Interview with PKK Leader Cemil Bayik : The Future of the Middle East

Interview by Kamal Chomani
Originally published on

On a rainy autumn day, under the golden leaves of Qandil’s oak trees which have withstood the tough conditions of the mountains, the upcoming Turkish elections, peace process, West and South Kurdistan are topics of my discussion with acting PKK leader Cemil Bayik, whose understanding of Middle East history and politics is as deep as the roots of the trees. Bayik is not only an influential politician, but also an astute visionary individual. Contrary to the way he is portrayed in the media of his adversaries, Bayik is an easy-going character, very smart and deep thinking.

The Elections in Turkey

KC: On November 1, Turkey will hold general elections. What will this election change?

CB: This election is very important, just like the previous election held on 7 June; it will determine Turkey’s future. It will determine whether Turkey is heading towards democracy or dictatorship. Erdogan intends to lead the country to a fascist dictatorship, the HDP strives to prevent this. The republic that was built on the notion of nationalism is dissolved. The first republic is now defunct, the condition for a democratic republic developed on 7 June. This will help assist in resolving the Kurdish question in a democratic manner. Erdogan and the nationalists reject a democratic Turkey; they want to exterminate the HDP’s determination that became apparent on 7 June. Erdogan said the republic is under threat, and hence intervened in an undesirable way. They want to control Turkey’s left movement, the HDP, and other democratic entities. The entity that strives to establish a democratic Turkey is the HDP and the Kurdish Freedom Movement. Erdogan’s aim is rejuvenation of the nationalistic state that became defunct with the emergence of the democratic nation, hence he wants to exterminate the latter notion. Furthermore, Erdogan wants to establish an anti-democracy regime, under which the HDP and other democratic entities become ineffective, in order to achieve his objectives; as a result, the upcoming election is of profound importance in determining whether Turkey becomes a dictatorship or a vibrant democracy.

KC: The PKK broke the ceasefire after the last elections, and now it has declared a unilateral ceasefire. What assurances are there that Turkey isn’t becoming the second Syria after this election if the dictatorship prevails?

CB: Multiple requests were put forward to us — from the United States, Europe, democratic forces in Turkey and Southern Kurdistan — to halt military activities amid the resolution of Kurdish issues in a peaceful manner. In response, we declared a unilateral ceasefire; again, this is to show the true face of Erdogan and his government, since they claim the PKK initiate the war, and they defend themselves. This is a big lie. It’s Erdogan and his government that initiate the war. Erdogan wants to use the war to his party’s advantage and achieve his objectives. We want to help the success of the democratic process. In contrast, Erdogan wants to use the war to weaken the democratic entities within Turkey during the elections in order for himself to become the Sultan.

Similar to Kenan Evren (who conducted a coup in Turkey in September 1980) who opened a war front and later changed the law, Erdogan is conducting a coup first, then he wants to change the law. To weaken the Kurdish and Turkish democratic forces, Erdogan opened the war front, launching extreme measures to murder civilians, apprehend political activists, wreck our cemeteries and destroy people’s livelihood. Erdogan promotes intimidation of HDP activists in order to frighten them and prevent them from carrying out peaceful political activities ahead of the elections.

KC: The PKK is accused of promoting violence, initially by killing two police officers; this is said to be because you are against the rise of the HDP. How valid is this claim?

CB: This is a psychological war against the PKK; it’s obvious that the HDP project was initiated by Apo (Abdulla Ocalan) and the PKK. Apo and the PKK wanted to provide a platform for everyone with various cultural identities to collaborate and exert a collective determination to coexist in harmony. The aim of this project was to bring together the democratic forces; Apo and the PKK insisted on this notion, and we saw the result of this on 7 June. It’s obvious that the nationalists and the Turkish and/or Kurdish racists worked vehemently to prevent the HDP from achieving good results in the elections, because this project will bring to an end the nationalistic state and pave the way for the democratic process as well as a peaceful resolution of Kurdish issues. They are afraid of the fact that Kurds and Turks can work together in an organisation; they fear the Kurdish freedom movement, Turkish left movement, and other democratic forces becoming one entity. They do not wish to witness Turkey’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious groups join the Kurds, they wish isolate the Kurds in the Kurdistan region of Turkey. Apo and the PKK reiterated the necessity of an alternative project which later came into existence in the form of the HDP.

