PKK Reshuffles Top Leadership of its Executive Council

by MUTLU CIVIROGLU 15.7.2013 – WASHINGTON DC—The Kurdistan Workers Party has unanimously elected a woman and a founder of the militant group as co-leaders of its executive wing, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an important reshuffle at a time when the PKK is withdrawing fighters from Turkey as part of a landmark peace agreement.

Cemil Bayik and Bese Hozat – a woman — were elected unanimously by 162 delegates, who gathered at the PKK’s Qandil Mountain command in Iraqi Kurdistan for the organization’s Ninth Convention, a conference held in honor of three PKK women assassinated in Paris in January.

The KCK was established in 1999, shortly after the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan — who is now in a Turkish jail — to run the organization’s different branches.

Bayik and Hozat replace Murat Karayilan, the PKK’s top commander.

Bayik, 58, and a native of Elazig, met Ocalan in the 1970s when the two were students in Ankara. He is one of the founders of the PKK.

Hozat is an Allawite Kurd from Dersim, who joined the PKK 19 years ago with her sister. According to recent reports in the Turkish media, her sister was killed in clashes with the Turkish military in 1997.

The delegates also decided to form a Leadership Council of six members that includes Karayilan. Two veteran PKK members, Hacer Zagros, a woman, and Remzi Kartal,  also were elected as co-chairs of Kongra-Gel, a PKK branch. In a recent phone interview with Rudaw,  Kartal said that this new system is more democratic, particularly for female leaders of the organization.

“In order to achieve a democratic society and ensure gender equality, we decided to implement “positive discrimination” in favor of the women. From now on, in leadership of all organizations, there will be a woman co-chair,” he said.

Kartal dismissed claims that the changes were to sideline Karayilan, who has been recently portrayed as a “dove” in the Turkish media.

“Indeed, Murat Karayilan was supposed to quit his position in the last assembly. But because of a directive from Ocalan and the sensitivity of the process, we insisted that he continue one extra term,” Kartal said.

He also rejected that the reshuffle was the work of PKK “hawks” against the “doves.”  “There is no such thing! Those who say so are either unaware of the PKK system or they have some other intentions,” he said.

According to Kartal, the convention and the leadership change took place with Ocalan’s full backing. But Ibrahim Guclu, a columnist and an outspoken PKK critic, disagreed.

“Murat Karayilan was eliminated with a coup because he was moderate and pro-peace. Instead, Cemil Bayik, a radical who is close to Iran and Syria, came to power,” Guclu said. Gunay Aslan, a prominent Kurdish writer who recently visited Qandil, believes that this change is PKK’s first step toward making the PKK a legal organization.

“The purpose of these changes and restructuring is to strengthen the legal ground, to legalize the PKK and free Ocalan,” Aslan claimed.

Istanbul-based Kurdish columnist Fehim Isik said that the reshuffle was nothing extraordinary, but that the Turkish media is treating it as a riddle. Isik said that the Turkish media wonders if this change will affect the peace process between the PKK and Ankara. “In the end, it is Ocalan who has the final say, and this needs to be seen clearly,” he said. But Guclu claimed the change was meant to send a message to the Turkish government.  He said it was meant to say,  “You may have reached an agreement with Ocalan, but we will not necessarily implement your decisions!”