Kariane Westrheim : PKK represents the democratic card in Middle East

Reportaj Summay

Kariane Westrheim : PKK represents the democratic card in Middle East
10 January 2022   01:16

Professor Kariane Westrheim says Kurdistan Worker's' Party and the Kurdish liberation movement represent the democratic card in the Middle East emphasizing that the real terrorists here are not the PKK but the state of Turkey with one of the world's largest army’s supplemented by foreign fighters, Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS, and others.

There is a wide campaign to be launched in Kurdistan and the world at large calling for the removal of Kurdistan Workers' Party from the U.S. and EU terrorist lists.

To shed light on the issue of de-listing Kurdistan Workers' Party from the  black list, ANHA interviewed the Norwegian Professor in the Education Department in the University of Bergen, Karinae Westrheim, who said ''the ideology of the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan became a foundation of sustainability''.

Kariane says:

''We all know about the tragic historical oppression of the Kurds in Turkey and the betrayal they were subjected to in the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. In this period and up to our days the Kurds have continued to oppose oppressive authorities. Even if they have experienced some better periods the situation under the Erdogan regime has been worse than ever – and especially after 2015. The Kurds in Turkey have been stripped of their political and cultural rights and the AKP regime, led by Erdogan, is changing the law as they wish and usually never to the benefit of the Kurds. But the Kurds have shown an impressive ability to develop a policy that benefits the individual and the collective, it is democratic, ecological, inclusive in terms of inviting in other ethnicities and peoples, and with a foundation of liberative equality between the sexes. In this development, the PKK has been a decisive factor. Although there have been many uprisings throughout history, the ideology of the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan became a foundation of sustainability - something to lean on and which increased the willingness to fight for something that was its own. Against this background, it is incomprehensible to those who know the Kurdish question that the EU and the US could place them on the list of terrorist organizations. The PKK and the Kurdish liberation movement represent the democratic card in the Middle East. If the PKK is removed from the list and considered a real partner in peace negotiations in Turkey and the rest of the region, one will experience the seriousness and willingness to negotiate that this party possesses. Delisting of the PKK and subsequent talks with the parties will show that there is great political expertise and competence among the Kurds to find a peaceful way to solve the problems.

On the chemical weapons use by Turkey Kariane says:

Regarding chemical weapons there is ample evidence and videos of Turkey's use of theses against the Kurds in their alleged struggle to eliminate the PKK. Turkey has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997 which prohibits the signatories to use, develop, store and transfer chemical weapons. There have been wide-spread protests to draw international attention to claims of ongoing use by Turkish forces, latest in northern Iraq (South Kurdistan), of banned chemical substances against fighters of the PKK. The attacks are alleged to have taken place within the framework of the Turkish military operation in Northern Iraq, dubbed “Operation Claw Lightning,” which began on April 23, 2021. There has also been allegation of use of chemical weapons during Turkey forces attacks in Syria. Members of the European Parliament especially from the Kurdish Friendship Group, have called on called on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and UN to send a delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan to investigate any chemical weapons deployment by the Turkish army during its ongoing military operation. October 2021, 109 intellectuals from Iraq signed a joint letter addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the OPCW demanding an urgent field investigation into Turkey’s alleged use of chemical weapons in northern Iraq in its ongoing operations targeting the PKK. Despite international political protests, nothing has been done so far

It seems that Turkey’s attacks on their own citizens, occupation of foreign territories, their historical elimination of Kurdish land in Turkey, expulsion, assimilation and change of the demographics and Kurdish names - to the current mass arrests of Kurdish politicians in Kurdish areas to replace them with pro-government officials, is part of the plan to eliminate the PKK, the Kurdish freedom movement which is growing stronger and the Kurdish people as such. This is nothing less than genocide.

It is quite clear that it is the state of Turkey at the command of Erdogan and operationalized through the army that are the true terrorists here. I am certain that the governments of many countries are aware of this but are failing to act. A well-known explanation is that Turkey is an important NATO member but even NATO can act when a member state attacks a sovereign state without it being rooted in joint decisions. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is Norwegian, like me, he comes from a strong social democratic tradition in what is termed ‘a peace-loving nation’ but he totally failed to hold Turkey accountable - on the contrary, he tried to please him by calling Turkey a friend and ally. Maybe he thought he could get Erdogan on his side with such a gesture but did not understand that Erdogan and his allies laugh behind their backs at such naivety. It is Erdogan who will lead the show if the West does not gather and show strength. Turkey is in a weak position now; this must be seen as an opportunity to get Erdogan to the table.

Responding to a question on the role played by intellectuals and academics among others she says:

''Firstly, it is of great importance that intellectuals, academics and analysts around the world engage in the challenge of removing the PKK from the list of terrorist organizations, but also of protesting Turkey's policies against the Kurds especially since 2015. We saw sign of this when more than 1128 signatories of a petition released by Academics for Peace in January 2016 called for an end to violence in the region. The signatories stated that they were condemning both the state violence against the Kurds and the Turkish state’s ongoing violation of its own laws and international treaties and the attacks on the Kurds in the south-east. Many of the signatories later lost their positions at the university, where persecuted, arrested og fled the country. We also saw signs of strong engagement when 109 intellectuals in Iraq called on the OPCW and UN to launch an investigation into Turkey's use of chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan and asked, "the international authorities to act quickly and to send a delegation to investigate." The intention behind these initiatives is the desire to promote peace. People are tired of war and conflict which despite the PKK's repeated invitations to negotiations are met with more attacks and more conflict on the part of Turkey. Turkey must take a stand against itself, because even though the Erdogan regime has been totally devastating for the Kurds, history shows that the oppressive policy against the Kurds extends beyond Erdogan's period. It is not guaranteed that things will change for the Kurds if Erdogan leaves the scene. People in Turkey must open their eyes and protest, not only the Kurds as currently – but all people of Turkey. And of course, the work of academics, researchers, political analysts are also very important in this regard.

