Left to right: Duran Kalkan, Murat Karayilan, and Cemil Bayik.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United States announced cash rewards for information on three senior PKK leaders.
“The Department [of State] has authorized rewards for information leading to the identification or location of the senior PKK members: Murat Karayilan (up to USD $5 million), Cemil Bayik (up to USD $4 million), and Duran Kalkan (up to USD $3 million),” US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer announced in a statement published by the US embassy in Turkey on Tuesday.
Palmer made the announcement after two days of meetings in Turkey with government officials in which they “exchanged views on issues of mutual interest and concern.”
“The United States values its counterterrorism cooperation with our NATO Ally Turkey,” he added.
Washington and Ankara are at loggerheads over US support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria where the YPG and YPJ are key allies in the war against ISIS. Turkey considers the YPG and YPJ branches of the PKK and has condemned what it calls US support for a terror group. The US insists the Kurdish forces in northern Syria are distinct from the PKK.
Turkey has welcomed the US move "with caution."
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for Turkish presidency, said in an interview with Haberturk TV that it comes "late."
"It does not change Turkish policy on east of the Euphrates," he added.
Turkey has shelled Kurdish villages east of the Euphrates River over the past week and threatened a full scale military offensive against the region.
Murat Karayilan, 64, is a top military commander within the PKK as head of the People’s Defence Forces (HPG).
Cemil Bayik, 63, is a senior member of the KCK executive council.
Duran Kalkan, 64, is co-chair of the KCK executive council.
The KCK is the Kurdistan Communities Group, the political umbrella group of the PKK.
All three are on Turkey’s Red List, also called the country’s “terror” list.
The US said that the PKK “expanded attacks across Turkey” in 2015 and 2016. It highlighted two incidents: an August 2016 car bombing of Sirnak police headquarters that killed 11 and a June 2017 attack on a military convoy in southeastern Turkey that killed more than 20 soldiers.
“Since 2015, the group has been responsible for the deaths of over 1,200 Turkish security officials and civilians,” the US stated.
The PKK was founded in 1978. Its founder, Abdullah Ocalan, was arrested in 1999 and is being held in the island prison of Imrali.
In 2015, conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state entered “one of its deadliest chapters in more than three decades,” according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) that is tracking casualties in the conflict.
Since July 20, 2015, at least 4,190 people – fighters on both sides and civilians – have been killed, according to their figures.
Those numbers include 1,129 state security forces, 2,374 PKK fighters, 223 youth of unknown affiliation who cannot be identified as either PKK or civilians, and 464 civilians.
The renewed conflict brought the war into urban settings, with the Turkish military imposing curfews on Kurdish towns and cities. The security forces are accused of horrific atrocities like burning civilians in basements and denying access to healthcare.
The United Nations at the time described Turkey’s military activity “extremely alarming.”
The PKK has been on the US terror list since 1997.
Updated at 9:50 pm