Qandeel Mountains, Asharq Al-Awsat- The trip up the high Qandeel Mountains that stretch for 300 kilometers from the border areas near the town of Qal’at Dazzah in the Al-Sulaymaniyah Governorate to the border region near the towns of Suran and Hajji Umran in the Arbil Governorate is no ordinary trip given the ruggedness of the road, which at times involves climbing mountains as high as 1,000 meters, and at others descends almost vertically into deep and steep valleys.
Our journey to those skyscraping mountains peaks started at the village of Sannaksar, located halfway between the towns of Raniyah and Qal’at Dazzah. The signs of civilization end right about there, but 50 kilometers onwards, the signs of the armed struggle of fighters wearing the dark green Kurdish uniform begin.
As soon as our car made it to the peak of a tall mountain called Kurtic, our driver asked us to get out, claiming that this was as far as he can go in our 4X4 vehicle. From there, we traveled a distance of approximately 10 kilometers on foot, descending into a deep valley between two mountains. After a series of radio exchanges, one of them led us to a small headquarters in one of those villages, where we met a number of officials, including Abdul Rahman Jadirji, the man in charge of the foreign relations committee in the Union of Kurdish Organizations, who greeted us respectfully and instructed some of his comrades to take care of us before leaving on a mission that he did not specify.
Three hours later, at one in the afternoon, Jadirji came back with three armed young women, only one of whom spoke to us and introduced herself as Nawruz Garand, 33, adding that she joined the PKK 16 years ago and is now a leading member of the Union of Kurdish Organizations and authorized to speak to the press. Our first question to Nawruz was about her party’s current relations with the anti-Iran Party for Free Life in Kurdistan — PJAK – to which she said that the PJAK is an independent political party pursuing apolitical struggle in the eastern part of Kurdistan, meaning Iranian Kurdistan, and that there is no merger between it and her party.
On whether or not the Union of Kurdish Organizations is willing to resolve its dispute with Turkey through diplomatic dialogue, Nawruz said, “Yes we are, and the proof of our peaceful position is our repeated declaration of a cease-fire despite Turkey’s massive military buildup in preparation for an attack on us. We constantly stress that we are open to negotiations and democratic dialogue provided that Turkey abandon its military strikes and demonstrate a willingness to find a democratic solution to our cause.”
On whether or not the PKK still demands an independent Kurdish state, Nawruz told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The establishment of an independent Kurdish state was, and still is, our main dream, but our vision of the Kurdish state is that it will not solve the Kurdish people’s political problems so long as there are influential and subordinate, and rich and poor people in that state, and so long as women are discriminated against. We therefore believe that the ideal way to resolve our cause is political dialogue but with a twist – dialogue within the framework of self-determination, meaning that the idea of establishing an independent state is behind us and has been replaced with a demand for the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination through peaceful and political dialogue.”
Asked if her party still receives orders and instructions from its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, Nawruz said, “No, for our leadership has repeatedly announced that our leader, Ocalan, is experiencing conditions that absolutely prevent him from running the party’s organization, but when it comes to political negotiations or a cease-fire, the order must come from our leader, Ocalan.” On whether this means that the party is in contact with its imprisoned leader, she said “no, not at all, and we even learned from his attorney, who met with him a month ago, that he has lost 10 kilograms and his health is deteriorating.”
Sources of Funding and Weapons
Regarding the source of the party’s weapons and funding, Nawruz told Asharq Al-Awsat, “I wish to state very clearly that up to this moment, we have not received so much as half a dollar or any form of aid from any specific country or party, and all our resources and capabilities come from partisan organizations, in addition to the aid extended by our people.”
As for the source of the party’s American weapons, she said: “We strongly deny receiving weapons directly from the United States. American weapons are available in Istanbul’s markets and anyone with the money can purchase it. If you go to Afghanistan, you will find that Taliban fighter too carry American weapons, and the same applies to Baghdad, where extremist religious groups carry American weapons and guns fitted with silencers. This does not mean that the America is arming those groups, no, there is a market that sells these weapons and we buy them from there.”
On whether or not the United States still considers the PKK a terrorist organization, Nawruz said, “In the past, the United States took the decision to prevent supplies and aid from reaching the party, but that quickly faded away. As for the distance between the United States and the party, it remains very long, and the reason for that in my opinion is that the party refused, and continues to refuse, to be an obedient tool in the hands of others, and is instead keen on preserving its independence and individuality — it refuses to be submissive to any party or country, such as Syria, Iran, or the United States, and it insists on continuing to serve the Kurdish people. We all know that many Kurdish forces received weapons as well as financial and moral support from the United States, but we refuse all that out of our refusal to fight any party in favor of another. We fight for the interests of the Kurdish people.”
