Qandil, Asharq Al-Awsat – Anyone reaching the strongholds of the anti-Iranian Kurdish Party for the Free Life (PJAK) in the mountain tops and slopes of the southeastern part of the lofty Qandil Mountain Range – that is part of the mountain frontier between Iraq and Iran – will not believe that this armed party is not a carbon copy of the Kurdish Workers Party [PKK] that is opposed to Turkey. Its fighters wear the same Kurdish uniform worn by the PKK fighters; it is even woven of the same cloth. Their chests sport a small photograph of their leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is under arrest in Turkey, whom they view as their leader, symbol, ideological and philosophical mentor, and the sole leader of the entire Kurdish nation. The Bijak warriors fight and practice politics with the same style and ideas of the PKK but on the eastern front of Kurdistan that is known as Iranian Kurdistan. In fact, they are a totally separate party from the PKK. Their leader is Haji Ahmadi, the well known Kurdish politician. Asharq Al-Awsat was the first Arab and world newspaper to reach the strongholds of PJAK and meet with one of its senior commanders. He said that Haji Ahmadi’s goal is “to deter the Iranian aggression and assaults” on the Kurdish people in that part of Kurdistan and to exercise legitimate self-defense for their existence thus forcing the regime in Tehran to veer toward peace and dialogue to solve the Kurdish issue in the country.
This time, our journey to the PJAK strongholds in Qandil was not fraught with dangers despite the hardships and the ambushes of the “Asayesh”, the Kurdish police and security force that has been imposing a tight ban for years, especially on reporters. Despite the formidable natural obstacles, we eventually arrived there in the company of our village guide and our car driver who was from the region and knew best its twisting valleys and topography that the government forces cannot reach easily. The prearrangement we had reached with the party was for the Asharq Al-Awsat team to spend one night in the party’s strongholds to wait for two commanding members of the party that were on a military mission in the Iranian hinterland. However, the intensive Iranian artillery bombardment of Qandil that preceded our arrival by a few hours prevented the two commanders from reaching us. Officials in the rear lines had contacted the two commanders by radio and asked them to come to Qandil to give an interview to us as soon as possible lest the Iranian bombardment would resume while we were there and it would thus be hard for the party to guarantee our safety. Three hours after we arrived, commander Azad Horaz [name as transliterated]- 30 years old, member of the Command Council, and leading political and field politician in the party – and Hofal Musa – 60 years old and member of the party’s Command Council, an advance political body consisting of 21 members – arrived at the site. They were accompanied by several fighters that had marched on foot for six hours in order to reach the location of the meeting. The following two interviews were conducted and the first was with commander Horaz:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, said a few days ago that the United States is training your members in Qandil and preparing them to carry out military operations within Iran. What is your answer?
[Horaz] These are groundless allegations. Let me give you an example. When PJAK was formed, Iran claimed that it was its agent. However, after the armed struggle intensified between our fighters and the Iranian forces, Tehran claimed that PJAK was a US protégé and that it was supported by it. However, the US decision to freeze the party’s assets in US banks and placing our party on the list of terrorist organizations rebuts Iran’s claims again. The truth is that Iran and the United States have been engaged in secret dialogue. What Khamenei said during his recent visit to Iranian Kurdistan proves this. He stated that his regime is prepared to engage Washington in a direct dialogue if it gives up its pressures on Iran. In other words, the claim that PJAK is a US agent is false; its goal is to distort our party’s image.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is said that Israel and the United States are scheming to hit the Iranian nuclear reactor. Do you expect such strikes?
[Horaz] The media war between Iran, the United States, and Israel has been raging for decades and these reports are part of this media war. We do not expect such strikes at all and we do not wager on such possibilities. We depend on our own policies and short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans of action. However, we will seize any opportunity that presents itself to push our movement forward. We affirm that the US decision placing our party on the list of terrorist organizations is a political one that primarily serves the Iranian regime. It was taken at Turkey’s behest that plays the role of mediator between Washington and Tehran. Had PJAK been a US agent, our command posts in Qandil would not have been subjected to violent raids by 53Turkish fighter planes following the accurate intelligence information that US spy planes gathered and passed on to Ankara and from Ankara to Tehran that began to bomb the same regions with heavy artillery.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect the scenario of political change in Iraq to be repeated on the Iranian arena soon? If this scenario does take place, what would be your role in it?