Before 7 June, Erdogan and his party (AKP) launched multiple attacks on the HDP and PKK and killed a number of people. At the time, Erdogan wasn’t sure the HDP would achieve such big results and facilitate a democratic environment where the Turkish left and Kurdish freedom movement could work together; hence he did not declare war against the PKK.

Erdogan only restarted the war with the PKK when his fascist republic became threatened by the democratic forces. The war decision had nothing to do with the killings of two police officers; the decision was made on 30 October 2014. The imprisoned Ergenekons (ultra-nationalist military officers) were released. They stopped visits to Apo from 5 April. The agreement that was known as Dolmabaxce was rejected by Erdogan completely. He (Erdogan) started the war to intimidate and frighten the HDP and other democratic forces. This is the truth, not the killing of two police officers. Neither the HDP nor the PKK ever claimed to have killed the officers; we don’t know who killed them.

The Peace Process

KC: The Dolmebaxce agreement was announced before the elections, but the peace process didn’t materialise. What is the PKK’s view currently on the peace process, particularly given the US, EU and public demand is greater than ever?

CB: We have respected all sides’ request that the election can be conducted with peace prevalent, hence the unilaterally declared ceasefire. Those parties that requested us to halt military activities should own up to their demands and request that Turkey uphold their end of the deal by committing to the peaceful process of elections and resorting to dialogue to resolve our issues. Turkey must accept the ceasefire, and avoid provoking the PKK. Turkey also has to accept mediation and international observers, and improve the prison conditions of our leader Apo. The party that promotes aggression is Turkey; our forces are inactive to help the democratic process in Turkey. Turkey hasn’t yet accepted the ceasefire; it is conducting military operations in Jolemerg and Gever where 20,000 Turkish troops are deployed. In Amed and Dersim, they conduct major operations. After our ceasefire, some local governors are detained while others are dismissed from their positions. Our request to the EU, US and other democratic bodies is to request that Turkey responds to our ceasefire positively.

International Observers

KC: It’s understood that the PKK have requested mediators and international observers from the EU and US, what do you hope to achieve through this?

CB: We have suggested numerous times that EU and US can mediate between the PKK and Turkey for a viable peaceful resolution to Kurdish issues, because we believe without the third party (observers), Turkey misleads and is unwilling to commit to agreements. Now Turkey claims that the PKK restarted the war and we claim Turkey restarted the war. Who is telling the truth? Without the third party, nobody’s able to determine the truth. We want the international community to comprehend the situation. The EU and US are members of NATO and so is Turkey. If they mediate, Turkey cannot claim that they support the PKK against Turkey, since they have close ties with Turkey. We are also mindful of the fact that Turkey has used assistance from the EU and US against us for many years. We are now requesting an international mediator, be it the EU, US or any other body, to observe our commitment to a ceasefire and peaceful resolution with Turkey. Thereafter, whichever side fails to uphold the ceasefire and commit to a peaceful resolution, they are entitled to condemn that side.

KC: What are the EU and US positions so far?

CB: They have received our request favourably, but Turkey refuses to collaborate or accept a mediator. This tells us that Turkey is not willing to resolve the issues; instead it perpetuates the conflict. If a party wants to resolve the issues, then it will accept the third party too. This is one of the most common ways of resolving conflicts in the contemporary world. We believe having an international entity mediating between us is a viable way of reaching a mutual understanding. In accordance to the current Turkish state, there is no such thing as Kurds; they promote the notion of assimilation and mass migration; they want to destroy the Kurdish culture and language.

Western Kurdistan

KC: Since the beginning of Kurdish revolution in Syria, you have claimed to be the third line in the equation. Now two rivalries (Russia and US) have joined the conflict — how do you maintain the balance?

