The roots and ideology of the PKK

PKK terrorists prepare a
barricade before they attack Turkish security forces in Nusaybin, Turkey, Feb.
25, 2016.

If the public
relations campaign of the PKK tries to use a distorted image of current Turkey
to justify its terrorism, these acts are actually perpetrated as a result of a
very specific extremist ideology made up of racism and Maoism, and like Hoybun
in the past, uses terrorism no matter what kind of government rules the country

If the scope of PKK
terrorism – assassination of teachers, suicide attacks in public places – is
not commonly known in the West, there is an aspect even less known, including
in Turkey: Its roots and ideology. Kurdish nationalism did not emerge with the
revolts of the 1880s, which were traditional uprisings of specific tribes
against the central government or with the one of Sheikh Said in 1925, which
was against secularization, but with the establishment of the Kurdish club in
Istanbul in 1919 by Şerif Paşa. The same year, Şerif signed an agreement with
the leader of the Armenian National Delegation, Boghos Nubar. This agreement
was quite paradoxical, considering the mutual massacres of Kurds and Armenians
before and during World War I in the Ottoman Empire or the fact that Kurdish
and Armenian nationalists claimed the same territories. The signatories
considered that they had eliminated the paradox by claiming that Armenians and
Kurds belong “to the same Aryan race.” This statement laid the
foundation of Kurdish nationalism: Everything bad that happened in the past or
could happen in the future is the responsibility of Turks. Turks and Kurds have
nothing in common because they are from two different races, and Armenian
nationalists are natural allies, also for racial reasons.

In the name of the
Aryan race

The Kurdish club collapsed as early as 1920, but Kurdish
nationalism continued from 1927 to the late 1940s with the Hoybun, which was a
stronger organization, and arguably the ancestor of the PKK. In his published
doctoral dissertation (Le Mouvement kurde de Turquie en exil, Berne: Peter
Lang, 2007), Jordi Tejel Gorgas explains that the ideology and practices of the
Hoybun were based on the ideas of an Aryan race and Aryan fraternity. The
Hoybun and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) signed an agreement the
year the Kurdish nationalist party was established. In the late 1920s, the
Hoybun and ARF wanted to establish an Aryan confederation led by Iran against
Turkey and the Soviet Union. Another actor was solicited in fascist Italy in
conditions that deserve to be discussed. Vahan Papazian was a leader of ARF and
at the same time of the Hoybun. He played a key role in funding the Hoybun,
first in collecting money from rich Armenians in Nice, France, then in
obtaining funds from the fascist government in Rome. I checked several French
documents used by Gorgas, particularly on the role of Papazian, and found no
problem in his use of these sources.

In continuity with its racist ideology and its fascist
connection, the ARF-Hoybun axis was in touch with Nazi Germany, which presented
the Anglo-French-Turkish treaty of October 1939 as proof that Kurdish and
Armenian nationalists should fight with the Third Reich. Later, in 1942, a
project of Hoybun insurgency in Turkey was studied by the Nazi government with
its Kurdish and Armenian partners. In spite of all that, in 1947, the Hoybun
dared to present itself as a movement for freedom and human rights, with a
wording amazingly similar to the one of the PKK today.

Maoism added to

About 25 years after the Hoybun ceased its activities, the PKK
emerged in 1973, perpetrating terrorist attacks by 1976 – the first against a
hospital – and taking its current name in 1978; the PKK did not fundamentally
change the Hoybun legacy but added another component: Maoism, of Pol Pot nuance
(Michael Radu, Dilemmas of Democracy and Dictatorship, New Brunswick-London: Transaction
Publishers, 2005, p. 79). The Khmer Rouge’s inspiration is fundamental to
understand why the PKK killed 96 teachers from 1987 to 2002 (Andrew Mango,
Turkey and the War on Terror, London-New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 39) and
continues to do so, for instance, in murdering Şenay Aybüke Yalçın, a 22-years
music teacher, on June 9 of this year. Indeed, Leninist terrorist groups such
as the Red Brigades in Italy, in spite of numerous assassinations of civil
servants, never killed teachers. Only Maoists, and particularly its Cambodian
offshoot, the Khmer Rouge, provided an ideology justifying the assassination of
such people or the bombing of a hospital.

Regardless, this extreme form of communism did not change
anything in the ideological basis of Kurdish nationalism, namely the belief in
the superiority of the Aryan race. Indeed, an article published April 21, 1997,
in Der Spiegel, a German weekly that is hardly know for promoting pro-Turkish
views, concluded after a series of interviews with PKK members and supporters,
that this organization is “völkish.” This word had a very specific
sense in Germany at the beginning of 20th century to designate the most radical
racists: the Nazis, and the most extreme tendency of the Conservative
Revolution, the non-Nazi far right of 1918 to 1933. Not surprisingly, the few
leaders of the Conservative Revolution who were on good terms with the Nazi
regime all had a “völkish” tendency. More recently, in December 2015,
Duran Kalkan, a senior PKK leader, pledged in Özgür Gündem, which was later
banned for its PKK affiliation, to “send Turks back to where they came
from 1,000 years ago,” namely to Central Asia, in a clear call for ethnic
cleansing. Incidentally, writer Aslı Erdoğan, now presented in the West as a victim
of persecution, wrote in Özgür Gündem, even after her arrest, continued to
present this newspaper as the only legitimate voice for Kurds in Turkey.

These “völkish” words are not empty threats. In 2007,
the PKK carried out a series of attacks in Western Europe on cultural Turkish
associations and Turkish-owned cafés. In January 2009, the leader of the unit
in charge of these attacks in France was sentenced by a Paris tribunal to five
years in prison followed by permanent deportation. Yet, the Irish Republican
Army (IRA) never attacked English cultural associations abroad, and Basque
Homeland and Liberty (ETA) never bombed Spanish-owned cafés in France or
anywhere else. Only racism can explain these kinds of attacks. More recently,
the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s
Protection Units (YPG) militia, launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against
Arabs and Turkmens in the territories they control.

The Aryan brotherhood with ARF has, correspondingly, not been
forgotten by the PKK. In 1985 and 1986, suspending its own terrorist
activities, ARF sent specialists with explosives to PKK camps (Gaïdz Minassian,
Guerre et terrorisme arméniens, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2002,
p. 109). More recently, in December 2015, Kadir Akın, one of the founders of
the current political representative of the PKK in Turkey, the Peoples’
Democratic Party (HDP), explained that the ideology of this party is the same
as ARF. As a result, it may be useful to give an idea of what this ideology is
currently. In an editorial published online in October 2009 when he was still
the main lobbyist of ARF for the European Union and the editor of the ARF
newspaper in France, France-Arménie, Laurent Leylekian wrote: “Yes, bloody
Turks are guilty. No matter what their good will, purposes or activities are,
they are all guilty. From the newborn baby to the elderly about to die, from
Islamist to Kemalist, from those coming from Sivas to Konya, from the religious
to the atheist. As definitely guilty as Cain, toward the Armenians, toward
themselves, toward history and toward humanity.” The website was closed
down in February 2011. Later, in 2014, he retweeted a ferociously anti-Semitic
cartoon, and deleted the retweet without any apology or explanation, after I
exposed him. The same year, an appeals court in Paris confirmed his conviction
for defamation in another affair and ordered him to pay 9,500 euros to his
victim, Sırma Oran-Martz, who is of Turkish origin, as it happens. This is the
kind of ideas the “libertarian, peaceful” HDP claims today.

* MA in History from Paris-Sorbonne University