Turkey, Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS, and other militant fundamentalist groups

Turkey claimed that Operation Olive Branch was aimed to establish security and stability along the Turkey-Syrian border and to protect the Syrian people from the cruelty of the terrorists and by that they mean the PKK/YPG/YPJ. The truth is that this military occupation was an act of terrorism. Afrin was surrounded and gagged, and in the long run thousands of civilians were injured and killed. The security that the SDA, YPG/YPJ and the self-governing authorities thought they had in USA disappeared when they withdrew its forces. I do not elaborate on this further, we know how devastating it has been for the whole region, but rather emphasize that the real terrorists here are not the PKK but the state of Turkey with one of the world's largest army’s supplemented by foreign fighters, Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS, and other militant fundamentalist groups. The world has watched with open eyes how Turkey has invaded, occupied, destroyed, and killed thousands of civilians - they have also tried to destroy much of the political and social foundation that was laid in Rojava and southeastern Syria – but I am certain that they will not succeed in this. Turkey's attacks and atrocities in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria are explained by the need to eliminate the PKK. A European Parliamentary Research Service Briefing paper (2019) stated that the EP President, David Sassoli, characterized the Turkish invasion as an 'act of war'. In his speech to the European Council on 17 October, he said: 'We must do everything in our power to stop this act of aggression and launch an initiative that can be thrashed out within NATO and submitted to the UN Security Council. The European Union would show itself to be speaking with one voice when working for peace in multilateral fora'. This clearly shows that the EP want to stop Turkey, but the problem is that that the EU does not decide what measures it can take against Turkey, meaning - there is no real political action.  

Practical and legal ground for de-listing the party already exist

There are overwhelming practical grounds for delisting the PKK, and there are also legal grounds. When the validity of the terrorism designation was tested in the Belgian courts in 2020 it found that the PKK should not legally be considered a terrorist organisation, that the EU anti-terrorism legislation cannot be applied on PKK because it is a party in a non-international armed conflict, which makes it subject to the laws of war and not criminal law. Unfortunately, the Belgian Minster of Foreign Affairs, responded that the ruling would not affect the government’s position. Members of the legal team in the court decision hoped that the Belgian court ruling would pave the way for the delisting of PKK – this has not happened.

We cannot be 100 % sure that removing the PKK from the terrorist list will open the road to an immediate solution but the possibilities for negotiated peace talks will increase significantly. To bring about peace talks that will hopefully lead to lasting peace, Turkey must be involved, voluntarily or under pressure from the EU, NATO, and it is desirable that the United States also joins such an initiative. But removing the PKK from the list in the EU and the US will undoubtedly be a necessary first step.

The campaign is aimed at anyone with a desire for support

The call for the removal of the PKK from the EU’s list of terrorist organisations is timely and very important. The goal is that first and foremost the EU, but also the United States and NATO as well as states such as England and Germany that is heavily manipulated by Turkey will open their eyes, change their policies and act in relation to the political injustice and human rights violations that historically and daily is committed against the Kurds and their organizations and structures. The campaign is aimed at anyone with a desire for support - the goal is to collect one million signatures – this is ambitious and even if the campaign is well on the way - it needs more people on board.

Let me emphasize at once - the PKK is not a terrorist organization - nor has it ever been. The reason why the PKK was listed in the first place is purely political – meaning that the European Council decision from 2002 on listing the PKK in the EU terrorist list is mainly a political decision, and it gives legitimacy to Turkey's constant oppression and persecution of the Kurds first and foremost in Turkey, their parties, politicians, organizations, media houses, lawyers and everyone else - and it provides arguments for keeping Abdullah Öcalan isolated in Imrali. Secondly, Erdogan and the AKP use the terrorist-branded PKK to attack everything and everyone they claim is in cahoots with the PKK - in Turkey and abroad – in Rojava (North East Syria), South Kurdistan (Northern Iraq), but also in European countries such as Germany and England – in these countries people experience a growing political aggression against the Kurds, their political establishments, community houses, cultural and popular events – everything that the authorities in these countries can somehow link with the PKK. Behind this policy stands Turkey and its intelligence. Many organisations oppose and protest this very worrying development, but there is an urgent need for political action and a much more daring and fearless politics by the governments.

The impact of such campaigns

''There is a worldwide support for this campaign by popular and political movements, politicians, academicians, lawyers, artists, activists and many others and we must not forget that although the PKK is on the EU's and US’ list of terrorist organizations, there are far more countries that do not define the PKK in this way, but on the contrary regard the PKK as the spearhead of a comprehensive and ever-growing liberation movement. Unfortunately, the policy in Turkey has been so destructive towards the Kurds that armed defense has been necessary, as it once was in South Africa when ANC fought against the apartheid regime - and of course many other places in the world.

What is needed now to remove the name of the party from the terrorist list is that despite the terrible policies pursued by the AKP and Erdogan and the fact that our initiatives sometimes seem hopeless, it is crucial that we do not lose hope and give up. On the contrary, the more Turkey attacks and oppress the Kurds, the more resistance we must show. The Kurds need urgent international support and they have it, but it must be even stronger. The Kurds have excellent politicians and spokespersons, but non- Kurds must also stand up and raise the issue of the delisting of the PKK with our politicians and governments.''