CB: It’s now clear that the third-line produced an outcome. It’s also obvious to Russia and the US that, without Western Kurdistan, there cannot be much progress. With the third line, Kurds became a recognised strategic political force. Today, they all see this — and want to use it to their advantage. The future of the region is in the Kurds’ hands, hence both Russia and the US want to advance their relations with the Kurds. Against this background, Erdogan is unhappy with his NATO partners that Turkey’s strategic position — that has been previously used against the interests of the EU, US as well as the Middle East — is now at risk. Kurds are taking over the strategic position, hence Turkey’s aggressive opposition to Kurds in West, South and North Kurdistan, amid the avoidance of being replaced. Turkey has lost its leverage; just as the Kurds need international partners, the international partners need Kurds more in Syria. The United States and Russia both recognise that, aside from the Kurds, there isn’t much hope for other entities to advance a new Syria. Therefore, the third line is the line of success as it is proven in practice.

KC: In an interview with a German media outlet, you mentioned that, if the EU wants energy security, they should consider the Kurds and Western Kurdistan. Did you mean an alternative route is available under Kurdish control or simply that, if Kurds’ issues aren’t resolved, the PKK will threaten the existing route?

CB: I said the future of the Middle East is in the hands of the Kurds. Today, the Western Kurdistan model demonstrates the Kurds and other democratic forces in the Middle East. Those who combat Daesh (ISIS) are the Kurds. Daesh took a heavy hit in Kobane: this was the beginning of its retreat. Erdogan and his government’s policy failure started from there. Erdogan now opposes the Northern and Western Kurds because they complete each other. That is how the role of Turkey is weakened and Kurds have become a strategic force. The changes in the Middle East start from there, hence energy isn’t the only thing that matters. From now on, the Middle East, or even Caucasus, oil and gas can travel via Western Kurdistan. This is the death of Turkey’s plans. Turkey does whatever it can to prevent Afren and Kobane merging together. Furthermore, Turkey wants to continue its control over certain areas in order to protect Daesh and Ahrar Al-Sham. Turkey is doing this to protect its role within Syria and the wider Middle East. We have now gone passed this; Turkey’s policy in the Middle East is dead. The Kurds are now leading the regional politics and all sides need the Kurds: this is a fact. Previously, there was an international conspiracy against our leader Apo; those who were against Apo yesterday, need Apo and the political forces that he has founded and developed today. This is the end of the international conspiracy against the Kurds; we have achieved this through our struggle.

KC: How do you envisage the political equation in the short and long term in Syria? What sort of Syria do you want to see?

CB: Syria will no longer be the same. Syria is becoming a democratic federation or confederation. In Syria, Kurds, Sunnis and Alevis are the main components. Based on these three entities, the new democratic Syria could be established. Historically, this has been the case; the Aleppo, Levant and Kurdish regions have been different. We have seen the first model of a democratic Syria in the North of the country under the Kurdish governance. The foundation of this democratic federation model has been in the north by the Kurds, where multiple forces, ethnicities and religious groups coexist and defend their region. The United States and Russia both want to accept this model for the whole country. This is the only viable solution.

KC: Do the Kurds in Syria have any agreements with Russia and the United States?

CB: There is an understanding and, based on this, they move forward. The US has established and equipped the Syrian Democratic Force. On the other hand, they cannot cooperate with Al Nusra and Ahrar Al Sham and expect results. The future of Iraq, Syria and the wider Middle East is determined by the Kurds.

KC: You mentioned that the Kurds will determine the future of Middle East, but they are currently disorganised. What do you think of a united Kurdish front to combat Daesh?

CB: The immediate threat to Kurds are Daesh and its ilk such as Al Nusra and Ahrar Al Sham, and therefore it’s imperative that the Kurds unite against their common enemy using their collective capacity. This will strengthen the Kurds’ position internationally. Combating Daesh must be our common goal; this should unite the Kurds. With the emergence of Daesh, the unity among the Kurdish public has become stronger than ever, the unity between the PKK and Peshmerga has become stronger, although there is still a lack of unity among the political forces. If these parties are all against Daesh, then their unity will eventually materialise.

South Kurdistan

KC: I’d like to move on to South Kurdistan. After the fall of Shingal, the YPG and PKK moved into Shingal. Now there is a dispute between the KDP and PKK over Shingal. How do you see the future of Shingal? What are your plans?