[Horaz] The change that took place in Iraq had an effect on the democratic march throughout the Middle East. However, this democracy that was achieved was in the interest of the new regime, not the interest of the people. Had the liberation operation been genuine, the situation in Iraq would not have deteriorated the way it did although six years have elapsed since this operation. If the Iraqi scenario is repeated in Iran, PJAK would have a special role based on its forces, organizations, and deep ideological and philosophical ideas and would thus be able to bring change. At this point I wish to reiterate that we will not wait for external forces to play our role. We will not formulate our plans and action programs on the basis of external forces.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have political organizations or armed cells in the towns of Iranian Kurdistan?
[Horaz] There are groups of our armed forces in most of the mountains of eastern Kurdistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Iran insists that you are US agents and says that your classification as a terrorist organization is an attempt to mislead public opinion. What is your comment?
[Horaz] The capitalist system that the United States leads devotes everything to serve its special interests. It is a selfish pragmatic regime to the very bones. In return, the Iranian regime – that pretends to bean Islamic regime contrary to the truth and that has distorted the image of Islam in the Middle East and the world – is also a selfish pragmatic regime. Thus, if the two regimes meet they would no doubt use all their means to safeguard their private interests. In other words, the allegations of both sides are false.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If Iran were to offer you dialogue and negotiations in return for laying down your arms, would you agree?
[Horaz] We are always ready for dialogue for the Kurdish cause. The purpose of our struggle is to impose dialogue. However, the condition of throwing down our arms is unacceptable. If there should be any conditions the primary one should be determination to resolve the Kurdish problem. We bore arms only as a result of the continuous Iranian pressures on our people. In other words, we are exercising the legitimate right of self-defense and defense of our existence. We want to tell the Iranian regime that barring the Kurdish people from exercising a free political life will drive the Kurds to carry arms. In other words, we are not prepared to lay down our arms without a radical solution to our issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the reasons for the estrangement between you and the other Iranian Kurdish parties?
[Horaz] The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the Komaleh Party think that PJAK was formed to replace them on the political arena in eastern Kurdistan. This is a totally wrong impression. Our party is an alternative only to solving the Kurdish issue. On this basis, these parties refuse to establish relations with us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Iran is saying that the Kurds do not have a legitimate point of reference with which to negotiate. What is your answer?
[Horaz] It seems that Iran refuses to consider the honorable Kurds and independent forces that are not subject to its will as being points of reference. This does not concern us at all; we consider our Kurdish people as our sole and basic point of reference and that recognize our identity. Witness the hundreds of young Kurds that join the ranks of our liberation movement every day that is continuously expanding. This is on top of the determination of our fighters to deter any aggression by the Iranian regime against our people. We are prepared to pay back Iran twofold in any part of eastern Kurdistan. In other words, we derive our legitimacy from our ongoing struggle, our generous sacrifices, and the blood of our eighty martyrs. We do not need to gain legitimacy from the Iranian regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But these forces view you as a stand-in for the PKK on the eastern arena of Kurdistan.
[Horaz] This is totally false. It is true that we adhere to the ideas, vision, and philosophy of commander Abdullah Ocalan as our leader on the ideological, intellectual, and philosophical levels. However, the leader of our party is comrade Haji Ahmadi who is a well known figure in eastern Kurdistan. In other words, PJAK and PKK march along the teachings of leader Ocalan like other parties that adopt Marxist ideas in the world.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What if Ocalan were to ask you to lay down your arms under Turkish pressures?
[Horaz] Turkey has nothing to do with our issue. Leader Ocalan is our mentor and he is the one that is persistently asking for a solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey. Furthermore, PJAK has not carried out any military operation against Turkey for it to ask the party to lay down its arms.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do you not create a front to coordinate your actions with the other Kurdish forces in Iran similar to the former Kurdish front in Iraq?
[Horaz] We would like to do that; but the Kurdish forces in Iran have not yet taken a step in that direction despite our repeated calls to unify our ranks in a united front.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The United States has been calling for changing the regime in Iran for a long time. Are these calls serious or are they mere slogans for media consumption?
[Horaz] If the United States is serious in its claims, let it take practical steps on the ground. Change is not accomplished with mere statements and a media war.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the United States were to do this, would you cooperate with it?
[Horaz] We have our own ideas and stands on the Iranian regime. We want future Iran to be a democratic state with a confederation nature in which Kurdistan would enjoy freedom. In other words, if there were common denominators and goals between us and the other Kurdish forces and sides that oppose the regime in Iran we may be able to take joint steps on condition of democratizing the Iranian society in a genuine rather than in a selfish democracy while giving the Iranian peoples the opportunity to decide on their own fate. As for the United States, it has not practiced genuine democracy so far and perhaps the current situation in the district of Kurdistan is the best proof. Had it not been for the Kurdish forces there, the United States would not have succeeded in overthrowing the former Iraqi regime. Nevertheless, the United States left many problems pending and without a solution in the districtof Kurdistan, especially the issue of Kirkuk.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you capable of bringing change in Iran alone?
