COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Several European politicians are working to have the Kurdistan Workers’ Party scratched off a European Union list of terrorist organizations, arguing that the terrorism label hanging over the group hinders serious negotiations and a political solution for Turkey’s Kurds.
Ogmundur Jonasson, a member of the Council of Europe and until last year Iceland’s interior minister, is among European politicians who have signed a petition for Turkey to free the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
He explained the problem of keeping the PKK on the EU terror list in a nutshell: “We need negotiations in order to make peace. One does not negotiate with an officially-designated terrorist, so PKK should be delisted from the terrorist list.”
Harry van Bommel, a Socialist Party MP in the Dutch parliament, believes likewise: “By removing the PKK from the list it would be an important step in confidence building between Turkey and the Kurds.”
Nikolaj Villumsen, an MP from the Unity List in the Danish parliament and a member of the Council of Europe, favors negotiations with the PKK.
“But we do not do that by labeling the PKK as terrorists, because one does not negotiate with terrorists. It is absurd to label the PKK as terrorists, when even the Turkish state meets with the organization," Villumsen said.
For the same reasons the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC), an organization that monitors Turkey's compliance with rules for EU entry, supports removing the PKK from the terror list. Since 2004, it has organized 11 international conferences in the European Parliament, and PKK’s name on the terror list has been a topic each time.
EUTCC head Kariane Westrheim believes that scratching the PKK’s name from the list would eliminate Turkey’s long-standing argument that it does not negotiate with terrorists.
“This stance has created a criminalization policy where Kurds in Turkey, Kurdish communities and well-known Kurdish diplomats and politicians in Europe are being criminalized, hunted and arrested,” she said, referring to French, Belgian and German arrests of alleged PKK members or activists. According to Westrheim, the “PKK has never used terrorist means.”
But Jakob Lindgaard, a lecturer at Copenhagen's Danish Institute for Study Abroad, disagreed: “The PKK was put on the list because the group has also attacked civilians and tourists in the 1990s.” He noted, however, that the PKK “have stayed away from that kind of attacks in recent years.”
Some argue that removing the PKK’s name off the list would make little difference, since the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already been negotiating with the PKK since 2013, and is engaged in a peace process with it despite the EU’s terror label.
But according to Professor Michael Gunter, secretary-general of the EUTCC, Turkey is not truly negotiating with the PKK. “Turkey is rather trying to unilaterally settle the matter by offering some concessions to the Kurds, but largely ignoring the PKK,” he said.
Zeki Shengali, chief executive member of the PKK, echoed the same sentiments in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio and television. “There has been dialogue, but we have not yet turned it into negotiations,” he said. “The process is reaching a dead end.”
The EUTCC’s Westrheim agreed that Turkey was not serious in its talks with the PKK.
“In real negotiations a third party is often invited to play the role of mediator. And as long as the PKK is still on the list, Turkey will use this argument not to negotiate really with terrorists. The current talks do not lead anywhere -- it’s just talking.”
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the EU, and the US-led NATO.
In 2008, The Luxembourg-based Court of First Instance decided that the group should be removed from the EU list, because it was illegal under EU law. The ruling changed nothing, and the PKK remained on the list.
According to Soren Sondergaard, a Danish politician who for many years has been arguing on the side of the PKK in the European Parliament, Turkey's campaign is the primary reason for the organization to be put on the list. “There is no doubt this is due to Turkey's pressure on the EU.”
But Lindgaard said he doubted Ankara had that much influence inside the EU. “Turkey does not have so much power in the EU. I do not think that the EU alone, due to Turkish pressure, has listed them as terrorists without independently discussing it.”
Umut Ozkirimli, a professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Sweden’s Lund University, said, there were many reasons for PKK to be put on the list: “Violence against Kurdish people who do not support the PKK or work as village guards, and allegations that the organization is involved in drug trafficking are some of them,” he said.
According to Ahmet Alis, a historian from Istanbul’s Bogazici University, the terrorist label is a major problem for the PKK, among other things hurting its international reputation and its ability to raise funds legally.
“The terrorist label is delegitimizing the organization internationally, because you do not sit at the same table with terrorists. In addition, it is illegal to raise money for the PKK,” he said.