Kurdish defense elements may represent an amalgam of Kurdish interests largely beneath the authoritarian semi-socialist umbrella of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Conceived in the Far Left zeitgeist of the 1970s, an era saturated in and partially shaped by agent provocateur, disinformation, and money pouring off of Russia’s “Active Measures” programs, the PKK appears to have followed the pattern known to other Soviet-associated “liberation fronts” in relation to ruthless consolidations of power, funding through criminal means, and the launching of violent revolutionary actions against forces impeding organizational ambitions, concepts, and ends.
Be that as it may, the PKK has had also unquestionably repressive or even genocidal foes in the states in which the Kurdish community had been divided and politically diminished in power, but none were perhaps as awful in their intent to destroy Kurdish culture as Turkey (reference, for example: Wikipedia: “Human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey”). In the recruitment of Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, that issue has been well recognized —
In 2013, Erdogan promised to recognize Kurdish identity and language, and increase Kurdish liberties. A truce followed, but hostilities resumed in 2015. Erdogan said he was responding to PKK terrorism. The PKK claimed Erdogan destroyed the ceasefire by building dams and security stations in Kurdish regions. In either case, a war was on. Erdogan attacked with helicopter gunships, artillery and armored divisions, murdering thousands and displacing 335,000 mainly Kurdish citizens. A UN report described destroyed villages as moonscapes.https://www.newsweek.com/turkeys-erdogan-kurds-opinion-1050039 – 7/31/2018 – Wachtel, Jonathan and Albert Wachtel. “Turkey’s Erdogan Wants to Crush the Kurds and Recreate the Ottoman world | Opinion.” Newsweek, July 31, 2018.
The recruitment of mixed Kurdish forces to fight ISIS necessarily involved diplomatic magic as some best trained and experienced in the business of fighting were to become those fighting Assad’s idea of “The Terrorists” — ISIS.
Here’s a section representing one starting point — the American State Department’s continuing designation of the PKK as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” — and both the required finesse to shift popular impression plus an expression of America’s intent to defend its Kurdish allies (and front line) in the effort to defeat Islamic State —
The Department of State has reviewed and maintained the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended (8 U.S.C. § 1189). The PKK was originally designated as an FTO in 1997.
. . . .
Today’s actions notify the U.S. public and the international community that the PKK remains a terrorist organization. In addition to its continued status as an FTO, the PKK has also been designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224 since 2001.https://www.state.gov/state-department-maintains-foreign-terrorist-organization-fto-designation-of-the-kurdistan-workers-party-pkk/ – 3/1/2019 – U.S. Department of State. “State Department Maintains Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) Designation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Media Note, Office of the Spokesperson, March 1, 2019.
BackChannels refers often to the “Phantoms of the Soviet”, a mixture of KGB-Era ideas, methods, personalities, and relationships that have for about 26 years outlived the Soviet Union. Wherever cultivated, the same have fairly suspended geopolitical space in the barbarism and political repression best associated with feudal / medieval political absolutism.
The PKK’s role in potential Turkish-Russian escalation should be viewed through the lens of Moscow’s deep historic ties with the group — and with Damascus. In the 1970s, the PKK was established with Soviet support in the Beqa Valley of Syrian-occupied Lebanon. As one of two NATO countries boasting a land border with the Soviet Union, Turkey was considered Moscow’s soft underbelly during the Cold War, providing Washington with numerous assets such as listening bases capable of intercepting communications across the Black Sea. The Russians saw the PKK as a means of undercutting a key U.S. ally.
The PKK also enjoyed support from Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafiz, who cast his regime as the champion of Turkish Kurds despite oppressing Syria’s own Kurdish community. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan lived in Damascus while his group ran training camps in Lebanon and used Syrian territory to attack Turkey.
Moscow’s support for the PKK eventually dissipated with the end of the Cold War and the emergence of pressing political and economic problems at home. Syria ended its own support in 1998, after Ankara threatened Damascus with war for supporting what had become a terribly destructive PKK campaign throughout Turkey. As part of this abrupt shift, Hafiz al-Assad expelled Ocalan.https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-pkk-could-spark-turkish-russian-military-escalation – 5/25/2016 – Tabler, Andrew J. and Soner Cagaptay. “The PKK Could Spark Turkish-Russian Military Escalation.” The Washington Institute, May 25, 2016.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) emerged from the radical ferment that swept the Western world in the 1960s. It was founded in 1978 as a Marxist-Leninist organisation infused with Kurdish nationalism and a cult of personality around its leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The PKK spent much of this period attacking other Kurdish and left-wing groups, and its own dissidents – hundreds of whom would be killed over the years – in an attempt to monopolise the support base for its ideas.http://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/3053-PYD-Foreign-Fighter-Project-1.pdf – 2017 – Orton, Kyle. “The Forgotten Foreign Fighters: The PKK in Syria.” PDF. P. 5. The Henry Jackson Society, 2017.