[Horaz] Yes, we are with constant ideological and political struggle, organization of action, unification of ranks, and calculated political maneuvering. Our party did not emanate as a result of the continued dangers on the Iranian regime that did not affect it at all contrary to our party’s effect on this regime. Our sole motto has been victory and nothing but victory.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the nature of your relations with the Kurdish parties in the district of Kurdistan and with the government there? Do you receive any aid from it?
[Horaz] We do not have an official or unofficial relationship with the Kurdish parties or with the government there and we do not receive any assistance from them. We are an independent party that is struggling in the eastern part of Kurdistan (Iranian Kurdistan). Our people in the eastern part of Kurdistan are the source of our financing in all the logistic, material, and armament fields. Our people supply us with fighters and supporters.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can one believe this, particularly since you area revolutionary party that is waging an armed struggle and that needs huge financial support?
[Horaz] Everyone in Kurdistan has become accustomed to the assumption that every armed revolutionary movement that appears on the Kurdistan front must be connected to this or that country. But this impression is not always correct, particularly regarding our party PJAK that did not emerge suddenly or in a short period. Our party began to be formed in 1999 by a group of university graduate Kurds that agreed on founding a political movement in eastern Kurdistan. They were influenced by the ideas of leader Abdullah Ocalan. Since the eruption of the party in 2004, we have been proclaiming and affirming through statements and communiqués that PJAK is an independent party in its economics and man power. All our people in eastern Kurdistan are aware of this glaring fact. But the Kurdish forces that are opposed to Iran and that always depended on this or that country in their struggle for liberation – that has come to what it is now – do not believe that it is possible to have a party or an armed movement of worldwide fame that is capable of waging a fierce armed struggle against a regime, like the Iranian regime, that is occupying Kurdistan without having to depend on external aid.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You claim to care about the interests of the Kurdish people but your military operations against Iran have been the cause of destruction of Kurdish border villages. Does this not harm the experiment of the district of Iraqi Kurdistan?
[Horaz] Our military operations are not carried out on the border regions at all for Iran to use them as an excuse to bomb the border villages in Qandil. The government of the district of Kurdistan should understand this well. Moreover, our fighters are not deployed on the border but50 kilometers inside Iranian territory and at a width of 2,000 kilometers in the eastern part of Kurdistan from the Elam Mountains in the southeast of Kurdistan to the Mako Mountains. In other words, most of our military operations are carried out in these regions. For example, our fighters recently carried out an operation near the town of Kermanshah, specifically in the township of Dawasir. But the Iranian forces began to bomb the regions close to Panjaween in Al-Sulaymaniyah Province. This clearly exposes the wicked policies of the Iranian regime to foment a Kurdish-Kurdish dispute by using the government of the district as a tool to create and foment such a dispute. Our statements and communiqués issued by party leader Haji Ahmadi or the party’s command council affirm PJAK’s commitment to anything that may consolidate Kurdish national unity and avoid everything that may divide this unity. Therefore, we hope that the government in the district of Kurdistan would adopt this principle as well, particularly since by virtue of their long political experiment, the Kurdish people cannot be deceived anymore by the intrigues of the enemies and their vile schemes and machinations. At this point we should say that the stands of the government of the district of Kurdistan are not in harmony sometimes with the supreme national interests of the Kurds. At any rate, as a struggling party in eastern Kurdistan, PJAK will not be the cause of any political or diplomatic problems for the government of the district of Kurdistan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Despite the conclusion of an agreement between the government of the district of Kurdistan and Tehran, the Iranian shelling of the border areas is still continuing. How do you explain this?
[Horaz] The Iranian artillery shelling has been going on since 2005 because Iran continues to abide by the agreement concluded with the defunct Saddam regime that allows Iranian forces to shell border areas at a depth of five kilometers under the pretext of pursuing the members of parties opposed to Iran, especially Kurdish parties and particularly the PJAK fighters. Most often, areas are shelled where our fighters are not deployed at all and the villagers confirm this fact. The recent shelling led to serious damage to the villagers and their property. It led to the killing of an 18-month infant. That is why our fighters decided to avenge the martyred infant and killed a large number of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in one of their operations proceeding from the legitimate right of self-defense. As for why we think the Iranian shelling is continuing, the reason is not the presence of PJAK in the mountains of Qandil. The reason is due to the recent disputes that surfaced recently between the government of the district of Kurdistan and the government of (Iraqi Prime Minister) Al-Maliki in Baghdad regarding the presence of Peshmerga fighters in Khanaqin and its suburbs. Moreover, the meetings between Ahamdinejad and Al-Maliki and the three-sided Iranian-Turkish-Iraqi dialogue are all reasons for the continuation of the shelling of the Qandil regions. But the positive stands of the Iraqi parliament and the parliament of the district of Kurdistan that condemned and denounced the Iranian shelling sent a message to Tehran that the government and parliament of the district of Kurdistan oppose the Iranian aggressions on our border villages.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you received an invitation to participate in the expected national Irbil conference? Will you attend?