CB: The central and regional governments didn’t uphold their responsibilities to protect Shingal when Daesh attacked. Regardless of the social or religious composition, whether Sunni, Shiite, Kurd or Christian, Yezidi or indeed any other groups, they should have been protected against Daesh savages. The YPG intervened to prevent an even greater tragedy and prevent Shingal from being taken over by Daesh; everyone should know that. The guerrillas protected the government, parliament and population of the Kurdistan Region. Guerrillas protected the dignity of the Kurdish nation and political parties of South Kurdistan. Everyone should respect the HPG and YPG forces. Yezidis have lost trust in the local and central governments, they have been let down. How can you expect them to return to Shingal without their own security forces? In my opinion, we should all, including the KDP, Gorran, PUK, KIU and KIG, strive to regain the trust of the Yezidis and pursuade them to stay in Shingal. Shingal would be meaningless without the Yezidis.

KC: What are the differences between you and Masoud Barzani and his party?

CB: Usually, there are differences and similarities between two or more political entities. The PKK and KDP, the PKK and other political parties, have similarities as well as deviations. The differences don’t mean we are enemies of one another, far from it. On matters concerning national interests, we work together, while on other matters we have our differences. The existence of differences is a healthy thing in democracy; where there are differences, there is progress. We have differences with all other political parties in the South, East, North and West. There are criticisms which serve as basis for improvements; this shouldn’t be deemed negatively. We never run away from criticism; even with criticism, we continue our relations in the national interest. Often, there are parties who do not see their own shortcomings. There has to be an opportunity for others to criticise; we must promote the culture of not shying away from criticism.

KC: The PKK has its own views on greater Kurdistan and the wider Middle East. What is the PKK’s view on the current situation in South Kurdistan, especially since the parliament Speaker has been prevented from carrying out his legislative duties and Gorran has been expelled from the government? Will the PKK mediate between political forces in South Kurdistan?

CB: Currently, the issues of Southern Kurdistan are significant — economically, politically, militarily — and worsening by the day. These issues need to be resolved and those leading the region need to accept their responsibilities and apply effective measures. These issues mustn’t be ignored nor should they be allowed to further complicate. They will leave a lasting impact on the society and youth in particular. Some of these people find a solution in migrating to Europe; this is not a solution. Currently, democracy in the institutions is limited; it’s of great importance that democracy is promoted. When there are issues, the people will protest, this is their natural right; this is a democratic movement. The KDP should see its shortcomings and nobody should suppress the protests; this will allow the society to progress. Why shouldn’t the MPs and Speaker be allowed to enter Erbil? Even if the KDP is accusing Gorran of having committed wrongs against them, two wrongs don’t make a right. You cannot hide your own mistakes by addressing someone else’s mistakes. Nobody should give themselves the right to undermine our national achievements. As I have stated previously, we shall undertake whatever action necessary to help resolve the South’s political gridlock. The South is an achievement, despite wrongdoings, and we mustn’t allow foreign interventions; all parties must put national interests before their parties. The nation of south Kurdistan mustn’t allow parties to put national interests at risk for their small gains.

KC: My final question is that, in south Kurdistan and in Turkey, there are accusations about Cemil Bayik as being an extremist and Alevi who has close ties with Iran. What do you say to them?

CB: They are all lies and psychological war. I’m not Alevi, I’m a Sunni, I follow Hanafi(a branch of Sunni Islam). My parents have undertaken their Haaj duties. This is the truth, nobody should believe this propaganda. Between Turkey and Iran, there is a war of Sunnis and Shiites; this is also the case in the wider Middle East. When they say I’m Alevi, it’s because they want to create a link between me, Bashar Assad and Iran, so that the United States deals with us collectively. By contrast, the United States has good relations with Kurds and the PKK. They (the people making these accusations) see this as a danger to themselves because they want Kurdistan to be comprised of the South only, with them being the only party in it. Today, Europe and the United States acknowledge that Kurdistan isn’t only the South, there are other parts of Kurdistan as well as other political parties. This affects their situation, hence they try to prevent this progression.

Accusing Cemil Bayik of being extremist is nothing but stupidity and psychological war. I have never acted against the PKK’s fundamental principles and its objectives. This movement has given me this position; if I fail to abide by its fundamental principles and aim to achieve its objectives, they will remove me from my position. Their propaganda often contains unfounded claims, such as that there are soft and hard approaches in the movement, to disillusion the public. They think they can prevent our progression and infiltrate our unity with these baseless claims.

Translation by Harem Karem

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