While BackChannels happily and humbly defers to The Henry Jackson Society’s wizard of political science, Kyle Orton, it recognizes inherent value in the Kurdish community as singular among the world’s ethnic and tribal cohorts and with that equally inherent rights to autonomous self-determination and dignity — in defense terms: freedom from cultural and religious persecution.
BackChannels, being neither international organization or potent state, however may best demur to an analyst closer to the issues and altogether more experienced — in this instance, Michael Rubin of The American Enterprise Institute:
More importantly, PKK tactics have changed: There remains low-level military insurgency, but gone are the days when the PKK targets Turkish civilians (alas, the reverse is not true with regard to Turkish forces and Kurdish civilians, as the residents of Cizre, Nusaybin, and Sur can attest). Certainly, breakaway factions of the PKK such as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) have claimed attacks, but such factionalism is common when former terrorists come in from the cold. That was the case with the “ Real IRA ” which emerged after the IRA entered into a peace process in Northern Ireland.http://www.aei.org/publication/its-time-to-acknowledge-the-pkks-evolution/ – 1/25/2019 – Rubin, Michael. “It’s time to acknowledge the PKK’s evolution”. American Enterprise Institute (AEI), January 25, 2019.
Has the PKK evolved?
The Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy published this in 2016 on a related organization active in Turkey: https://ctc.usma.edu/the-kurdistan-freedom-falcons-a-profile-of-the-arms-length-proxy-of-the-kurdistan-workers-party/ .
A little more than six months ago, BackChannels published “Moscow as Medusa with All the Snakes Attached” (January 2, 2019), and what it had had in mind was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leveraging of arrangements involving leadership in several EU / NATO states fit for the flattering of an emperor. He had President Erdogan apologizing to him for shooting down two MIGs overflying Turkish air space (and, lo and behold, the “Turkish Stream” energy project got back on its feet) and, later (about now), purchasing Russian air defense technology suited to knocking NATO air power out of the sky . . . .
Elsewhere in EU / NATO, the “New Nationalism” responded to what BackChannels believes to have been manipulated “Islamic Terrorism” and — most certainly forced — mass migration from the Syrian Civil War: Viktor Orban (and family) had their premise for handling Hungary as an increasingly family-based enterprise; in France, Marine Le Pen had a (Moscow-sponsored) mission (she lost her run at the Presidency — and later the “Yellow Vests” appeared); and in the United States, an autocratic and reactionary conservative Donald Trump rose to power above a cloud of innuendos, lies, and improprieties involving foreign interference in the 2016 elections (for an introduction, see the film Active Measures) as well as an assortment of other and frequently sordid business.
So here with the above in mind is reference to “east-west” and “medieval v modern” conflict that continues to validate the idea of the presence of the “Phantoms of the Soviet” and their generally impeding progress toward modern governance in the near and middle east:
The Kurds have historically played an important role in Russian efforts to exert its influence in the Middle East. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union used the Kurds to bypass America’s containment strategy in the region.
Shortly after World War II, Moscow supported the creation of the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iranian Kurdistan to increase its influence in the region. After the Iranian army crushed the Kurdish forces, the fighters led by Mustafa Barzani took refuge in the Soviet Union.https://warontherocks.com/2017/12/why-is-turkey-silent-on-russias-cooperation-with-the-syrian-kurds/ – 12/19/2017 – Tol, Gonul. “Why is Turkey Silent on Russia’s Cooperation with the Syrian Kurds?” War on the Rocks, December 19, 2017.
Political analyst Gonul Tol appears in the third video featured in the next section, which presents another set of impressions having to do with the Kurdish struggle for Kurdish autonomy and unification.
BBC. “Who are Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels?” November 4, 2016.
Cagaptay, Soner. “Syria and Turkey: The PKK Dimension.” The Washington Institute, April 5, 2012.
CNN Library. “Kurdish People Fast Facts”.
Orton, Kyle. “The Forgotten Foreign Fighters: The PKK in Syria.” PDF. The Henry Jackson Society, 2017.
Orton, Kyle. “The PKK Roots of America’s Ally in Syria.” Terrorism Monitor, 17:12, The Jamestown Foundation, June 14, 2019.
Orton, Kyle. “The Problems With the West’s Partners Against the Islamic State.” Kyle Orton’s Blog, May 10, 2017.
Rubin, Michael. “It’s time to acknowledge the PKK’s evolution”. American Enterprise Institute (AEI), January 25, 2019.
The Kurdish Project (Web Site) | The Kurdish Project (Facebook)
Tol, Gonul. “Why is Turkey Silent on Russia’s Cooperation with the Syrian Kurds?” War on the Rocks, December 19, 2017.
Wikipedia. “Democratic Confederalism”.