[Horaz] No, we have not yet received an invitation although the issue of PJAK is a prominent issue in this conference. It is said that the aim of this conference is to solve the Kurdish problem in the four countries that occupy Kurdistan territory (Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran). No doubt. The solution of this thorny issue in the Middle East is not reached by PJAK or the Kurdish parties opposed to Turkey throwing down their guns. Such a solution can be reached through peaceful and diplomatic dialogue and the recognition by these four states of the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people. In other words, the conference should be a form of opposition to these countries occupying Kurdistan rather than an opposition of the revolutionary party of PJAK that is demanding the democratic rights of the Kurdish people. At any rate, if we are sent an invitation and once we are certain of the security and organizational angles of the conference, our participation is likely on condition that it focuses on ways to solve the Kurdish issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the Kurdistan Regional Government were to ask you to freeze your military activities like the Democratic Party and Komeleh and live in tent camps and military camps in the [Iraqi] Kurdistan hinterland would you accept?
[Horaz] We would not accept such offers at all. History has shown that armed struggle is the primary factor that leads to victory. It has also shown that the enemies are not deterred when parties and fighters live in tent camps and become preoccupied with how to take care of their families. It also does not respond to the aspirations of the supporters and followers of these parties and the families of their martyrs. In my opinion, one of the most important reasons that led to despair and frustration in the eastern part of Kurdistan was the retreat of Iranian Kurdish forces to live in ten camps and military camps in the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect a major political change in the District of Kurdistan after the upcoming parliamentary elections?
[Horaz] No doubt, all the parties should abide by the results of the elections parallel to their commitment to the national concepts. We hope that these elections would be held in an atmosphere of calm and on democratic grounds so that the Kurdish people in that part of Kurdistan could elect their representatives. We do not wish at all for fragmentation in the Kurdish ranks there in light of the current conflict between the Patriotic Union [of Kurdistan-PUK] and the reformist current. In other words, we hope a positive change would take place on the social, political, and economic sectors and we hope that the elections would mark another step toward a solution of the whole Kurdish issue.
Asharq Al-Awsat also interviewed commander Hofal Musa, as follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it not the duty of a commander – I mean your leader Haji Ahmadi who lives in Europe – to lead his followers in the struggle arena?
[Musa] There are different situations in the world of political struggle. Sometimes, it requires a leader to be among his fighters and sometimes that is not necessary. In other words, there are strategic leaders and tactical leaders. Unlike the tactical leader, a strategic leader can reside abroad because his presence in the military arena is not necessary.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is your political leadership separate from the military command as is the case with the PKK? Are your stands also defensive like those of the PKK as well?
[Musa] Yes, the two leaderships are separate and our stands are definitely in self-defense. It is not we that are fighting Iran; it is Iran that is fighting us and intends to destroy us in the 21st century, the century of liberation of peoples. Iran is preventing us from seeking to unify the ranks of our people in the Kurdish society. It refuses to recognize the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people contrary to all international charters and norms that recognize the right of nations to free self-determination. Iran does not want the Kurdish society to reach higher levels of maturity and awareness.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are attacks on the military camps and barracks of the Iranian army defensive stands?
[Musa] We did not attack the Iranian forces in Tehran or on the Tabriz Mountains but in the Kurdish regions that are occupied by the Iranian army. All our military operations are in retaliation to ongoing attacks by the Iranian army.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Last year, the media cited your leader Haji Ahmadi on meetings between you and members of the US Congress here in Qandil. How true are these reports?
[Musa] They are mere statements attributed to Haji Ahmadi; they are groundless.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have anything else you wish to say?
[Musa] I wish to tell the whole world that we are forced to carry arms in order to protect our people, homeland, and existence. The regime in Iran is not used to leaning toward dialogue, negotiations, and the logic of reason. That is why we are forced to put military pressure on this regime. We want it to turn to diplomatic dialogue hoping to resolve the Kurdish issue in eastern Kurdistan.