasefire and then keeping to it for an extended period of time.” “At the same time, Ankara needs to engage democratically elected representatives of Turkish Kurds in serious discussions about implementing Prime Minister Erdogan’s ‘Democracy Opening,’” Philips added. “Extending greater political and cultural rights would help drain the swamp of support for the PKK, which is widespread.”

But according to Henri Barkey, an expert at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, whether or not the PKK will be delisted depends on politics. “Under normal circumstances, the answer should be yes. It could be an incentive that the U.S. and EU dangle. However, unless the Turks agree to it first, it will not happen.”


Barkey added, “In other words, it would have to be part of a greater peace deal. Turkey calls the shots here and the U.S. will only follow Turkey’s lead.”

Roj Welat, a PKK spokesperson, told Rudaw, “The issue of terror is a political question awaiting a solution from the international powers. If they could come up with that, the issue could be tackled.” Welat pointed out that PKK leader Abdulla Öcalan must be included in any solution.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote an article for Commentary magazine that argued it is time for the U.S. to reconsider its designation of the PKK as a terrorist organization.

“This need not mean reversing the designation, but it should spell out what it finds objectionable about the PKK,” the article read. “Has the PKK targeted U.S. citizens? If so, when? Is the PKK simply waging an insurgency against Turkish soldiers, or is it continuing to target Turkish civilians? What actions, if any, should the PKK take to achieve a new status under American law?”

However, it is unlikely that a delisting will take place imminently due to the recent spike in violence between armed combatants of the PKK and the Turkish state. According to a report by the International Crisis Group, “Turkey’s Kurdish conflict is becoming more violent, with more than 700 dead in 14 months, the highest number of casualties in 13 years.” Recently, acting PKK leader Murat Karayilan told the BBC that the group was not ready to give up arms. “You mean lay down arms without any conditions? No, I don’t agree with that. There must be a plan that addresses all of our questions. Turkey, as a democratic country, should solve the Kurdish problem and then we will abandon our arms.”