Regarding the party’s communist beliefs, she said that “we do not strive to establish a communist system similar to that of the Soviet Union prior to its collapse in1990, no, we want to set up a democratic system that gives each province or governorate the right to govern its own affairs.”
On whether or not the party intends to attack targets in Turkish cities in the event of a full scale incursion [into northern Iraq], Nawruz said, “We are always ready to fight and confront any incursion. Everyone knows that not once in the past 23 years since we declared our armed struggle in 1984 were we involve in any acts of sabotage inside cities, and we have always been keen on avoiding civilian casualties in our armed operations. If civilians were harmed by our activities, then their number does not exceed that of those who are harmed in Iraq in a single month, meaning that we have never harmed civilians.”
She added, “However, if Turkey persists with its attacks on southern [Turkish] Kurdistan, maintains its pressure on our people in northern [Iraqi] Kurdistan, like its arrest of municipality directors and threats against Kurdish members of the Turkish parliament, and insists on its chauvinistic practices against the Kurdish people, then we will do all we can and will not refrain from doing anything that we are capable of.” Nawruz went on to say that “we will not, of course, target civilians, because that is banned by our party’s laws, but international law stipulates that a war region is open to all possibilities, meaning that Turkish cities too will be a battlefield.”
Asked if Syria still supports the PKK, the leading figure explained that Turkey was the first country to declare its support of a Turkish incursion following the Turkish parliament’s decision in this regard, “meaning that we are not receiving any Syrian assistance.”
On whether or not the party expects an Iranian attack in conjunction with the anticipated Turkish attack, Nawruz said: “If that happens, then the United States will not have it, not to mention that a joint attack of the sort would expose the strategic agreement that was signed between Iran and the government of (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, and which both sides are keen on keeping a secret. At the start of last summer, a Turkish military convoy was attacked by our comrades in the Bankul area deep inside Turkey, and it later transpired that the convoy’s trucks were loaded with Iranian weapons, but Turkish authorities covered the story up. This is tangible proof of the nature of the strategic agreement between the two countries. One can also maintain that the possible Turkish attack has absolutely nothing to do with us, but is one of the steps taken by the United States as part of its Middle East project.”
She added, “I believe that the crisis involving Iran that Russian President (Vladimir) Putin and US President (George) Bush described as an omen of world war three is part of this matter. Note that every time US-Iranian differences deepen, Turkey tries to launch military operations in southern Kurdistan in order to thwart the US project targeting Iran. This is the main goal behind the anticipated Turkish assault, not the combat operations that our fighters launched against the Turkish Army almost two months ago in the Kabar region, some 600 kilometers from the border with southern Kurdistan, as claimed by Turkey, which we all know has been planning for this operation for a long time, and which has already proceeded with it with the explosions that targeted the Sinjar areas in Iraqi Kurdistan, which were committed in agreement and partnership with Syria and Iran, and which were a threatening message to the Kurds in southern Kurdistan to the effect that Turkey can reach them. Add this to the political pressures, for Ankara has announced that it is unwilling to forge relations with the head of a Kurdish tribe, referring here to (Iraqi President Jalal) Talabani, in a move meant to be some sort of diplomatic pressure that would undermine his stature.”
Nawruz continued, “This means that Turkey has been preparing for this operation for sometime, and this was evident in the latest Kirkuk bombings, in which Turkey was directly involved in an attempt to sabotage the referendum over Kirkuk’s fate, meaning that Erdogan’s target from this operation is much greater than the PKK.”
Regarding the party’s options should Turkey proceed with its attack at a time when Iran is amassing forces at its borders to prevent a PKK withdrawal into Iran, Nawruz said: “The party’s fighters across Kurdistan will hold their positions and will not budge, for Turkey claims that our fighters number 5,000, so if every four or five of them position themselves on the peaks of Kurdistan’s mountains, how big a force will Turkey need to confront them? Keep in mind that our fighters can are capable of hiding in remote and rugged areas that no one can reach, and we have made all the necessary preparations for the confrontation.
As for Turkish companies operating in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region and whether the party would attack them in the event of a Turkish incursion, the leading member said, “This is a matter of war tactics, and I said earlier that operations might be carried out in Turkish cities but will never target civilians and will only target those who support and feed the fighting and war against us. However, we will avoid such operations in order to spare the lives of citizens in southern Kurdistan.
