By Sarkawt Shamsulddin
Washington- The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is the largest and most influential Kurdish political movement in the Middle East. Yet, it is still considered as terrorist organizations by the United States of America. On 15 February 1999, Abdullah Ocalan, PKK’s supreme leader, was arrested in Kenya in a multilateral intelligence mission between the United States and Turkey. Ocalan’s arrest came after a long journey from Syria to Europe and then Africa. First, he wanted to seek asylum in Europe, but none of the European countries dare to grant him asylum. Later, he turned to Africa to meet the man he admired the most, Nelson Mandela. But he was arrested before accomplishing the mission.
Today, he is still in jail in one of the most secured detention facilities in the world on Turkey’s Imrali Island. However, Ocalan’s mission is not over. Even in prison, his thoughts and philosophy continue to influence tens of thousands of people across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. In Syria, Ocalan’s philosophy was put into practice as a model for governance without hierarchy. The Rojava cantons emerged as a promising idea for the future of the entire country. In the coming weeks, the Rojava representative for diplomatic relations will be opened in Washington DC.
In Turkey, Ocalan’s followers made to Turkey’s parliament, and for the first time the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) crossed the parliamentary threshold and emerged as a third largest parliamentary block in Turkey. Currently, most of the Kurdish lawmakers and public figures are in prison on charges related to the PKK. Nevertheless, the rise of the Kurdish movement in Turkey is undeniable.
On the battlefield, the Kurdish fighters known as YPG, are among the most capable force on the ground against ISIS. These fighters are implementing Ocalan’s mission. They are trained by former PKK commanders, and some of their senior leaders are former PKK members.These forces are now trained and equipped by the United States. The Kurdish YPG/YPJ fighters are wearing uniforms that have PKK signs and pledge allegiance to Ocalan. Despite the tremendous amount of pressure by Turkey, the US trainers and the diplomats are eager to engage with the YPG commanders and the Rojava officials. Even the Trump Administrations show more eagerness to sustain the military support for the Kurdish fighters in Syria.
In Iraq, the PKK grow both militarily and politically. If you walk through the streets of Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, Garmiyan, and Halabja, you will find many places that have Ocalan’s photo. There are more activists joined the groups affiliated with the PKK from Zakho, Duhokj, to Khanaqeen, Diyala. Ocalan followers are conducting grassroots activities and are very much connected to the youth. Today, many of these group will march from Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk to Erbil to protest against Ocalan’s isolation by Turkey. They may face denial by the security forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party ‘s (KDP) as the KDP has strong ties with Ankara. The March has already started from Sulaymaniyah to Kirkuk. They may not be allowed to get to Erbil, but that does not make them invisible.
On the military side, there are more Iraqi Kurds among the PKK units now than any other time. Also, the PKK has trained and equipped over 2,000 Yazidi fighters in Sinjar. These fighters indoctrinated with Ocalan’s ideology. Therefore, they continue to spread his thoughts among the Yazidis. The Yazidi units will be incorporated as part of the militias in Iraq in the context of the local forces to protected their communities. In the coming years, the PKK followers in Iraqi Kurdistan will grow even bigger as politics monopolized by traditional Kurdish parties.
The PKK remains as a terrorist organization by the US Department of States. Despite ideological differences, the US is already has a healthy relationship with Ocalan’s most loyalists in Syria and Turkey. In the coming years, the United States may be obliged to deal with a rising PKK affiliates in Iraqi Kurdistan, too. The PKK leaders such as Murat Karaylana nd Jamil Bayik have shown the willingness to engage with the United States even more. They invited the US to a third party role to the peace process in Turkey.