PKK restructures itself, shows no signs of disarming

13 July 2013 /SEVGİ AKARÇEŞME, İSTANBUL – As the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reshuffles its higher echelons while establishing new bodies within itself, experts claim that the organization is restructuring itself in an effort to adapt to the settlement process, which aims to end the decades-long armed conflict between the state and the PKK, but has no intention of disarming no matter what.

The PKK’s larger network, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), replaced Murat Karayılan, a senior commander who had served in the KCK for two consecutive terms, with Cemil Bayık, who is thought to be more radical. Following Karayılan’s appointment to a body called the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), an armed wing of the PKK, the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan was elected chairman of the KCK. Prior to the latest PKK congress, Öcalan was considered the honorary president of the KCK.

On Friday, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) parliamentary group chairman Pervin Buldan called on Parliament not to have a recess, but convene again following Eid to discuss democratization packages regarding the settlement process. She also pushed for a change in the prison conditions of Öcalan, who is incarcerated on İmralı Island, since he is an important actor in the process. Buldan also reportedly delivered the latest letter from Öcalan on the second stage of the settlement process to the PKK leadership in the Kandil Mountains.

AK Party spokesman and Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik said on Friday that the settlement process is “sensitive and fragile” and that everyone has important responsibilities in order not to harm the process.Prior to Buldan’s call, on Wednesday the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), an umbrella group of Kurdish nongovernmental organizations, applied to the Ministry of Justice for permission to send an independent delegation of doctors to İmralı Island to examine Öcalan.

Karayılan, who gave an ultimatum to the government to move on the settlement process in a week in order not to disrupt it, asked on Thursday for a secretary and an assistant for Öcalan. “He should be able to talk to delegations from outside and have connection with outsiders,” said Karayılan, adding that “only then can he run the negotiations process.”

Experts who evaluated the latest development within the PKK for Today’s Zaman believe that there will not be a policy change within the terrorist organization due to the new appointments. There is consensus that the organization is trying to restructure itself in the face of the emergence of new conditions.

Kurdish intellectual and writer İbrahim Güçlü has a much more negative evaluation of the latest changes within the PKK. Güçlü argues that the PKK will never disarm even if all of the Kurdish demands [such as expanded civil rights and autonomy] are met. “Both sides [the government and the PKK] know that the PKK will not lay down arms, but they have put on a play — a theater piece — from the very beginning,” commented Güçlü. For him, even if Turkey switches to a federal system, the PKK will remain an armed force with the ultimate dream of establishing a dictatorship. “The PKK doesn’t only want to become the founding force of North Kurdistan [Turkish territories], but also of all Kurds in the broader region,” he claimed.

Stating that the PKK is an organization that owes its survival to its relations with international powers, Güçlü argued that the new co-chairman of the KCK, Bayık, is connected to countries in the region such as Iran, Iraq and Syria.

According to Güçlü, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the government are the sources of the interpretation that Karayılan’s appointment to an armed wing of the PKK, the HPG, is a move to control the organization. “The government tries to portray these developments as positive signs,” stated Güçlü. For him, claiming that the whole process of change within the PKK is taking place with the approval of the government could make the government liable in the event the process is aborted. Güçlü further argued that the government’s policy to “manage the PKK-Kurdish problem incrementally” might lead to a serious conflict.

Vahap Coşkun, a professor at Dicle University Law School, told Today’s Zaman that Öcalan had strengthened his grip over the PKK during this process, which restructured the terrorist organization. According to him, Öcalan had to be the honorary president of the PKK due to his health. However, his condition has improved now with the correspondence between him and Kandil and his deeper involvement in the PKK’s administration. “Öcalan is the only dominant power within the organization no matter what,” commented Coşkun, who added that the settlement process proved this.

Disagreeing with the comments that the hawk elements have taken over the PKK with the appointment of Bayık as one of the co-chairman of the KCK, Coşkun stated, “What happened in the PKK is not a policy change, but a change of position among administrators.” According to Coşkun, an argument that the settlement process could be sabotaged is an exaggerated comment and does not reflect the real situation.

Political scientist Professor Sedat Laçiner also argued that the PKK would not disarm due to the lack of concrete steps so far. “The PKK is restructuring itself and trying to adapt to the new era,” stated Laçiner. According to him, the PKK is trying to become an organization that can survive without Öcalan as well.

Unlike comments that have appeared in the Turkish media that these signs should be considered positively, Laçiner believes that for the PKK the settlement process is only “a tactical tool.” He said that there has been no announcement regarding disarmament, let alone a concrete step to do so. “Only withdrawal from Turkish territories has been mentioned, but the PKK has not implemented that, either,” added Laçiner.

In recent weeks, the PKK has set up its own public safety squads, kidnapped workers and recruited new fighters, indicating that the terrorist group is consolidating, as the optimism of the initial days of the settlement process fades. Meanwhile, on Friday decisions made at the recent KCK-Kurdish People’s Congress (KONGRA-GEL) convention have been shared with the public. In a declaration called the “political attitude document,” the PKK listed the basic strategy to follow in the days to come. Getting people to take to the streets, forming an autonomous region in northern Syria, becoming an alternative in northern Iraq and continuing the cease-fire with Iran are among the decisions taken at the convention.