In response to a question on the party’s position on calls for it to lay down arms, Nawruz said, “I doubt that any political organization in this world loves peace more than our party, which repeatedly announced a cessation of fighting during different stages of our armed struggle that started in 1984, but to no avail: In 1993, 1996, and 1998 the party declared a unilateral suspension of fighting but reaped nothing in return. Last year, the party did the same thing, but the result was the poisoning of our leader, Ocalan, by Turkish authorities. We do not love weapons to the point of not being able to live without them, meaning that if our cause is resolved through political and peaceful means, then we will be willing to lay down arms.”
She added, “Not once in the past 23 years has Turkey suspended operations against us or called for peace, and even when Erdogan recently called for political and parliamentary work, voices opposed to us in Turkey grew louder, calling us terrorists that must be made to pay. Turkey does not want peace, for it never stopped warring with us and refuses to extend its hand in peace to us. This enemy arrested thousands of our people, destroyed more than 5,000 Kurdish villages and towns, and drove some 3.5 million Kurds from their homes, and it has not stopped attacking our country and refuses to recognize the Kurdish presence or language, so how are we supposed to lay down our arms? Again, we say that we are open to a political solution, but the other side rejects, unfortunately.
From Medical Student to Fighter
Later on, Jadirji allowed us to interview one of the female fighters provided that we not identify or photograph her, and we reluctantly agreed. N.J.R is a 34-year-old young woman from one of the villages who joined the party more than 15 years ago after she decided to drop out of Istanbul University during her second year of medical school after she and her Kurdish colleagues were politically pressured by Turkish authorities, as she put it. N.J.R explained that her decision to join PKK ranks was prompted by the extreme suffering that Kurdish women in general experience in Turkey due to the state’s intentional efforts to keep them prisoners in their homes, deprive them of education opportunities, and widen the gap between them and men in terms of social rights, not to mention the lack of any social services for the Kurdish woman in that society.
She added, “As a Kurdish girl, I, along with millions of Kurdish women, are banned from even talking in my Kurdish language in my own homeland. I was an outstanding student in every stage of my education, and I scored high enough in my high school diploma to be accepted into medical school, but Turkish authorities subjected me to intolerable pressures because I am a Kurd and I finally dropped out of school. Kurdish women there face three kinds of pressure; one has to do with her being Kurdish, another with her being a woman, and a third in the form of a lack of social justice and equality between her and men. This instilled in me a firm belief that these unjust aspects of life can be rectified by joining the PKK, especially since the lectures and speeches that were delivered by leader Ocalan had a deep impact on me and gave me greater hope of one day reaching salvation through the party.”
On her vision of the future as she spends her time in these mountains and valleys, the young woman said: “There is no doubt that none of us can achieve freedom on their own, and since we are living in these mountains and valleys, then we might be a bit behind on life, but for me, I feel very free and liberated here. The women in these surrounding villages do not enjoy one percent of the freedom that we girls have here, as for the weapons that never leave our sides, they are tied to great liberation goals that fill our hearts with comfort and boost our morale.
Asked if she wishes to become a mother one day, she said: “I do not view my personal life separately from the lives of other Kurdish women, and I do not aspire to settle down in an isolated home and dedicate myself to my husband and children and house cleaning. As for the dream of motherhood, it is linked to the liberation of the society I live in because I do not wish to commit to a man and settle down in a house, no, I want to dedicate my life and struggle to the liberation of all women like myself.”
On whether carrying a weapon is necessary or useful for a gentle girl like her, she said, “Yes, I firmly believe that women can take up arms to defend their rights, and even though that is not the only way, it is necessary for women in our position. I personally do not favor this option, but there is no alternative. English women, for example, do not have to take up arms to obtain their rights in a civilized society, but the Kurdish woman, who endures a great deal of oppression, has no choice but to take up arms and pursue legitimate struggle to lift the injustice brought upon her.
As for fighter Sarya Akri, 32, she said that she joined the party nine years ago, but she refused to talk to us even about regular matters without the approval of her immediate superior, who refused to grant her permission. She sufficed with saying that she works in the headquarters we were in to serve her fellow fighters.
As we headed back in the evening, we met with fighter Suzdar Amad, 28, as she and two of her female comrades were heading for a guard station on the side of Qandeel Mountain. At first, she refused to discuss political issues with permission from her superiors, but she changed her mind when we asked her to talk about regular everyday matters, and said, very briefly, that she took up arms nine years ago. Asked about her daily life, she said with a wide smile that she is living the happiest days of her lives in the tall mountains that block out the sun, that the landscape there is stunning, and that her breath is extremely pure and bursting with freedom. As for her academic level, Suzdar said that she left school at an elementary level in a village in the Diyar Bakr Governorate. She quickly picked up her weapon and left on her mission with a gentle farewell.